Irrigated by the Atuel and Diamante Rivers, vineyards and orchards still survive within San Rafael’s city limits, heart of a prosperous wine-and-fruit-producing area southeast of the city of Mendoza. Recreationally, the city can be a base for rafting on the Atuel and Diamante as well as for other activities in the nearby Andean foothills.
South of San Rafael, despite three hydroelectric dams, the Cañón del Atuel retains enough water for Class II–III descents of its namesake river. Turismo Aventura Raffeish (RP 173 Km 35, tel./fax 02627/43-6996, www.raffeish.com.ar) is the most popular rafting and kayaking operator on the Río Atuel, and will also organize descents of the Class IV Diamante, in rugged country west of San Rafael.
Dormant during the afternoon siesta, when there is little or no traffic on its sycamore-shaded avenues, San Rafael comes alive in the evening, when locals fill the café tables that occupy its broad clean sidewalks. Most of the local wine route, a good enough reason to visit in its own right, is negotiable on foot, but many locals get around on bicycles—which seem as numerous as automobiles except Sunday evenings, when Avenida Hipólito Yrigoyen becomes a slow-moving see-and-be-seen car cruising scene.
But most things to see and do are in the vicinity of San Rafael rather than in the town itself. Six kilometers west of town, the Museo de Historia Natural (tel. 02627/42-2121, ext. 290, 7 a.m.–7:30 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m.–7:30 p.m. weekends, US$1.25) occupies a site at Isla Diamante’s Parque Mariano Moreno. Regionally focused, it has sectors on anthropology and archaeology, botany and zoology, paleontology and geology, and astronomy.
En route to Malargüe, southwest-bound RP 144 zigzags for 32 kilometers up the Cuesta de los Terneros, where the Parque Sierra Pintada, a 5,000-hectare private reserve, contains pre-Columbian rock-art sites and indigenous fauna like the guanaco. Inexplicably it has also introduced nonnative fauna like the Indian water buffalo.
San Rafael (pop. 104,782) is 236 kilometers southeast of Mendoza via paved RN 40 and RN 143, and 186 kilometers northeast of Malargüe via RN 144 and RN 40. It is 996 kilometers west of Buenos Aires via RN 7 to Junín (Buenos Aires Province), RN 188 to General Alvear, and RN 143.
Getting to San Rafael
In the winter ski season, Aerolíneas Argentinas (Avenida Hipólito Yrigoyen 395, tel. 02627/43-8808) flies every weekday.
San Rafael’s Terminal de Ómnibus (Coronel Suárez between Avellaneda and Almafuerte) is one block south of Avenida Hipólito Yrigoyen. Sample destinations, times, and fares include Malargüe (3 hours, US$9), Mendoza (3 hours, US$9), Buenos Aires (13 hours, US$38–60), Mar del Plata (15 hours, US$42), Neuquén (8 hours, US$25), and Bariloche (13 hours, US$40).
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition