The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 26 - March 31, 2010

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Estancia Cristina, paradise found

From the March 31, 2010 Issue
Reel time

PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS Rusty Chinnis holds a king salmon
he caught while visiting Estancia Cristina. The salmon was
photographed, revived and released.

I’ve been lucky to visit some amazing destinations over the years, but recently I had the good fortune to travel to a place that far surpassed any I’ve ever experienced, Estancia Cristina. The former working sheep ranch sits squarely in the middle of the pristine Los Glaciares (The Glaciers) National Park of Argentina on the shore of Lago Argentino. The Estancia is literally surrounded by the ragged Andean mountains, which cradle some of the world’s most impressive glaciers, including the massive Upsala. Los Glaciers Park is located in the southwestern region of Argentina (Patagonia) in Santa Cruz province, on the border with Chile. This is a region of such magnificent natural beauty that it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981.

The adventure began the moment we boarded the boat and cast off from Punta Bandera near El Calafate where travelers arrive by air. Over the next three hours we were captivated as we passed through a steep canyon into an otherworldly landscape of soaring snow capped mountains intertwined with massive glaciers. The surrounding lake was studded with massive icebergs that had calved from the glaciers. Impossibly blue monoliths of every imaginable shape floated on all sides as the boat approached the face of the Upsala Glacier, one of the largest in the world.

After weaving through the ice fields, we landed at the Estancia, an unassuming cluster of light green buildings scattered on the flat coastline, framed by soaring mountains in the distance. We would be staying here for several days, fishing, trekking, horseback riding and experiencing the raw beauty of the Patagonian wilderness. We were met by Silvia Contreras, of the Estancia, who with a wonderfully warm and competent staff would make our stay effortless, ensuring that we would be comfort able, well cared for, and have numerous opportunities to explore the area.

After settling into our impressive living quarters, we were treated to an elegant mid-afternoon meal. We decided to spend that first afternoon fishing for the area’s fabled Chinook (king) salmon. After rigging my rod and assembling my tackle Miguel, our guide, took us by 4x4 to a massive rock that juts into the Caterina River. There, surrounded by a backdrop of the snow capped Andes, I cast for salmon with a nine weight fly rod and an intermediate sinking line.

Although the pool and surrounding runs were full of salmon, they were unwilling to bite until the last two hours of daylight. Finally after what seemed like one hundred casts, I hooked a king salmon that weighed close to 40 pounds. I fought the fish for 20 minutes mesmerized by the surroundings and the power of the brawny salmon. Finally I was able to land, photograph and release the fish. In the last hour of the day, before we were picked up by our guide, I caught another salmon that weighed almost 20 pounds and two trout. This was an auspicious beginning to what would be an unforgettable experience.

Over the next three days, we traveled to the Upsala Glacier then hiked down through Fossil Valley where we saw the effects of the raw power that glaciers exert on the landscape. High in the Andes, it was humbling to see giant fossil sea shells and giant granite boulders polished like a mirror. On the other days we rode horses to a remote lake with Augustin, an Argentinean horse whisperer, visited a waterfall, and enjoyed some of the most amazing local food and wine in this remote wilderness.

Estancia Cristina is an extraordinary piece of heaven, truly a place to visit as soon as possible. Visit the Web site at

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