Carmen de Patagones
On the Río Negro’s north bank, founded in 1779, Carmen de Patagones was once Spain’s farthest outpost in what is now Argentina, and it’s the only Patagonian city with a genuine colonial feel. “Patagones” is also Buenos Aires Province’s most southerly city, but the south bank Río Negro capital of Viedma has a greater variety of hotels, restaurants, and other services.
Befitting its dual heritage, the city’s name is a hybrid of the indigenous (Patagones, after the aborigines) and the European (after its patron, the Virgen del Carmen). The original colonists came from Maragatería, in the province of León; in 1827, in a conflict over the buffer state of Uruguay, their descendents fended off Brazilian invaders. Locals still use the nickname maragatos.
Carmen de Patagones (pop. 18,095) is 279 kilometers south of Bahía Blanca and 915 kilometers south of Buenos Aires via coastal RN 3, which continues west and then south to Chubut, Santa Cruz, and Tierra del Fuego. Two bridges connect it to Viedma, but most locals shuttle across the river on motor launches.
Patagones’s most conspicuous landmark, the twin towers of the Salesian-built Iglesia Parroquial Nuestra Señora del Carmen (1883) rise above the Plaza 7 de Marzo, which commemorates the victory over Brazil in 1827. Immediately west, the Torre del Fuerte (1780) is the sole remnant of Patagones’s frontier fortifications.
Immediately south of the tower, between a set of antique cannons, the broad staircase of Pasaje San José de Mayo descends to the adobe Rancho de Rial (1820), home of Carmen’s first elected mayor. One block east, dating from 1823, the restored Casa de la Cultura (Mitre 27) was once a flour mill. Across the street, fitted with period furniture, the 19th-century Casona La Carlota (Bynon and Mitre) offers guided tours; contact the Museo Histórico for details.
To the south, the waterfront Mazzini & Giraudini was a thriving merchant house in the early 20th century. Naval hero and Patagonian explorer Luis Piedra Buena once lived in adjacent Parque Piedra Buena; a block west, the Casa Histórica del Banco de la Provincia (J. J. Biedma 64), the former provincial bank, now houses the regional history museum.
Immediately opposite the dock for launches to and from Viedma, the Museo Histórico Regional Emma Nozzi (J. J. Biedma 64, tel. 02920/46-2729, 10:30–11:30 a.m. and 7–8:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., free) evinces a stereotypically ethnocentric attitude—the clear if unspoken notion that General Roca’s 19th-century “Conquest of the Desert” was a greater good that justified a genocidal war against Patagonia’s native peoples—that undercuts the quality of its pre-Columbian artifacts. In context, its most interesting exhibit is the Cueva Maragata, one of several excavations that sheltered the first Spanish colonists.
The building itself has served several roles, including a naval-stores depot, a girls school, bank branches, and retail. Banco de la Provincia restored the structure, which suffered serious flood damage in 1899, as a museum; a series of historical photographs displays the flood’s devastation, which caused the evacuation of lower-lying Viedma.
Accommodations and Food
Carmen has decent shoestring accommodations, with private baths, at Residencial Reggiani (Bynon 422, tel. 02920/46-1065, residencialreggiani [at] hotmail [dot] com, US$37 d), which has recently added a restaurant; there’s a 5 percent discount for cash. The tidy, Francophile-style Hotel Percaz (Comodoro Rivadavia 384, tel. 02920/46-4104, www.hotelpercaz.com.ar, US$32 s, US$45 d) offers 10 percent discounts for cash payments.
Confitería Sabbatella (Rivadavia 218) is fine for breakfast, coffee, or sandwiches. Pizzería Neptuno (Comodoro Rivadavia 310) sells its namesake.
Getting to Carmen de Patagones
Services to and from Patagones’s Terminal de Ómnibus (Barbieri and Méjico, tel. 02920/46-2666), two blocks north and three blocks east of Plaza 7 de Marzo, are less frequent than Viedma’s; many long-distance buses stop at both, however.
From Estación Carmen de Patagones (Bulevar Juan de la Piedra and Italia), Ferrobaires (tel. 02920/46-1048, www.ferrobaires.gba.gov.ar) runs a Sunday train (11:40 a.m.) to Buenos Aires (23 hours, US$18–21). Nearby Viedma has an airport.
Lanchas (passenger launches) cross the river to Viedma every few minutes during daylight hours.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition