In one of Argentina’s remotest corners, the gritty coal town of Río Turbio had been declining as its underground seams neared exhaustion, but it got an ironic shot in the arm with the 2002 peso meltdown—as locals could no longer afford to shop in Chile, supermarkets and other businesses here opened and even expanded during the country’s worst economic crisis ever. Even Chileans began to cross the border for cheaper Argentine goods.
Even the mines recovered as national fuel shortages made the local mineral a competitive energy source, but this had a downside as well. In mid-2004 an underground fire killed 14 miners, plunging the community into mourning and raising questions about cost-cutting measures by the private concessionaire.
Though it’s no beauty spot, Río Turbio holds some interest for its aging locomotives and railcars—the narrow-gauge railway still carries coal to Punta Loyola, near Río Gallegos—and for its modest winter-sports center.
Near the Villa Dorotea border post, about four kilometers south of town, the Centro de Deportes de Invierno Valdelén (tel. 02902/42-1900, angeli [at] oyikil [dot] com [dot] ar) is a modest but lighted ski area, with elevations ranging 180–690 meters; there are about 12 hectares of downhill slopes and 160 suitable for cross-country. Hours are 10 a.m.–10 p.m. daily when snow is sufficient, usually June–August.
Whatever its shortcomings as a hometown, Río Turbio has decent accommodations, starting with Hospedaje Yenu (2 de Abril 170, Barrio Islas Malvinas, tel. 02902/42-1694, US$25 s, US$37 d). Another good option is Hotel Nazo (Gobernador Moyano 464, tel. 02902/42-1800, nazo [at] oyikil [dot] com [dot] ar, US$47 s, US$53 d).
Don Pablo I (Pellegrini and Roque Sáenz Peña, tel. 02902/42-1220) is a pizzeria that also serves inexpensive minutas (short orders). Hotel Nazo’s Fond du Cave (Gobernador Moyano 474, tel. 02902/42-1800) is the best full-service restaurant.
Río Turbio’s helpful Centro de Información Turística (Plazoleta Agustín del Castillo s/n, tel. 02902/42-1950, rioturbio [at] rioturbio [dot] gov [dot] ar) is presumably open 8 a.m.–9 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.–9 p.m. weekends; in practice it keeps irregular hours.
Río Turbio has no central bus terminal, but all the companies are fairly close to each other. Cootra (Teniente del Castillo 01, tel. 02902/42-1448) operates 5–7 buses daily to Puerto Natales  (1 hour, US$5.50) except on weekends, when there are only two or three. Bus Sur (Avenida de los Mineros 262) goes once or twice daily.
Taqsa (Teniente del Castillo 130, tel. 02902/42-1422) goes to Río Gallegos  (4.5 hours, US$12) at 2:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily.