After a great night’s sleep at Maxi’s house in real beds, we left at 5:30AM towards Neuquén. We were really excited because Neuquén is the entrance to Patagonia and it is also famous for wine (which made me happy). The road to Neuquén was paved but full of potholes and also runs through a desert with no farms and only a couple of gas stations. Also the gas stations don’t have stations to fill up your tires (which is very important on a trip like this) so just be careful on these roads.
We continued on these very straight roads and were stopped for the first time by cops in Argentina. It was just a checkpoint for documents and the cops were extremely nice and polite. Five minutes later we were on our way. Just past Villa la Casa Piedra (which is a very cute city with a beautiful bridge that runs over a huge reservoir) we were stopped by the Food and Disease Control police and told us about the things we weren’t allowed to bring into Patagonia (fruits, meats, artisan crafts) and dispose of them (we only had a few apples to get rid of so we ate them). You also have to pay AR$8 toll to get through, which isn’t so bad.
Now our original plan was to camp at Lago Pelligrini in the city of Neuquén but when we were at Maxi’s house he called his friend in the city to tell him of our plans and he said that camping on the lake was very dangerous. So he directed us to a place about 70km south of Neuquén which was supposed to be much nicer. We decided to go there since it was recommended and on our way to our next destination, Junín de Los Andes.
Before going camping we wanted to go to a winery for a tour. I did some research prior to our trip and found information on a winery called Saurus owned by Familia Schroeder and it looked really nice so we headed there, about 40 km north of Neuquén. We asked for a tour in English (because they have bilingual guides) and it was just me, Dani, and one other guy. The tour was free and we learned a lot about the special wines of Argentina, especially Patagonia. This particular winery was called Saurus because when they were constructing the facility, just 10 years ago, they discovered many dinosaur bones (which is actually quite common in the Neuquén Province, “Land of the Dinosaurs”) and that’s how the name was born. At the end of the tour we tasted a number of wines and decided to purchase some! They had a few promotions going on because it was the holiday season so we highly recommend coming here before the holidays! We spent AR$191 on 3 great bottles, which is about US$30, such a great deal!
After the tour, we headed towards our campsite and we ended up in this amazing little town called Villa El Chocón. It was located on Embalse Ezequiel Ramos Mexía, which is a reservoir for the Rio Negro, but it really looks like a very large lake. The views were breathtaking, a green and blue oasis in the middle of the desert. We decided to take a dip in the refreshing water which was very cold, but perfect because it was very hot. There’s even a little old lighthouse next to this “beach” that gives a great view of the cliffs that reach the lake. It’s absolutely stunning.
After our swim, we went to our campsite, Las Huellas; it was a great facility, located right on the “lake.” It was a bit expensive, AR$50 per person, AR$30 to put up a tent, and then AR$10 for parking (total for us was AR$140), but the bathrooms were amazing and very clean. There was a really nice pool and some tennis courts in the area as well as a restaurant (that was really overpriced). Another nice thing about this campground is that there is WiFi and an outlet next to every site, so we got to use the internet which was good. We also made friends with a local dog who seemed to take a strong liking to us because he protected our tent all night and followed us wherever we went. He was very cute but we never got too close for fear of fleas or biting. Las Huellas and El Chocón were beautiful and I’m glad we went to a place that wasn’t very touristy.
- Left Toay @ 5:30AM
- Arrived in Villa El Chocón @ 5PM
- AR$350 = Gas [AR$8.87/L]
- AR$26.50 = Coffee & Juice @ gas station
- AR$8 = Food & Disease Control fee
- AR$2 = air in tires
- AR$270 = Gas [AR$8.86/L]
- AR$191 = wine @ Familia Schroeder Bodega
- AR$140 = Las Huellas Camping [AR$50/person + AR$10/parking + AR$30/tent]
- Total: AR$727