El Bolsón, Argentine Patagonia’s counterculture capital, may be the place to replace your faded tie-dyes, but it’s also a beauty spot in a fertile valley between stunning longitudinal mountain ranges that provide fine hiking. So far, despite completion of the paved highway from Bariloche, this self-styled “ecological municipality” and outspoken nonnuclear zone has managed to stymie five-star hotels and ski areas in favor of simpler—earthier, even—services and activities.
El Bolsón’s alternative lifestyle, which began in the 1960s, grew as an island of tolerance and tranquility even during the Dirty War dictatorship. More affordable than Bariloche, it embraces visitors, turns its agricultural bounty—apples, cherries, pears, raspberries, strawberries—into delectable edibles, and makes local hops into a distinctive brew. Motorists appreciate that it’s the northernmost place to buy gasoline at Patagonian discount prices.
Río Negro’s southernmost city, El Bolsón (pop. 13,845, elevation 300 meters) is 123 kilometers south of Bariloche via RN 258 and 167 kilometers north of Esquel via RN 258 and RN 40. West of the south-flowing Río Quemquemtreu, the Cordón Nevado’s snowy ridge marks the Chilean border, while Cerro Piltriquitrón’s knife-edge crest rises steeply to the east. Surrounding an artificial lake, the elliptical Plaza Pagano is the town’s civic center and the site of its popular street fair.
Getting to El Bolsón
In new quarters, LADE (Avenida Sarmiento 3238, tel. 02944/49-2206) flies throughout Patagonia on erratic schedules. Flights leave from the Aeroclub El Bolsón (tel. 02944/49-1125) at the north end of Avenida San Martín.
El Bolsón lacks a central bus terminal, but most companies, are within a few blocks of each other. Between Andesmar (Belgrano and Perito Moreno, tel. 02944/49-2178), Vía Bariloche (Sarmiento and Roca, tel. 02972/45-5554), Transportes Esquel (Belgrano 406, tel. 02944/49-3124), Grado 42 (Belgrano 406, tel. 02944/49-3124), Don Otto (Belgrano and Berutti, Local 3, tel. 02944/49-3910), and Maputur/Mar y Valle (Perito Moreno 2331, tel. 02944/49-1440), you should be able to get around just fine.
The usual destinations are Bariloche (2 hours, US$6–8), Esquel (2.5 hours, US$7–9), Trelew (11 hours, US$36–57), and Puerto Madryn (12 hours, US$39–60). Fares to other northbound destinations are slightly more expensive than those from Bariloche; fares to southbound destinations are slightly cheaper.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition