Junín de los Andes in the Lakes District of Northern Patagonia

Map of Northern Patagonia

Northern Patagonia

Where the steppe meets the sierra, the Río Chimehuin gushes from the base of 3,776-meter Volcán Lanín to become one of Argentina’s top trout streams near Junín de los Andes. Styling itself Neuquén’s “trout capital,” Junín also provides the best access to the central sector of Parque Nacional Lanín, which takes its name from the symmetrical cone along the Chilean border.

In addition to its natural attractions, Junín promotes itself as a pilgrimage site for links to the recently beatified Chilean Laura Vicuña, a young girl who (legend says) willed her own death to protest her widowed mother’s affair with an Argentine landowner, and for the ostensible blend of Catholic and Mapuche traditions here. Founded in 1883, during General Roca’s so-called “Conquista del Desierto” (Conquest of the Desert), it’s Neuquén’s oldest city.

At the confluence of the Chimehuin and its Curruhué tributary, Junín (pop. 10,243) is 402 kilometers southwest of Neuquén via RN 22, RN 40, and RN 234, and 41 kilometers northeast of San Martín de los Andes via RN 234. It’s 218 kilometers north of San Carlos de Bariloche via RN 234, RN 40, and RN 237.

The main thoroughfare is north–south RN 234; the compact city center, a regular grid around Plaza San Martín, lies east between the highway and the river.

Sights

The Museo Mapuche (Ginés Ponte 540, 9 a.m.–noon and 2–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.– noon Sat., free) focuses on indigenous artifacts and historical exhibits, but it also displays fossils.

Recent developments reflect Junín’s promotion of religious tourism. The recently modernized Santuario Nuestra Señora de las Nieves y Beata Laura Vicuña (Ginés Ponte and Don Bosco) has become an airy, luminous structure incorporating Mapuche elements; it also holds an urn with one of Laura Vicuña’s vertebrae. It’s open for guided tours 9 a.m.–7 p.m. daily.

In the western foothills, the Vía Cristi is a Stations of the Cross footpath climbing two kilometers to the summit of Cerro de la Cruz.

Entertainment and Events

Late January’s Feria y Exposición Ganadera is the landowners’ extravaganza of blue-ribbon cattle, horses, and sheep as well as rabbits and poultry. Gauchos also show off their skills, but they take center stage at mid-February’s Festival del Puestero.

The pre-Lenten Carnaval del Pehuén fills the streets with parades, costumed celebrants, water balloons, and confetti. Mid- July’s Semana de Artesanía Aborígen lets the Mapuche showcase their crafts.

Shopping

Junín’s Paseo Artesanal (Padre Milanesio 568) houses a cluster of artisans working in ceramics, leather, wood, and wool.

Sports and Recreation

Both Argentines and foreigners flock here for fishing on the Chimehuín, the Aluminé, their tributaries, and Parque Nacional Lanín’s glacial lakes. Catch-and-release is the norm; for licenses and suggested guides, visit the tourist office on Plaza San Martín. For nonresidents of the province, licenses cost US$20 per day, US$66 per week, or US$92 for the season; the national parks have separate licenses.

The Club Andino Junín de los Andes in the Paseo Artesanal (Padre Milanesio 568) provides information on hiking and climbing Volcán Lanín and other excursions, as does Parques Nacionales (Padre Milanesio 570, tel. 02972/49-2748).

Estancia Huechahue

On the Río Aluminé, about 30 kilometers east of Junín via RN 234, the 15,000-hectare Anglo-Argentine Estancia Huechahue is a forested cattle ranch that doubles as a recreational getaway for serious gaucho-style riders, or those who want to become serious riders. November– April, Jane Williams’s well-trained horses carry a maximum of 12 guests at a time over the mountainous terrain into Parque Nacional Lanín or undertake a circuit of various nearby estancias.

For accompanying nonriders, or for a change of pace, there’s hiking, birding, fishing, swimming, and even tennis. Huechahue also features volcanic caves, Tehuelche rock-art sites, and wildlife that includes Andean condor nesting sites (not to mention deer and feral boar).

Most visitors arrange packages from overseas; drop-ins are not possible, but with at least a few days’ notice it may be possible to arrange a stay (three-day minimum). The basic rate of US$375 pp, in twin-bed rooms, includes full board (traditional Patagonian fare rather than the European-style cuisine of some estancias), drinks (beer, wine, and spirits), hot tub and sauna, and activities (fishing guides and massages are extra). It also includes transportation between Huechahue and San Martín de los Andes’s Aeropuerto Chapelco; transportation to or from Bariloche is possible for an additional charge. For details, contact Jane Williams at Estancia Huechahue (www.huechahue.com).

