Across the Chubut border, the gateway to Parque Nacional Los Alerces and the end of the line for the “Old Patagonian Express,” Esquel is a deceptively tranquil town of wide avenues divided by densely planted medians. It’s also a city recently divided by a plebiscite that rejected a nearby gold mine that would have used toxic cyanide to leech the valuable mineral. What’s more, it’s a place where Mapuche militancy is palpable, in graffiti that says “Neither Argentine nor Chilean, but Mapuche.”
Esquel (pop. 28,117) is 167 kilometers south of El Bolsón via RN 258, RN 40, and RN 259, all of them smoothly paved. Alternatively, many visitors take the graveled RP 71, south of the town of Epuyén, directly to Parque Nacional Los Alerces. Esquel is also 608 kilometers west of Trelew via several paved highways across the Patagonian steppe, and 581 kilometers northwest of Comodoro Rivadavia via equally good roads.
The city itself is a compact grid on the north bank of the Arroyo Esquel. Southbound RN 259 leads to a junction to Parque Nacional Los Alerces, the Welsh-settled town of Trevelin, and the Chilean border at Futaleufú.
Getting to Esquel
Esquel has limited air services, better bus connections, and rail fantasies.
Aerolíneas Argentinas (Avenida Fontana 406, tel. 0297/45-3614) and LADE (Alvear 1085, tel. 02945/45-2124) provide air service to Esquel several times a week.
The Terminal de Ómnibus (Avenida Alvear 1871, tel. 02945/45-1566, terminalesq [at] ciudad [dot] com [dot] ar) is a contemporary facility four blocks northeast of downtown. It has good local and regional services, but long-distance links are better in Bariloche. Transportes Jacobsen/Vía Bariloche (tel. 02945/45-3528) connects Esquel with El Maitén at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Jacobsen also serves nearby Trevelin (frequently) and La Balsa/Futaleufú (8 a.m. Mon.–Fri. summer, 8 a.m. Mon., Wed., and Fri. the rest of the year).
In summer, Transportes Esquel (tel. 02945/45-3529) goes to Parque Nacional Los Alerces and Lago Puelo at 8 a.m. (connecting with lake excursions) and 2 p.m. daily. Fares are US$4 to La Villa, US$5.50 to Bahía Rosales, US$6.50 to Lago Verde, US$8 to Lago Rivadavia, US$10 to Cholila, and US$13 to Puelo, where there are easy connections to El Bolsón. Passengers with tickets to Puelo can stop and camp anywhere en route, and continue on any succeeding bus. Winter schedules may differ.
Typical destinations, times, and fares include Trevelin (30 minutes, US$1.50), La Balsa/Futaleufú (1.5 hours, US$5), El Maitén (2 hours, US$5), El Bolsón (2.5 hours, US$7), Bariloche (4 hours, US$12), Trelew (8 hours, US$29), Puerto Madryn (9 hours, US$32), Comodoro Rivadavia (9 hours, US$21–30), and Buenos Aires (24 hours, US$70–89).
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition