Even larger than Moreno Glacier, 50 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide at its foot, Upsala Glacier is accessible only by crowded catamaran excursions from Puerto Bandera via Lago Argentino’s Brazo Norte (North Arm). Impressive for its extent, the giant bergs that have calved off it, and their shapes and colors, it’s the trip’s outstanding sight.
At midday, the boat anchors at Bahía Onelli, but bring a bag lunch (skipping the restaurant) to walk to ice-clogged Lago Onelli. The land portion of this excursion is regimented, and the pace the guides suggest—30 minutes from the dock to Onelli’s shores—is appropriate for those on crutches. Smoking is prohibited on the forest trail.
Travelers should realize that this is a mass-tourism excursion that may frustrate hikers accustomed to the freedom of the hills. If you take it, choose the biggest available ship, which offers the greatest deck space to see the Spegazzini and Upsala Glaciers.
On board, the freshest air is within the cabin, whose seats are cramped but where smoking is prohibited; on deck, desperate smokers congregate even in freezing rain. Reasonably priced cakes, sandwiches, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are available on board.
Puerto Bandera is 45 kilometers west of El Calafate via Ruta Provincial 11 and Ruta Provincial 8. For reservations, contact René Fernández Campbell (Av. Libertador 867, El Calafate, tel. 02902/491155, 02902/491428, rfcino [at] cotecal [dot] com [dot] ar). The full-day trip costs US$60 per person, not including transportation from El Calafate (about US$6 pp round-trip) to Puerto Bandera or the obligatory US$10 park admission for nonresidents of Argentina.
A new alternative is the overnight trip, including shore-based accommodations and meals, offered by Cruceros Marpatag (9 de Julio 57, Local 10, El Calafate, tel. 02902/492118, www.crucerosmarpatag.com, US$540/790 s/d), which visits the Upsala and Spegazzini Glaciers the first day and Moreno Glacier on the second before returning to Puerto Bandera.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition