Visiting Esquel: Gateway to Parque Nacional Los Alerces

Parque Nacional Los Alerces. Photo © Lisa Weichel, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Nearby beautiful Parque Nacional Los Alerces. Photo © Lisa Weichel, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Map of Esquel, Argentina

Esquel

Across the Chubut border, the gateway to Parque Nacional Los Alerces and the end of the line for the “The Old Patagonian Express,” Esquel is a deceptively tranquil town of wide avenues divided by densely planted medians. It’s also a city recently divided by a plebiscite that rejected a nearby gold mine that would have used toxic cyanide to leech the valuable mineral. What’s more, it’s a place where Mapuche militancy is palpable, in graffiti that says “Neither Argentine nor Chilean, but Mapuche.”

Esquel (pop. 28,117) is 167 kilometers south of El Bolsón via RN 258, RN 40, and RN 259, all of them smoothly paved. Alternatively, many visitors take the graveled RP 71, south of the town of Epuyén, directly to Parque Nacional Los Alerces. Esquel is also 608 kilometers west of Trelew via several paved highways across the Patagonian steppe, and 581 kilometers northwest of Comodoro Rivadavia via equally good roads.

The city itself is a compact grid on the north bank of the Arroyo Esquel. Southbound RN 259 leads to a junction to Parque Nacional Los Alerces, the Welsh-settled town of Trevelin, and the Chilean border at Futaleufú.

La Trochita

From the old Roca railway station, now a museum, La Trochita still makes entertaining excursions to the Mapuche hamlet of Nahuel Pan. Its wooden passenger wagons, with salamander stoves and hard-backed benches, are classics of their era, and the entire line is a national historical monument.

As the train departs the new station, opened in late 2008, residents leave their houses and cars to wave as it chugs past their backyards and crosses the highway. Each passenger coach has a guide, but the rolling stock is so noisy that understanding the narration is difficult.

Taking about an hour to reach Nahuel Pan, La Trochita remains there an hour before returning to Esquel. In the meantime, there are good oven-baked empanadas, drinks, and Mapuche crafts as well as short horseback rides. The Museo de Culturas Originarias Patagónicas (9 a.m.–noon Mon., Wed., and Fri., 9 a.m.–noon and 5–7 p.m. Tues., Thurs., and Sat., free) has moved here from downtown Esquel.

In summer, the train leaves at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily, but excursions are less frequent in other seasons. The fare is US$13 pp, cash only; you can usually buy a ticket without a reservation. For details, contact La Trochita (Roggero and Urquiza, tel. 02945/45-1403).

Other Area Information

Events and Entertainment

Late February’s Semana de Esquel marks the city’s 1906 founding.

Hotel Argentino (25 de Mayo 862) has a great bar with a classic kitchen-sink collection of memorabilia and junk as well as friendly staff, but don’t expect to get to get to sleep early if you’re staying upstairs.

In the utterly transformed old bus terminal, the new Centro Cultural de Esquel Melipal (Avenida Fontana and Avenida Alvear) encompasses a variety of art and performing arts spaces. The renovated Cine Auditorio Municipal (Belgrano 330, tel. 02945/45-1929) shows first-run movies.

Shopping

In summer, the Asociación de Artesanos de Esquel sponsors Plaza San Martín’s Feria Artesanal Permanente; hours are 6–11:30 p.m. Thursday–Sunday.

For wood carvings, try Artesanías Manolo (Alsina 483). Casa de Esquel (25 de Mayo 415, tel. 02945/45-2544) is a bookstore and crafts outlet.

Sports and Recreation

Hiking, climbing, fishing, horseback riding, rafting, and kayaking are all on the docket. Argentina’s Río Corcovado is a Class II–III starter river, but the Class V Futaleufú, across the Chilean border, has world-class white-water.

Patagonia Verde (9 de Julio 926, tel. 02945/45-4396) arranges activities like hiking, climbing, and riding. Frontera Sur (Sarmiento 784, tel. 02945/45-0505) organizes water sports like rafting (US$46 for a full day) and kayaking on the Corcovado, as well as hiking, riding, and mountain biking. Epa Expediciones (Avenida Fontana 482, tel. 02945/45-7015) also does rafting and other activities.

