Settled by a mosaic of European agricultural immigrants less than a century ago, this barren but hospitable cotton town draws Argentine visitors to its thermal baths, currently undergoing modernization. Its other attraction is an outstanding zoo focused on species from the Chaco itself.
Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña owes its awkward official moniker not to the Argentine president who brought about universal male suffrage but to his term of office (1910–1913); most Argentines, though, simply call it Sáenz Peña. Its thermal baths date from 1937, when drillers seeking potable water struck hot mineral springs instead. Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone living here in summer until the advent of air-conditioning.
Sáenz Peña (pop. about 100,000) is 165 kilometers northwest of Resistencia and 685 kilometers southeast of Salta via the trans-Chaco RN 16. Willow-shaded Plaza San Martín is the civic center, and north–south Avenida San Martín is the main commercial thoroughfare, but it’s liveliest around the baths.
Sights and Events
The Complejo Termal Municipal (Brown 545, tel. 03732/43-0030, 6 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 2:30–8 p.m. daily) is a complex of hot mineral baths and saunas that also offers massages and physical therapy. Thermal soaks and saunas cost about US$6 each pp, while a half-hour massage from a professional kinesthesiologist costs barely US$10.
On the eastern outskirts, on the south side of RN 16, the Complejo Ecológico Municipal (tel. 03732/42-4284, 7 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, US$0.75) features native regional fauna like tapirs and jaguars in spacious enclosures, plus artificial lakes that attract migratory wildfowl. City bus No. 2 goes directly to the zoo.
Accommodations and Food
The prosaically named Hotel Familiar (Moreno 488, tel. 03732/42-9906, juliobojanich [at] yahoo [dot] com [dot] ar, US$21 s, US$32 d) has medium-sized but immaculate rooms with smallish baths, cable TV, air-conditioning, and parking.
The best new accommodation, though, is the Hotel Aconcagua (Azcuénaga and Julio A. Roca, tel. 03732/42-8111, www.hotelaconcaguachaco.com.ar, US$26 s, US$44 d), which has far more complete services.
Across from the bath complex, shaded by palms and awnings, Sky Blue (Brown and Moreno) is an outdoor beer garden, pizzeria, and sandwich place that draws evening crowds. In addition to the pizzas, there are welcome appetizers of potato salad, popcorn, and peanuts (which tend to increase beer consumption).
Helados Ama Nalec (Moreno 613, tel. 03732/42-4303) serves the best ice cream.
Getting to Sáenz Peña
City bus No. 1 goes from the baths to the Terminal de Ómnibus (Canteros between Avellaneda and López y Planes, tel. 103—a free local call), east of downtown.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition