Capital of its namesake province, Neuquén is a gateway to the northern Patagonian lakes , but also an ideal base for visiting a triangle of nearby dinosaur sites and a cluster of new wineries. At the confluence of two major rivers, it’s a clean modern city that benefits from abundant energy resources, its productive financial sector, and the upper Río Negro valley’s agricultural plenty. It also has an active cultural life, best exemplified by its new fine arts museum.
Where the Río Neuquén and the Río Limay meet, Neuquén (pop. 201,729) is 537 kilometers east of Bahía Blanca via RN 22, 559 kilometers southwest of Santa Rosa via several paved highways, and 429 kilometers northeast of San Carlos de Bariloche via RN 237. RN 22 through the upper Río Negro Valley and west toward Zapala is a narrow highway with heavy truck traffic and dangerously impatient drivers.
Getting to Neuquén
Aerolíneas Argentinas (Santa Fe 52, tel. 0299/442-2409) averages three or four flights daily to Buenos Aires’s Aeroparque. Travel agencies can handle ticketing for American Jet (tel. 0810/345-9876, www.americanjet.com.ar), which has recently begun air taxi service to San Martín de los Andes (five times weekly). LADE (Brown 163, tel. 0299/443-1153) has infrequent Patagonian flights.
About five kilometers west of downtown, Neuquén’s shiny new Terminal de Ómnibus (Planas and Solalique, tel. 0299/445-2300) is a hub for provincial, national, and some international bus services (to the Chilean city of Temuco, reservations are advisable).
Sample provincial and long-distance destinations, times, and fares include Zapala (2.5 hours, US$5), Bariloche (5 hours, US$16–20), San Martín de los Andes (6.5 hours, US$15–23), Villa La Angostura (6.5 hours, US$18–20), Puerto Madryn (9.5 hours, US$26–32), El Bolsón (7.5 hours, US$21), Mendoza (11 hours, US$32–40), Esquel (10 hours, US$28–32), Buenos Aires (13 hours, US$45–59), Comodoro Rivadavia (14 hours, US$45–55), and Río Gallegos (25 hours, US$80).
Chile-bound buses normally leave around 7–9 a.m. or 11 p.m. for Temuco via Zapala and the Pino Hachado pass (9.5 hours, US$30–35). Carriers include Narbus/Igi Llaima (tel. 0299/442-3661), El Valle (tel. 0299/446-4412), Centenario (tel. 0299/445-2520), and Grupo Plaza (tel. 0800/333-1970). Andesmar (tel. 0299/445-2493) goes to Santiago, Chile, via Mendoza.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition