Update on the Puyehue volcano and flights within Argentina

A jet covered in volcanic ash sits grounded at the Bariloche airport.

A few readers have written us recently  asking the status of flights within Argentina.  In case you haven’t heard, the in Chile has been erupting since June of this year and the volcanic ash in the atmosphere has caused the cancellation of thousands of flights, both domestic and international.

Well unfortunately the volcano continues to erupt and flights to parts of Patagonia continue to be cancelled.  The airport in Bariloche is closed for repairs until late December, but flights are being rerouted to Esquel.  From Esquel there is free bus transport to the airport in Bariloche. 

Esquel is about 4 hours by bus to Bariloche.  The countryside between the two cities is gorgeous.

And with the airports in San Martin de Los Andes and Neuquen also closed, the only way to get to the Lakes district other than flying to Esquel, is by bus or auto.    

Now as we have said countless times before, the option of taking a bus to Patagonina might not be as bad as you think it is.  Buses in Argentina, especially the first-class Cama buses, are confortable and quiet.  It is entirely possible during a long trip to get a full night’s sleep, eat well and watch a couple of movies.  Overnight 12 hour trips can be completely comfortable. 

But after 12 hours one starts to get anxious, and the bus ride from Buenos Aires to Bariloche is a 20-23 hour journey. 

If you do decide to travel by bus and have the time, we suggest you break the trip up with a stopover in Santa Rosa or even Neuquen.   Now we will be the first to admit that neither of those towns is among the most exciting cites in the world, but if it’s just for one night, you should be fine.

If you decide to fly to Esquel make sure you reserve your tickets in advance.  Even though currently it is not high travel season, prices for foreigner passengers on these flights can get quite steep  if not purchased in advance. To check on availability of flights to Esquel, use the search box on the right. The code for the airport at Esquel is ESQ.

Oktoberfest 2011 in Argentina

villa general belgrano
If you like to drink beer, and a good many of us do, Oktoberfest is like Christmas for you. All good beer drinkers of this world should do their duty at least once in a lifetime and make the pilgrimage to Munich, where drinking in excess is the norm and being sober, just really isn’t acceptable. But for those of us non-Europeans who can’t seem to justify traveling to the Old continent in the fall, there exists a few good alternatives. One of them is to come to the southern hemisphere, where it is springtime. The place is Villa General Belgrano, right in the middle of Argentina.

The party gets underway on Friday, the 30th of September. The next day, Saturday the 1st of October the queen of beer will be chosen from shortlist of the prettiest maidens in the area.

All activities take place at the Parque Cervecero (beer garden) right in the center of town. Tickets to enter the ground during the first weekend cost a measly 30 pesos (7 dollars ). Weekdays are free but during the final weekend entrance goes up to 70 pesos.

In addition to international brands such as Isenbeck and Warsteiner, the following breweries will be serving beer:Viejo Munich, Brunnen Bier, Interlaken, Mak Bier, Ayzem Beer, Baires, Boj, Duff, Pehuén, Araucana, Gut Bier, Antares, Cassaro and El Bolsón. There will also be traditional German food and dancing.

Villa General Belgrano was founded by German immigrants in 1930. Ten years later the town received 130 unexpected immigrants when sailors of the Graf Spee, a German battleship, was sunk off the coast of Uruguay. Today the German influence on the town is evident. Bavarian architecture is seen everywhere and German food is sold in the restaurants. Newsstands even sell newspapers in the mother tongue.

Villa is a small town that only gets a trickle of tourists during the rest of the year. As a result there isn’t enough accommodation available for Oktoberfest, and much of what there is has already been taken. If you do plan on going you need to either have a reservation, or plan on staying in the city of Cordoba or nearby. Check for rooms in Villa General Belgrano

Some of the surrounding towns have a better tourist infrastructure, but still nothing near the amount of rooms necessary to meet the demand. The best option is to stay in Cordoba capital, where there are tons of hotels, hostels and guesthouses, and take the bus from there. Buses leave hourly, or hire a car and invite a designated driver.

Another option would be to stay in Villa Carlos Paz, a quaint little town on a lake

Ski Report for Argentina, August 25th, 2011

Here we are nearing the end of August and the snow coverage remains good at all the big ski resorts in Argentina. The temperature has remained low enough that melt-off has remained low and a bit more snow is forecast for later this week.

Cerro Catedral in Bariloche has over 2 meters at the top of the mountain and at least 20cms more is forecast in the next few days. Coverage at the bottom of the mountain remains thin, but that is the norm at this mountain. You will have to take the lift down the mountain at the end of the day if you don´t want to gouge your skis.

Cerro Chapelco in San Martin de Los Andes has similar snow coverage as Bariloche, but little snow is in the forecast.

Las Lenas has decent snow coverage and the Marte lift remains open. The summit of that mountain has a meter and a half of snow, which should be enough to keep the Marte lift open for at least a week, barring any surprise heat wave melting all the snow.

