The “Welsh” Patagonian town of Esquel sits at the crossroads of windswept Patagonian steppe and the magnificent mountains, forests and glaciers of the Los Alerces National Park.
300km south of Bariloche along a picturesque route that weaves through lush mountains and out across desolate Patagonian Steppe, Esquel is a charming frontier town perched in the rugged foothills of the Andes. Founded in 1906 by Welsh settlers who emigrated from the UK in 1865, Esquel’s cultural heritage is still very evident today in the tea-houses, street names and surrounding “Welsh” towns such as Trevelin that line the route up to the border with Chile. Today, tourism is slowly taking root, one main draw being “La Trochita”, immortalised in Paul Theroux’s classic travelogue “The Old Patagonian Express” – a narrow gauge steam train that has been lovingly restored and still operates along some 402 km of track. However, more importantly for nature enthusiasts, Esquel is the jumping off point for the magnificent Los Alerces National Park, one of Argentina’s natural wonders. Here, you can explore 200,000 hectares of picture-postcard lakes and snow-capped mountains cloaked in ancient Valdivian Rainforest which harbours some of the oldest and last-remaning 2000 year-old redwood Alerce Trees in the Americas.
In addition, Esquel marks the transition zone between the Andes and the vast Patagonian Plateau and heading east, you can leave the lush forests behind and enter the desolate scrub steppe visiting barren river gorges and eerie rock formations such as Piedra Parada. Furthermore, the Chilean border is a short distance south and offers wonderful driving routes which combine two of South America’s most iconic highways – Argentina’s Route 40 and Chile’s Carretera Austral.
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