For fishing licenses, contact the Dirección de Pesca (Belgrano 722, tel. 0297/45-1063); the season runs November–mid-April. Andrés Müller (Sarmiento 120, tel. 02945/45-4572, framumi@ar.inter.net) is a reliable independent fishing guide, while Rincón Andino (Miguens 40, tel. 02945/45-2185) is a specialist operator.

Accommodations

Esquel has abundant budget accommodations but little in the upper categories, and things can get tight in summer and in ski season. Standards in general, though, are good.

Casa Familiar Rowlands (Rivadavia 330, tel. 02945/45-2578, gales01@hotmail.com, US$11 pp) has expanded from a simple family house; breakfast costs US$1 more. Hostería El Cisne (Chacabuco 778, tel. 02945/45-2256, hosteria.el.cisne@gmail.com, US$19 s, US$26 d) is comparable.

Backpackers can try Parador Lago Verde (Volta 1081, tel. 02945/45-2251, US$11 pp), which, though no longer an HI affiliate, still offers good value. Casa del Pueblo (San Martín 661, tel. 02945/45-0581, US$12 pp, US$32 d) is now the HI affiliate. The 10-room Hostería Lihuén (San Martín 822, tel. 02945/45-2589, f_ejarque@speedy.com.ar, US$26 s, US$30 d) is a friendly no-frills place where breakfast costs US$2 pp extra.

Renovated Hotel Esquel (San Martín 1044, tel. 02945/45-2534, hotelesquel@hotmail.com, US$40 s, US$48 d) has improved, but the similarly priced Hostería los Tulipanes (Avenida Fontana 365, tel. 02945/45-2748, US$32 s, US$39 d) is a real find—the decor may be tacky, but the beds are firm, the baths spacious, and the breakfast abundant and diverse. There’s also warmth in the details, like bedside chocolates, in this family-run hostelry.

A commonplace facade conceals the spacious well-furnished rooms at Hostería Angelina (Avenida Alvear 758, tel./fax 02945/45-2763, hosteriaangelina@argentina.com, US$45–47 s, US$50–66 d), whose gregarious owner goes out of his way to make guests feel welcome. Rates include telephone, cable TV, parking, and central heating; the buffet breakfast (US$2 pp) includes croissants, ham, cheese, bread, cereal, fruit and fruit salad, coffee, and tea.

Other options include Hotel Sol del Sur (9 de Julio 1086, tel. 02945/45-2189, US$32–44 s, US$40–66 d), alpine-styled Hostería La Tour D’Argent (San Martín 1063, tel. 02945/45-4612, US$42 s, US$58 d), and spacious Hotel Tehuelche (9 de Julio 825, tel. 02945/45-2420, US$51–57 s, US$64–70 d).

In the Villa Ayelén neighborhood, opposite the racetrack just south of the town center, Hostería Canela (Los Notros and Los Radales, tel. 02945/45-3890, US$115 s or d) is a former teahouse turned bed-and-breakfast with six spacious rooms on immaculate grounds. Hosts Jorge Miglioni and Verónica Ayling speak fluent English, provide an ample breakfast, and offer dining and excursions suggestions.

The 20 midsize-plus rooms at Hostería Cumbres Blancas (Avenida Ameghino 1683, tel. 02945/45-5100, US$150 s, US$216 d) look as good as the day they opened a decade ago, and some are nonsmoking. It also has Wi-Fi, a sauna, a highly regarded restaurant, and grounds that include its own mini-golf course and a duck pond. If business is slow, try asking for the lower Argentine rates.

Food

María Castaña (25 de Mayo 605, tel. 02945/45-1752) serves breakfast, coffee, and good sandwiches. Empanadería Molinari (Molinari 619) bakes a variety of takeaway empanadas.

In attractive new quarters, La Luna</a> (Avenida Fontana 656, tel. 02945/45-3800) has improved and diversified its menu as well, and now offers patio seating; the midday lunches are a bargain for around US$7. Reliable but unremarkable, the traditional Vascongada (9 de Julio and Mitre, tel. 02945/45-2229) serves Patagonian specialties.

Fitzroya Pizza (Rivadavia 1048, tel. 02945/45-0512, US$10) is a first-rate pizzeria with an enormous variety of toppings; solo diners can order half portions. Irish-style pubs are a staple in Argentina, but Killarney’s Irish Resto Bar (Avenida Alvear and Ameghino, tel. 02945/45-7041) is the first of its kind here.

