Una ciudad con alma de pueblo.
That’s how Esquel describes itself, a city with the soul of a village.
And that’s how I felt there, it had the benefits of a larger city but it felt very much like a small town.
Nature is around every corner, a stone’s throw from downtown and the mountains tower in the distance.
Esquel in Argentina’s Patagonia is a welcome rest from bustling Bariloche with a lot to see in town and in the surrounding towns as day trips.
Here are the best things to do in Esquel from a historic train to one of the country’s most beautiful national parks.
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Things to do in Esquel
Esquel was an unexpected city, I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.
While we didn’t stay here (we always base ourselves in neighboring Trevelin), we did visit the city and do our fair of exploring.
La Trochita, named for its narrow tracks, is part of the historic Patagonian Express.
Today it’s a touristic train and one of the most popular things to do in Esquel.
The ride is one hour each way, with a 45 minute rest in Nahuel Pan where you can shop and grab a snack of torta frita.
Book in advance, it will sell out.
If you don’t want to ride the train, head to the station to watch the train pull back in at 1 pm (for the 10 am train).
That’s what we did (no thanks to an hour on a hard bench with two toddlers) and my kids loved it. But for older children this would be a great activity!
Laguna Zeta is a nature reserve 4 kilometers from downtown.
The road to get there is steep with switchbacks yet we saw quite a few people walking it or biking. I’d avoid that and take your car or a remis.
At the top of the switchbacks you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city and valley below.
Once at the lagoon, enjoy a picnic and rest. It feels much further from the city than a short 2 mile ride.
My kids enjoyed throwing rocks in the water from the gazebo that jets out over the water (they filled all of Patagonia’s lakes with stones, actually).
The Olgrun Lithuanian & Natural Science Museum
This museum was such an unexpected treasure, run by Olga and her son in Villa Ayelén, a tourist centered neighborhood 3 kilometers south of downtown Esquel.
The area is filled with artisan shops and complexes of cabins, including La Campina Lituana.
Olga has been internationally recognized for her effort in preserving the Lithuanian culture and the three room museum is a treasure trove.
We spent quite a while here talking with Luciano, Olga’s son, learning about everything in the museum. It was a really unique experience.
Don’t miss it if you’re in the area and if you’re looking for a nice place to stay, check out their cabins!
Museums in Esquel
There were a few other museums in Esquel that sounded interesting but we didn’t have the time.
Here’s a list to add to your Esquel itinerary:
- El Museo Histórico Esquel – A free museum about the history of the city, open Monday to Friday, closing mid-day and reopening late afternoon, confirm hours just in case.
- Museo de Culturas Originarias – In Nahuel Pan, this museum is 15 km from Esquel but you’ll visit if you go on La Trochita, a museum dedicated to the history and culture of the Tehuelche and Mapuche peoples.
Shop in Casa Los Vascos
Casa Los Vascos is the final general store (almacen de ramos generales) in Argentina.
It continues to operate just as it did when it opened in 1926 by the same family, the Valbuenas.
Shop for meters of cloth, clothes, groceries or even at the hardware section, asking the attendants for your wares just as you would have in an “old-fashioned” style general store.
It’s almost like a living museum, if they’ll forgive the description.
Definitely step in for a look around to pick up whatever you need, whether it’s socks for the cold or flour for your pancakes,
Eat at Don Chichon
Don Chichon is the spot to eat in Esquel, make sure to make a reservation first.
The walls are decorated in football paraphernalia and the menu features fresh pasta.
Small towns in Patagonia aren’t often known for the cuisine, so if you’re looking for a nice dinner, head to Don Chichon.
Parque Nacional Los Alerces
Parque Nacional Los Alerces is one of the most beautiful national parks in Argentina, yet it is not on the radar of many foreign tourists.
Esquel is close to its main entrance, the central gate.
From here you are close to the main village in the park, Villa Futalaufquen and the intendent’s office where you can get visitor information.
If you don’t have a car to explore on your own, this excursion hits up all the main sites in the park.
Sendero Lahuan Solitario, is an easy hike with epic views. It is the most popular hike in the park, so start early to avoid crowds.
Playa La Usina is a popular beach (all rocks, no sand) on Lago Futalaufquen. With a huge parking lot, you can’t miss it.
One of the more popular ways to explore the park are with organized boat excursions to the oldest Alerce tree in the park, one of the oldest in the country.