The snow is a meter deep at the base of the mountain which is good news for beginner skiers. But Las Leñas isn´t the best option for beginner skiers. Simply said, there are much more economical and accessible ski areas.

Since we are on the subject of beginner skiers, I would like to mention a great ski area for fist time skiers in the Mendoza are. The area is called Los Puquios and it is located on the road between Mendoza and Santiago de Chile. Being only 2.5 hours by car from Mendoza, it could be done as a day trip from the capital.

A ¨lift¨ ticket at this place costs only 80 pesos (<20 dollars). A beginner ski package can be rented for less than fifteen dollars, as can snowboards, tubes and sleds. There is a small skating rink as well and skates are available. And for those who don´t want to do anything, there is a small restaurant on site. Simply said it is a great place to try skiing or snowboarding for the first without it costing you a fortune. We say ¨lift¨ because the lifts are actually 3 tow ropes. The longest of these ropes serves more intermediate terrain, so if somebody in your group isn’t a beginner, they won’t be completely bored. But overall, this ski area is for beginners and families, not for experienced skiers. In closing there is no news as to when the Puyehue volcano in Chile will start erupting and flights throughout Argentina will resume to operate on normal schedules. Aerolineas Argentinas has canceled all flights in August to San Martin de Los Andes and the Bariloche airport remains closed as well. Even flights to Mendoza have been disrupted in the past few days. The bottom line is that only god knows when the volcano will stop erupting. You can reserve a ticket and surely the airline will take your money, but it’s anybody’s guess if you will be able to fly or not. Your options are to fly to Esquel and transfer by bus to Bariloche, or to take a bus all the way from BA or Mendoza. One final note. We have mentioned before that flying to Mendoza through Santiago de Chile is a good option for US, Canadian and Australian citizens since it saves them the entry fee collected at the airports in Buenos Aires. While we still feel this is a great option, if from Mendoza you decide to visit Chile (or vice versa), make sure you return to the city your flight leaves from a few days before your flight. The reason for this is that during the winter the international pass can close for several days at a time due to heavy snow. When this happens the only practical way to cross between the countries is via airplane, and as you can guess flight tickets become expensive and scare. When the border does finally reopen, buses are sold out for days. More than one of us here at ATG has been stuck in Santiago for up to a week during these situations.

The Old Patagonian Express Rides Again

After a long hiatus La Trochita has returned to service in Esquel, Argentina. Reports tell us that both local residents and foreign tourists welcomed the news and return with applause.

This narrow gauge steam engine powered train is one of the last of its kind left in the world. The train runs on tracks with a distance of only 2.5 feet between the rails. The locomotives are German built steam engines from the 1920s.

For the time being the train will be making only two runs per week. Both leave Esquel on Saturdays- the first at 10 in the morning and the other at 2 in the afternoon. The price remains the same as last year, 150 pesos ( residents of Argentina and seniors pay less). Currently they have three cars in operation but plans are to add more soon. The dining car should also be back in service soon.

The train had been out of service since last April after it derailed in extreme wind conditions. Fortunately passengers suffered only minor injuries in that incident, but repairs were necessary to ensure it does not happen again. Furthermore, authorities announced that for safety reasons the train will not run in high wind situations.

The train travels from Esquel to Nahuel Pan, a small indigenous community where time seems to have stood still for the past 50 years. Although the tracks run over 400 kilometers to the village of El Maitén, service to this town is limited to special occasions. In the past it was possible to travel from Esquel to Buenos Aires by train.

La Trochita was immortilized in Paul Theroux’s 1978 book, The Old Patagonian Express.

The Buenos Aires Tango Festival

If you are anywhere near Buenos Aires this weekend or during the next two weeks, you should pay a visit to the World Tango Festival being held at many points throughout the city.

Entrance to all events is free, but events fill up quickly so plan on arriving early.

For the finals of the World Tango festival you will need to get tickets in advance. You can get a maximum of two tickets per person this Monday (Aug 22nd) between 11 in the morning till 7 at night at the Casa de la Cultura on Avenue de Mayo #575.

The semifinals will be held next Friday, the 26 in the Expo Center. The following Monday the finals will be held in Luna Park.

If you are not lucky enough to get tickets don’t worry. There are a lot of other activities throughout the week ranging from movies to concerts and even lessons! For a full schedule of events, visit the cities web page: World Tango Festival

Event locations for the Buenos Aires Tango Festival

  • CENTRO DE EXPOSICIONES

    Av. Figueroa Alcorta y Av. Pueyrredón

    buses: 7, 124, 130

  • CC TEATRO 25 DE MAYO

    Av. Triunvirato 4444
    Buses: 71, 112, 114, 127, 133, 176
    Subte: B line to Los Incas.
  • TEATRO DE LA RIBERA

    Av. Pedro de Mendoza 1821
    Buses: 25, 29, 64, 86, 152.

  • LUNA PARK

    Buses:tons of them. Check your Guia-T
    subte: B line to Alem