Not as touristy as many of the bigger cities in Patagonia, Esquel is a town in the Chubut province that provides a laid back base for exploring the outdoors. This Welsh-founded pueblo of just 28,000 people is the perfect place to relax after checking off all the must-do items on your Patagonia bucket list.
But there’s plenty to do here too. The unspoiled Parque Nacional Los Alerces is just next door and its turquoise waters and protected forests are some of the most beautiful in Argentina. Go horseback riding, learn how to fly fish or rock climb, or go whitewater rafting while staying in this friendly little town.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Esquel:
1. Take a Ride on La Trochita
Hop onboard the Patagonian Express to feel like you’ve been transported back in the time to the days of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Take a ride on this old school locomotive which joins Esquel and the town of El Maitén.
La Trochita has been making this journey since 1939, and it runs on a limited schedule for tourists these days.
When you arrive at El Maitén, there’s a museum that displays original guard uniforms and other objects from the train’s past.
La Trochita is preserved in its original shape and doesn’t exceed 22 miles (35 kilometers) per hour as you depart and head through the ancient forests, rugged Andean landscapes, and violet fields of lupines.
The trip both ways takes about two and a half hours, and you’ll have access to a dining car with a coffee shop and bakery.
2. Go Skiing at La Hoya
With fewer lines and cheaper lift tickets than nearby ski resorts, La Hoya is the place to go if you’re staying in Esquel.
Just a short drive from town, it’s a popular option for skiing and snowboarding from June through September.
This ski resort has over a dozen lifts and 24 runs and there’s something for all skill levels.
It’s pretty low-key, except when the National Ski Festival is held here in September.
Rentals and ski instructors are available so it’s a cheap place to learn for first timers, plus it’s family friendly and the mountains are just so picturesque.
3. Parque Nacional Los Alerces
Home to Lake Futalaufquen, the Los Arrayanes River, and several other clear blue bodies of water, there’s no shortage of boating, hiking, camping, and fishing that you can do in this national park.
It’s actually considered to be one of the most beautiful parks in Argentina due to its unspoiled wilderness consisting of the dramatic mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls next to pristine turquoise lakes.
Stop at the park’s headquarters at La Villa to plan your walk or browse the many services they offer.
Book a cruise across the lakes for great views of the Torrecillas Glacier and then get out and walk to one of the oldest living species of trees in the world, the Alerce, which this park was created to protect.
You can visit “El Abuelo,” an alerce tree that’s at least 2,600 years old.
4. Go Kayaking
Get up close and personal with that turquoise water and learn more about the landscapes here by booking a tour to paddle around the lakes of the national park.
Listen to the glacier crack, watch condors overhead, and have a picnic on the shores with your guide and group.
Glide through Lago Verde, Lago Futalaufquen, or Río Arrayanes, or customize your itinerary with one of the tour companies like Kayak Soul or Frontera Sur.
You can even combine that kayaking with some walks through Los Alerces.
They’ll bring the gear, snacks, and lunch and provide a safety briefing before you get started.
Learn all about the flora and fauna while you take some great photos on this day out.
5. Laguna La Zeta
You can walk to this stunning lagoon from town along a well-signposted track, and once you arrive you’ll have your choice of outdoor activities.
There’s fishing, trekking, kitesurfing, windsurfing, and mountain biking, though many of the locals just come to enjoy a mate by the water.
The route through the pine trees offers an excellent viewpoint of Esquel along the way.
Take a picnic and spend the day relaxing on the beach and swimming.
There are lifeguards, bathrooms, and parking spots available at the lagoon.
6. Dine at Don Chiquino
By far the most popular restaurant in town, this place is set in a lovely little building filled with antiques, license plates, tools, and signed fútbol jerseys.
Argentina’s Italian roots are fully on display here with some of the best homemade pasta available outside of the motherland.
With locally influenced options like rabbit ravioli, malbec-infused pastas, lamb lasagna, pastas paired with venison and Patagonian trout, and the chef-recommended sorrentinos, you may need to come back more than once.
The ambience is cluttered, warm, and comfortable, and some nights you’ll catch the owner entertaining guests with magic tricks.
7. Take a Day Trip to Trevelin
Located in a peaceful green valley surrounded by mountains, this quaint Welsh village makes a perfect day trip.
Just over 13 miles (22 kilometers) from Esquel, Trevelin is known for its rose gardens and authentic Welsh tea houses.
Settled in 1885 by a group of 50 Welsh families, now tourists visit to have afternoon tea and taste European treats at those popular tea houses.
Try the traditional Welsh “black cake,” grab some scones, or order bread with jams made from local ingredients.
A break from all the wilderness and adventure sports, this is historical and cultural tourism at its finest.
Visitors can still hear the Welsh language, see particular customs, and notice Welsh architecture in some of the homes and chapels here.