Accommodations

The riverside municipal Camping La Isla (Ginés Ponte s/n, tel. 02972/49-1461, US$4 pp) has good facilities but collects a small additional charge for showers, which have limited hours: 8–10 a.m. and 8–10 p.m.

The roadside Residencial Marisa (Bulevar Juan Manuel de Rosas 360, tel. 02972/49-1175, residencialmarisa@jdeandes.com.ar, US$21–28 s, US$27–39 d) has both doubles and bunks; breakfast is an inexpensive extra. Plaza San Martín’s basic Hostería del Montañés (San Martín 555, tel. 02972/49-1155, US$28 s, US$39 d) is a basic budget choice.

Aging but agreeable, the riverside Hostería Chimehuín (Coronel Suárez and 25 de Mayo, tel. 02972/49-1132, hosteriachimehuin@fronteradigital.net.ar, US$47 s, US$55 d) has 23 comfortable rooms, including a few slightly cheaper ones with shared baths, and a restaurant. Breakfast includes homemade scones and other specialties.

On Junín’s northern outskirts, Hotel Alejandro Primero (Bulevar Juan Manuel de Rosas and Chubut, tel. 02972/49-1182, hotelalejandro1@fronteradigital.net.ar, US$40 s, US$55 d) also has a restaurant, but the hotel staff are not well-trained.

Junín’s only four-star accommodations, the self-consciously rustic Río Dorado Lodge (Pedro Illera 448, tel. 02972/49-1548, US$98 s, US$160 d, with buffet breakfast; US$133 s, US$230 d, with half board, including wine and beer) has become the default option for foreign tour groups, especially but not exclusively for fly-fishing.

Food

For pizza and pasta, plus sandwiches and empanadas, the traditional favorite is Roble Bar (Ginés Ponte 331, tel. 02972/49-1111, lunch and dinner daily). It has a credible challenger, though, in Pizzería Offa (Padre Milanesio 520, tel. 02972/49-2577, lunch and dinner daily).

Primarily a parrilla, the cavernous Ruca Hueney (Padre Milanesio 641, tel. 02972/49- 1113, lunch and dinner daily) has a more diverse menu (try the pollo al ajillo, garlic chicken, US$6), good service even with large numbers of diners, and is now tobacco-free.

In an attractive building styled after Bariloche’s landmark civic center, the awkwardly named Centro de Turismo (Padre Milanesio 586, tel. 02972/49-2555, lunch and dinner daily) has a mostly standard Argentine menu; the standout item is the butter-grilled trout (US$7).

Across the plaza, Tío Tom (Lamadrid and San Martín, tel. 02972/49-2510) has Junín’s best ice cream.

Information

Facing Plaza San Martín, the Subsecretaría de Turismo y Cultura (Padre Milanesio 596, tel. 02972/49-1160, 8 a.m.–9 p.m. daily) answers questions and sells fishing permits.

Immediately north, the APN (Padre Milanesio 570, tel. 02972/49-2748, 9 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 2:30–8:30 p.m. Sat.–Sun.) provides information and entry permits (US$8) for Parque Nacional Lanín.

Services

Banco de la Provincia del Neuquén (Avenida San Martín and Lamadrid) has an ATM. Correo Argentino is at Suárez and Don Bosco; the postal code is 8371. For longdistance phone service, use the locutorio at Padre Milanesio 530, half a block north of the tourist office. Arroba Computación (Lamadrid 342) has Internet access.

Laverap Pehuén (Ginés Ponte 340) does the washing.

For medical emergencies, contact the Hospital de Area (Avenida Antártida Argentina and Pasaje 2 de Abril, tel. 02972/49-1107).

Getting There and Around

Aeropuerto Aviador Carlos Campos–Chapelco (RN 234 Km 24, tel. 02972/42- 8388) lies midway between Junín and San Martín de los Andes. Air schedules change frequently, especially in ski season. Aerolíneas Argentinas (Belgrano 949, tel. 02972/41-0588) flies regularly to Buenos Aires, usually to Aeroparque but sometimes to Ezeiza. LADE (Villegas 231, San Martín, tel. 02972/42-7672) flies occasionally to Aeroparque and to other Patagonian destinations. American Jet (tel. 0810/345-9876) has just begun weekday flights to Neuquén.

Services at Junín’s Terminal de Ómnibus (Olavarría and Félix San Martín, tel. 02972/49-2038) resemble those at San Martín de los Andes, including trans-Andean buses to Chile.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Argentina.

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