In new quarters, open for dinner only, the bistro-style Mirasoles (Pellegrini 643, tel. 02945/45-6390) is best for Italo-Argentine entrées like ñoquis and appetizers like mozzarella caprese.

Las Piedras (Avenida Ameghino 1683, tel. 02945/45-5100) is Hostería Altas Cumbre’s upmarket restaurant. It has an abbreviated midday menu of pastas and Argentine standards such as bife de chorizo and a more elaborate dinner menu.

Take a taxi to slightly hard-to-find Mapuche (Las Lengas y Los Cipreses, tel. 02945/45-2440), in quiet Villa Ayelén just south of town on the Trevelin road—it’s worth the effort for their delicately grilled lamb (US$10) or trout, the ensalada caprese (US$5) of tomato, cheese, and basil, and a fine wine list. The high-ceilinged quarters are attractive, and the service is attentive.

Serenata (Rivadavia 939, tel. 02945/45-5999) has Esquel’s finest ice cream.

Information

Open 8 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, the Secretaría de Turismo (Avenida Alvear 1120, tel. 02945/45-1927) maintains a thorough database on accommodations and other services here and in Parque Nacional Los Alerces. In peak season, a satellite office at the bus terminal is open 6–8 a.m. and 7–11 p.m. daily.

For motorists, ACA (tel. 02965/45-2382) is at 25 de Mayo and Ameghino.

Services

Banco del Chubut (Alvear 1131) has one of several downtown ATMs.

Correo Argentino is at Alvear 1192; the postal code is 9200. Su Central (25 de Mayo 415) has both phone and Internet access.

Chile’s honorary consulate (Molinari 754, tel. 02945/45-1189) is open 8:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. weekdays.

For laundry (about US$4 per load), try Laverap (9 de Julio and Roca, tel. 02945/45-5959).

For medical services, contact the Hospital Zonal (25 de Mayo 150, tel. 02945/45-0222).

Getting There

Esquel has limited air services, better bus connections, and rail fantasies.

Aerolíneas Argentinas (Avenida Fontana 406, tel. 0297/45-3614) flies three times a week to Buenos Aires via Bariloche, and occasionally to Trelew. LADE (Alvear 1085, tel. 02945/45- 2124) usually flies twice weekly to Bariloche and Buenos Aires, and weekly to El Calafate, but schedules change frequently.

The Terminal de Ómnibus (Avenida Alvear 1871, tel. 02945/45-1566, terminalesq@ciudad.com.ar) is a contemporary facility four blocks northeast of downtown. It has good local and regional services, but long-distance links are better in Bariloche.

Transportes Jacobsen/Vía Bariloche (tel. 02945/45-3528) connects Esquel with El Maitén at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Jacobsen also serves nearby Trevelin (frequently) and La Balsa/Futaleufú (8 a.m. Mon.–Fri. summer, 8 a.m. Mon., Wed., and Fri. the rest of the year).

In summer, Transportes Esquel (tel. 02945/45-3529) goes to Parque Nacional Los Alerces and Lago Puelo at 8 a.m. (connecting with lake excursions) and 2 p.m. daily. Fares are US$4 to La Villa, US$5.50 to Bahía Rosales, US$6.50 to Lago Verde, US$8 to Lago Rivadavia, US$10 to Cholila, and US$13 to Puelo, where there are easy connections to El Bolsón, but the afternoon bus goes only as far as Lago Verde. Puelo-bound passengers with through tickets can stop anywhere en route and continue on any succeeding bus. Winter schedules may differ.

Typical destinations, times, and fares include Trevelin (30 minutes, US$1.50), La Balsa/Futaleufú (1.5 hours, US$5), El Maitén (2 hours, US$5), El Bolsón (2.5 hours, US$7), Bariloche (4 hours, US$12), Trelew (8 hours, US$29), Puerto Madryn (9 hours, US$32), Comodoro Rivadavia (9 hours, US$21–30), and Buenos Aires (24 hours, US$70–89).

Getting Around

Aeropuerto Esquel is 20 kilometers east of town on RN 40; a taxi or remise is the only option.

Los Alerces Rent a Car (Sarmiento 763, tel. 02945/45-6008, losalercesrentacar@ciudad.com.ar) and Avis (Avenida Fontana 331, tel. 02945/15-699-0580) have rental cars.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Argentina.

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