Where the steppe meets the sierra, the Río Chimehuín gushes from the base of 3,776-meter Volcán Lanín to become one of Argentina’s top trout streams near Junín de los Andes. Calling itself Neuquén’s “trout capital,” Junín also offers 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 beatified Chilean Laura Vicuña, and its ostensible blend of Catholic and Mapuche traditions. Founded in 1883, during General Roca’s so-called “Conquista del Desierto,” Junín is Neuquén’s oldest city.
Near the confluence of the Chimehuín and its Curruhué tributary, Junín (pop. about 18,000) is 387 kilometers southwest of Neuquén via RN 22 and RN 40, and 41 kilometers northeast of San Martín de los Andes via RN 40. It’s 218 kilometers north of San Carlos de Bariloche via RN 40. The main thoroughfare is north-south RN 40. The city center, a compact grid around Plaza San Martín, lies east between the highway and the river.
Junín draws religious tourists to its modernized Santuario Nuestra Señora de las Nieves y Beata Laura Vicuña (Ginés Ponte and Don Bosco, 8am-8pm daily, US$3), which focuses on Laura Vicuña, a young girl who (legend says) willed her own death to protest her widowed mother’s affair with an Argentine landowner. The airy, luminous structure incorporates Mapuche elements; it also holds an urn with one of Laura Vicuña’s vertebrae.
The Museo Mapuche (Padre Milanesio 750, tel. 02972/491178, 8am-2pm and 4pm-7pm Mon.-Fri., 9am-1pm Sat., free) focuses on indigenous artifacts and historical exhibits. It also displays fossils.
In the western foothills, the Vía Christi is a stations-of-the-cross footpath climbing 2.5 kilometers to the summit of Cerro de la Cruz.
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 riverine fishing. For licenses and suggested guides, visit the tourist office on Plaza San Martín: Secretaría de Turismo (Padre Milanesio 596, tel. 02972/491160, 8am-9pm daily). For nonresidents of the country, licenses cost US$27 per day, US$79 per week, or US$106 for the season (Nov.-Apr.), with an additional charge for a trolling permit; passports are required.
The APN office (Padre Milanesio 570, tel. 02972/492748) provides information on hiking and climbing Volcán Lanín and other excursions within the park.
On the Río Aluminé, about 30 kilometers east of Junín via RN 234, the 6,600-hectare Anglo-Argentine Estancia Huechahue (no phone) is a forested cattle ranch that doubles as a recreational getaway for serious gaucho-style riders, those who want to become serious riders, and increasing numbers of fishing enthusiasts. In October-April, Jane Williams’s well-trained horses carry a maximum of 12 guests at a time over mountainous terrain into Parque Nacional Lanín, or undertake a circuit of various nearby estancias (cattle or sheep ranches).
For accompanying non-riders, or for a change of pace, there’s hiking, birding, swimming, and even tennis. Huechahue also features volcanic caves, Tehuelche rock-art sites, and wildlife, including 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$400 per person, in 11 twin-bedded rooms, includes full board, drinks (beer, wine, and spirits), hot tub and sauna, and activities (fishing guides and massages are extra). The food is traditional Patagonian fare rather than European-style cuisine, though Huechahue can accommodate vegetarians. The basic package also includes transfers between Huechahue and San Martín de los Andes’ Aeropuerto Chapelco; transport to or from Bariloche is possible for an additional charge. For details, contact Jane Williams at Estancia Huechahue.
Getting There and Around
Aeropuerto Aviador Carlos Campos-Chapelco (RN 234 Km 24, tel. 02972/428388) lies midway between Junín and San Martín de los Andes. Air and bus schedules change frequently, especially in ski season. Aerolíneas Argentinas (Belgrano 949, tel. 02972/410588) flies regularly from Buenos Aires.
Services at Junín’s Terminal de Ómnibus (Olavarría and Félix San Martín, tel. 02972/492038) resemble those at San Martín de los Andes, including trans- Andean buses to Chile. Castelli (tel. 02972/491557) buses go hourly to San Martín de los Andes (US$2, 50 min.), except on Sunday when they go less often.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Patagonia.