Puerto Deseado: One of Patagonia’s Underrated Pleasures

A trio of rockhopper penguins on the shore with turquoise blue water behind them.

Rockhopper penguins on the Isla de los Pingüinos. Photo © Javarman Javarman/123rf.

Bypassed by RN 3—but not by nature or history—Puerto Deseado is one of Patagonia’s underrated pleasures. Visited by Magellan, settled by Spanish whalers, explored by Charles Darwin in 1833, and resettled half a century later, it clings to its pioneer ambience in what Francisco P. Moreno called “the most picturesque place on the eastern Patagonian coast.” The star, though, is the Ría Deseado, where strong tides rush up the estuary to create a wildlife-rich environment that supports a growing ecotourism sector. At the same time, Deseado has become a homeport for the South Atlantic shrimp fishery, and some businesses keep signs in Spanish, English, and Russian.

On the Ría Deseado’s north shore, Puerto Deseado (pop. 10,252) is 216 kilometers southeast of Caleta Olivia and 295 kilometers from Comodoro Rivadavia via RN 3 and paved RN 281 (but 125 kilometers from the RN 3 junction).

Sights

For a small town, Deseado has plenty to see. The big draw is the Reserva Provincial Ría Deseado, but various historical monuments all have good stories behind them. By the late 19th century, Deseado seemed destined to become a rail port, as authorities planned a northwesterly freight-and-passenger line to Bariloche. It never advanced beyond Las Heras, 283 kilometers northwest, and closed in 1977, leaving the stately Estación del Ferrocarril Patagónico (Eufrasia Arias s/n, 4–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat., free) as a surprisingly good museum staffed by former railroad workers.

Several monuments date from this era, most notably the railroad’s Vagón Histórico (1898), an historic railcar in a small plaza at San Martín and Almirante Brown. Immediately across the street, Banco de la Nación has preserved its classic lava-block style, but the supermarket that occupies the former Compañía Argentina del Sud (1919) has concealed its vintage details with hideous painted signs on all sides (pointlessly, as it has no competition in town). One block west stands the Sociedad Española (1915).

Along the waterfront, the Museo Regional Mario Brozoski (Brown and Colón, tel. 0297/487-0673, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. weekdays, 3–7 p.m. weekends, free) holds artifacts from the English corvette Swift, sunk nearby in 1770 and rediscovered in 1982. Several kilometers northeast, Balneario Las Piletas is a volcanic beach area where retreating tides leave pools warm enough for swimming, at least in summer.

At the north end of Almirante Zar, after passing beneath a railroad bridge, the road leads five kilometers into the isolated Cañadon Quitapenas and excellent camping sites (no services). Ten kilometers west of town, a southbound lateral leads to the Gruta de Lourdes, a secluded pilgrimage site where the faithful have left devotional plaques. Rare rainstorms produce ephemeral waterfalls here.

Reserva Natural Ría Deseado

One of coastal Patagonia’s primo wildlife sites, the Ría Deseado submerges a long narrow valley that once carried more freshwater. As the freshwater flow diminished, seawater penetrated farther and farther inland, creating new islands and other fauna-rich habitats. Offshore islands also form part of the reserve.

Several operators organize wildlife-watching excursions in and around the Ría to locations such as the Magellanic penguin colony at Isla Chaffers and cliff-side colonies of rock cormorants and gray or red-legged cormorants at Banca Cormorán, where deep water permits close approach to the nests. On any excursion, swiftly swimming toninas overas (Commerson’s dolphins) breach and dive around and under the outboard launches; in mating season, they leap out of the water.

At Isla de los Pingüinos, 30 kilometers offshore, there are breeding elephant seals, sea lions, and the world’s northernmost colonies of the tireless rockhopper penguin, which braves crashing waves up steep stone faces to reach its nesting sites. Some operators also follow Darwin’s route up the Ría where, wrote the great naturalist, “I do not think I ever saw a spot which appeared more secluded from the rest of the world, than this rocky crevice in the wild plain.”

In handsome new quarters that include a sea-view confitería, Darwin Expediciones (Avenida España s/n, tel. 0297/15-624-7554) has extensive experience here and also does sea kayaking. Half-day trips to Isla Chaffers cost about US$37 pp; full-day trips, following Darwin’s estuary route, cost about US$92 pp. A full-day excursion to the rockhopper colony at Isla de los Pingüinos runs about US$84 pp with an eight-passenger minimum.

Turismo Aventura Los Vikingos (Estrada 1275, tel. 0297/487-0020, tel. 0297/487-0020) does similar maritime itineraries.

Information and Services

The Dirección Municipal de Turismo (Avenida San Martín 1525, tel. 0297/487- 0220) is open 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily in summer, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily the rest of the year.

Banco de la Nación (San Martín 1001) has an ATM.

Correo Argentino (San Martín 1075) is the post office; the postal code is 9050. Telefonía Deseado (Almirante Brown 544) has telephones and Internet connections.

For medical services, try the Hospital Distrital (Brown and Colón, tel. 0297/487- 0200).

Getting There and Around

From the Terminal de Ómnibus (Sargento Cabral 1302), about 10 blocks northeast of downtown, there are buses to Caleta Olivia (3.5 hours, US$12) and Comodoro Rivadav i a (4.5 hour s, US$15) with Transporte La Unión (tel. 0297/15-592- 8598, 3 buses daily) and Sportman (tel. 0297/487-0013, 2 buses daily).


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Argentina.

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