Río Gallegos (pop. about 90,000) is 696 kilometers south of Comodoro Rivadavia and 351 kilometers south of Puerto San Julián via RN 3, and 67 kilometers north of the Chilean border post of Monte Aymond. From tagonia Monte Aymond it’s another 196 kilometers to Punta Arenas or, alternatively, 571 kilometers to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego (including a ferry crossing at Primera Angostura). It’s 305 kilometers southeast of El Calafate via paved RP 5.
Opposite Plaza San Martín, the Catedral Nuestra Señora de Luján (1899) was the work of Salesian priest Juan Bernabé, who was also responsible for the cathedrals of Punta Arenas and Ushuaia. Like other pioneer buildings, it reflects the wood-framed metal-clad Magellanic style.
On the plaza’s south side, the Museo de Arte Eduardo Minnicelli (Maipú 13, tel. 02966/43-6323, 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 3–7 p.m. Sat.–Sun. and holidays, closed Dec. 20–Feb. 10, free) showcases provincial artists such as its namesake sculptor.
Three blocks south, the comprehensive Museo Provincial Padre Jesús Molina (Ramón y Cajal 51, tel. 02966/42-3290, email@example.com, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. weekends and holidays, free) holds material on geology, paleontology, natural history, ethnology, and local history, including a good photographic collection.
In a pioneer house that belonged to Arthur and Victor Fenton, the city’s first physicians, the Museo de los Pioneros (Elcano and Alberdi, tel. 02966/43-7763, firstname.lastname@example.org, 10 a.m.–7:30 p.m. daily, but in winter may close as early as 6 p.m., free) documents southern Patagonia’s early settlers. Aging Scots-Argentine volunteers greet visitors and explain the details in English.
Rincón Gaucho (Avenida Roca 619, tel. 02966/42-0669) specializes in horse gear and the like. Artesanías Keokén (Avenida San Martín 336, tel. 02966/42-0335) specializes in woolens but also sells leather goods and food items (preserves and candies).
Traditionally, accommodations are scarce, prices high, and quality mediocre, but things are improving. Demand is also high, so reservations are advisable.
With gracious and conscientious ownership, Hotel Colonial (Rivadavia and Urquiza, tel. 02966/42-2329, US$21 s, US$31 d, with shared bath and without breakfast) is the best shoestring choice, but the rooms are small. Rates include kitchen access.
Undergoing a major renovation, friendly Hotel Punta Arenas (Federico Sphur 55, tel. 02966/443-1924, US$21–40 s, US$29–42 d) looks to improve considerably, though some rooms are still a little rough around the edges. The renovation will probably eliminate its budget rooms, however, which have shared baths. Breakfast takes place in its adjacent Something Café, which has Wi-Fi and a small but tasty snack menu.
Ill-planned remodeling has cost Hotel París (Avenida Roca 1040, tel. 02966/42-2432, US$31 s, US$37 d) most of its original charm, but it’s still respectable though rough around the edges. Modern motel-style rooms at the back have high ceilings and firm single beds.
Aging but reliable Hotel Covadonga (Avenida Roca 1244, tel. 02966/42-0190, email@example.com, US$20–27 s, US$34–38 d, with breakfast) has rooms with both shared and private baths as well as sheltered parking.
Amiable Hostería La Posada (Ameghino 331, tel. 02966/43-6445, firstname.lastname@example.org, US$38 s, US$46 d) is a major step up for comfortable rooms with private baths (including tubs) and cable TV, and popular enough that reservations are advisable. Meals are available in its small restaurant.
Reservations are almost essential for spacious, friendly, and well-kept Hotel Sehuen (Rawson 160, tel. 02966/42-5683, US$40 s, US$50 d).
Better than its lackluster exterior implies, the large, spotless rooms at aging Hotel Comercio (Avenida Roca 1302, tel. 02966/42-0209, email@example.com, US$58s, US$81 d, with a so-so breakfast) are worn around the edges with dim lighting and insufficient electrical outlets. Still, the private baths have tubs, there’s phone service and satellite TV, and the common areas are excellent. There’s a 10 percent discount for cash.
Nondescript Hotel Santa Cruz (Avenida Roca 701, tel. 02966/42-0601, htlscruz@infovia. com.ar, US$58–71 s, US$75–94 d) has undergone a remodel, but it’s not clear than the improvements have been dramatic enough to justify its rising prices.
It took 20 years to finish, and the 80-room Hotel Patagonia (Fagnano 54, tel. 02966/44-4969, US$95–161 s, US$106–171 d) still needs to tidy up some details. Still, under the same ownership as El Calafate’s Hotel Los Alamos, it has established itself as the city’s best, with a gym, a spa, a business center, and Wi-Fi throughout. The higher rates correspond to five larger suites.
As with accommodations, the restaurant scene is improving, but unfortunately none of Gallegos’s restaurants even include a nonsmoking section.
Puesto Molino (Avenida Roca 854, tel. 02966/42-9836, lunch and dinner daily) serves a particularly fine fugazzeta, but also has parrillada. For a diverse menu of specialties like salmon ravioli with pesto (US$8), in enormous portions, popular RoCo (Avenida Roca 1157, tel. 02966/42-0203, lunch and dinner daily) is worth consideration.
Anyone who’s ever been, or aspired to be, an Anglo-Argentine wool baron will want to dine at the classic Club Británico (Avenida Roca 935, tel. 02966/42-5223, lunch and dinner daily). The atmosphere (which includes live jazz some nights) still trumps the food, though.
Although they’ll mislead you about tobacco-free areas—there are none—the most sophisticated menu belongs to El Horreo (Roca 862, tel. 02966/42-6462, lunch and dinner daily). Local lamb (about US$10) is the specialty, but the empanada gallega makes an ideal appetizer.
For ice cream, Kocholate (Avenida Roca 1084, tel. 02966/42-0249) has an edge on traditional favorite Heladería Tito (Zapiola and Corrientes, tel. 02966/42-2008), but the latter is not a desperation choice.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Argentina.