“Portal to Patagonia” signs tout this palindrome of a city in southern Argentina, leading me to imagine lush green valleys giving rise to mountains and crystal blue clean lakes. And yes, I’d most definitely say Patagonia more than matches this scene I describe.
Neuquen, though? Not so much.
While you can find a few lovely touristy things to keep yourself busy, we found Neuquen greatest asset to be it's shopping. It's the perfect place to pick up supplies right before you turn further south to explore Bariloche, Ushuaia and everywhere in between.
You need a fleece to keep you warm at night? Neuquen. You want to rent snowboards or buy last minute goggles, gloves and ski pants for your week at Chapelco ski resort? Neuquen. You want to stock up your RV with vitamin water, Alfajor Oreos and outfit it with new tires? Neuquen is your salvation baby. Everything you could possibly want can be found there, probably on sale too.
It’s also a hub city, 3rd largest in Argentina, and the perfect stopping point to break up the excruciatingly long bus rides between major cities. We stayed one night – you won’t need more than a day at most – between Cordoba and San Martin de los Andes.
The bus station is large, clean and ready to serve the hundreds of tourists that pass in and out of this intensely commercial city. A commercialism that indeed borders on the surreal. Firestone, Mercedes, Walmart, Coca Cola signs line the streets, shouting at you to come, buy, get, own. One big shopping mall boasted well established South American chains such as Easy and Jumbo.
While the stores offer reasonable prices, hotels are pricey. Expect to pay at least $75 dollars per night for a mediocre hotel. We stayed a bit out of town, which requires you rent a car or pay for cabs into town. We found nothing to rent with a kitchen, so we were forced to shell out additional cash for meals.
I will say, though, our dinner at Bar 32, corner of Avenida Argentina and Alvear in the center of Nuequen, was one of the best meals I’ve had at a restaurant in I don’t know how long. There was even a very good, straightforward, sushi on the menu.
One other point of interest definitely worth your attention? Continuing approximately 80 kilometers west on Ruta 237 to the neat little town of El Chocon, you can visit dinosaur bones excavated right there in Neuquen province. The land itself is very old and hasn’t been much changed over the centuries by landslides, earthquakes or tectonic plate shifts, so the bones are closer to the surface and the terrain, although not the plant life, is very much like what it was when these enormous animals roamed.