Part of the excursion involve walking the Sendero Lahuan Solitario hike to reach the dock, so it’s a great way to see the highlights in one fell swoop.
There are a few companies that offer these tours, Glaxiar offers smaller group tours for the best experience.
Ski in La Hoya
Skiing in Bariloche is an obvious choice but its Cerro Catedral is not the only ski resort in Argentina.
La Hoya in Esquel is an excellent alternative for those looking to hit the slopes in Patagonia.
The resort is very close to town, it may be smaller than Catedral but it will be much more affordable and none of the crowds that flood Bariloche each winter.
There are 24 runs and being further south, the season tends to extend a couple of weeks longer than in Bariloche.
Trevelin is a smaller village just 20 minutes south of Esquel.
It’s easy to visit as a day trip to see its famous tulip field, one of its wineries or farms (like berries or cherries).
Like Esquel, it was settled by the Welsh and the Welsh influence remains very strong here.
You’ll even see an actual (statue of a) dragon clinging to the roof of its tourist information office.
If you’re starting to plan your trip now, you could even use Trevelin as your base instead of Esquel.
We always choose to stay there (and visit Esquel in the day) and it’s truly one of my favorite destinations in Argentina.
You can read my detailed guide on things to do in Trevelin for more information.
Experience Butch Cassidy in Cholila
Cholila is a tiny, tiny village an hour and a half north of Esquel.
When Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and Etta Place fled the United States they boarded a British steamer ship and headed south to Argentina.
In Cholila the purchased land and cattle and built a few cabins with views of the mountains.
The cabins are on private property but the family the owns the land keeps the gate open and allows people to visit them.
For a scenic drive, you can drive to or from Cholila via Parque Nacional Los Alereces as Cholila is home to the north entrance gate to the park.
Just keep in mind that it’s an unpaved road so you’ll go slow and it’ll be bumpy, but I promise it will be beautiful.
Piedra Parada is a protected area a few hours from Esquel.
It’s a long drive for a day trip in my opinion, but it doesn’t stop plenty from doing it in a single day.
For more read my detailed guide on visiting the Piedra Parada in Chubut.
The road can be rough at times, I found the road from Esquel to Gualjaina to be in the worst condition and we had to go fairly slow.
From Gualjaina to Piedra Parada itself it is unpaved but well maintained.
My point here is, in one day you’ll be on a lot of rough roads, pack some medicine for a headache.
But if you make it there, the scenery is truly worth the effort.
The Piedra Parada itself juts out of canyon floor. We sat at the base of it by the river for a picnic.
Then you’ll go for a walk through the Cañadón de la Buitrera, an low effort high reward hike through the canyon.
If you have the time and freedom of your own car though, I recommend staying a night in Gualjaina for ease and comfort.
How to get around Esquel
Esquel has its own airport with direct flights from Buenos Aires.
There are much fewer flights than the larger airport in Bariloche so plan in advance.
We had to book last minute flights a couple of times in busy season (October) and flights were often full, but were available if you had flexibility on your travel day.
Otherwise, fly into Bariloche and rent a car or take a bus to Esquel.
Whether you fly into Esquel or Bariloche, I highly recommend renting a car for this area or plan to depend on guided excursions.
The sights are mostly out of town in the national park or neighboring towns, you’ll want the freedom of a car.
If you don’t want to or cannot rent a car, Transporte Jacobsen is the main bus company in and around Esquel. Check their schedules and services if planning on traveling onwards in the area.
For comparison, check Busbud or long distance bus schedules/prices from areas like El Bolson, Bariloche, etc.
Read More About the Area
- Things to do in El Bolson
- A Guide to Trekking in El Bolson
- Things to do in Trevelin
- A Bariloche Travel Guide
- The 7 Lakes Route
Argentina Travel Resources
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- BUS TICKETS | I like Busbud for long distance bus routes and tickets.
- VPN | If you’ll be using a public WiFi connection and want to secure your data, I highly recommend using a VPN, I personally use and have had a good experience with ExpressVPN. I also use it to access Hulu and American Netflix from Argentina.
- FLIGHTS | Always check Google Flights and Skyscanner for flights to and within Argentina. Aerolineas Argentina is the local airline with the most routes. FlyBondi and Jetsmart are two budget airlines with dirt-cheap prices (but expect to pay for every add-on like luggage).
- NEED HELP PLANNING? | I offer one-on-one travel consultations to help you plan your trip to Argentina. Pick my brain to get a local’s insight. Click here for more information.