8. Leleque Museum
Learn about the nomadic Tehuelche people at this little museum outside of town.
Located at the entrance of a massive ranch owned by Carlos Benetton, the museum contains an excellent collection of artifacts and re-creations of the daily life and cultures of the Tehuelche.
You’ll see the tents, utensils, and weapons they used, learn how horses affected their roaming lifestyle, and see how immigrants and the burgeoning sheep industry forced them to adapt.
The museum also provides an audio guide in several languages.
Be sure to have a drink next door at the replica of an old general store from the 1920s where you can buy books and souvenirs.
9. Piedra Parada
This giant rock is located in a protected area surrounded by the Patagonian steppe not far from Esquel.
Its name means “Standing Stone” in Spanish, and you can reach it by driving or booking a tour that’ll include a guide and lunch.
Next to the Chubut River, this enormous stone used to be part of the wall of a volcano, and now experienced climbers attempt to reach the top of it.
The surrounding area provides visitors with treks and excursions to cave paintings and a vast canyon.
There are multiple trails (of various lengths and difficulties) from which you can see vultures and dramatic displays of rocky scenery.
10. Go Horseback Riding
A fun way to explore the surrounding lands and Patagonian terrain is on horseback with a local guide to show you the way.
No experience is necessary and your estancia of choice will pair you with a horse that matches your skill level.
It’s an easy way to reach places that aren’t ordinarily visited by tourists or even accessible by car, and it’s the perfect activity for the whole family.
La Petrona is a popular outfitter, and they’ll take you out to ride in the Valle Chico just outside of Esquel.
They’ll give you a tour of the ranch, show you the livestock, and pack mate and snacks for your riding journey.
11. Rafting the Corcovado
For a little excitement, head out for some whitewater rafting on the Río Corcovado just next to the border with Chile.
Rapids here range in difficulty from class II to class IV. A few tour companies can plan your day and provide you with transportation and all the necessary equipment like helmets, life jackets, and wetsuits.
They’ll give you a safety briefing and teach you how to paddle, as you’ll be working as a team to maneuver the boat downstream and through the rapids.
They might even pack a snack or lunch for you to enjoy after getting out of that cold water, and in the summer you may get the chance to swim.
12. Take a Day Trip to Cholila
Get out of town for the day and head north to the Andean village of Cholila.
Surrounded by mountains and valleys, you’ll especially want to drive up here if you’re a fan of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
After their exile from the States in the early 1900s, these North American banditos built cabins in El Blanco valley on the outskirts of town.
You can now visit Cassidy’s American-style cabin home where he housed other outlaws.
Lake Mosquito, Las Minas Stream, and the Río Cholila are also great places for walks and views of the surrounding valleys of El Cajón and El Rincón.
If you’re visiting in February, you must visit Cholila for the annual Fiesta Nacional del Asado which features a three-day-long barbecue of over 10,000 kilos of beef, 400 sausages, and 300 lambs.
13. Go Fly Fishing
Venture to the Río Corcovado, Río Gualjaina, Arroyo Pescado, or Río Grande to catch some trout with an experienced guide.
They’ll provide you with transportation, access to private waters, rods and flies, plenty of fishing advice, and delicious meals of asado and local specialties (and wine, of course). You’ll rotate between wading and floating and even get to fish in the heart of the national park.
Accommodation options include camping, cabins, and exclusive lodges and estancias, but these companies can basically tailor this adventure to any preferences you might have.
Esquel Outfitters is great at personalizing trips, and El Encuentro can even combine fly fishing with quail hunting if it’s the right season.
14. Rock Climbing
There’s a natural formation just 3 miles (5 kilometers) outside of Esquel called La Palestra that’s perfect for rock climbing.
Previously used by the army for training, now anyone can register at the regiment’s office and attempt to climb this fully equipped wall of rock.
Hire the services of a local professional instructor who can take you out to where the steppe turns into Valdivian rainforest.
With harnesses, rope, helmets, climbing shoes, and carabiners, you can attempt to make it to the top of this 30-meter-high rock via a variety of trails.
It’s a fine rock for novices and pros, and there’s even a less steep trail to the top of the rock located around back.
If you’re more of an expert, Canon de las Buitreras is another popular spot for rock climbing near Esquel.
15. See What’s Happening at Cultura Esquel
This local cultural center in town has a lot of things going on, including live bands, dancing, cinema, workshops, and craft fairs.
Exhibitions often include music along with food and beer vendors.
They’ve hosted fairs featuring local craftsmen, producers, and designers.
Local theater actors, dancers, and improvisation artists take the stage for their art festivals.
Entry is often free, but many of the events try to raise money or food for local community organizations.
Check the schedule to see what performances are on while you’re in town as local musicians, speakers, and authors often take the stage here.