Viedma and Carmen de Patagones

These two towns straddle the broad sweep of the Río Negro, about 250 km south of Bahía Blanca, and while neither has any real tourist attractions, you could stop off here on the way south and find warm hospitality, and a couple of decent places to stay. The two towns face each other, and share a river, but little else. Capital of Río Negro province, Viedma, on the south bank, was founded as Mercedes de Patagonia in 1779, but was destroyed almost immediately by floods, after which Carmen de Patagones was founded on higher ground on the north bank later that same year. The towers of a handsome church thrust above the town's roofs, and the little town prospered, since for many years, it was a European colony which shipped salt to Buenos Aires, and in 1827, it was the site of an extraordinary battle. Poor old Viedma was rebuilt, but destroyed again by floods in 1899. Now, it's a rather dull modern place, employing most of its residents in the administrative centre for the province of Río Negro, and rather less attractive than Patagones. However, Viedma does have a perfect bathing place along the shaded south bank of the river, a delightful spot in summer. Patagones (as it's called by the locals) has more tangible history, with charming streets of nineteenth century adobe houses near the river, where the tiny ferry takes you across to Viedma, and there's a fabulous little museum.

Viedma

Viedma is quite different in character from Carmen de Patagones, since it's the provincial administrative centre, rather than the home of farmers and landowners. An attractive costaneraruns by the river, with large grassy banks shaded by willow trees, and the river water is pleasantly warm in summer and clean. On a calm summer's evening, when groups gather to sip mate, the scene resembles Seurat's painting of bathers. There are two plazas, with the cathedral, built by the Salesians in 1912, on the west of Plaza Alsina. The former convent, next door, was the first chapel built by the Salesians in the area, in 1887, and is now a cultural centre housing the Museo del Agua y del Sueloand the Museo Cardenal Cagliero, which has ecclesiastical artefacts. The Museo Gobernador Tello has displays of fossils, rocks and indigenous boleadoras. Most diverting, though, is the Museo Gardeliano, a fabulous collection of biographical artefacts of tango singer Carlos Gardel. Along the attractive costanera, the Centro Cultural, houses a small Mercado Artesenalselling beautifully made Mapuche weavings and woodwork.

Carmen de Patagones

This is by far the more dynamic of the two places (which isn't saying much) and although you'll still find this is a very sleepy town, there's a feeling of positive bustle on the main street on weekday mornings. Take a stroll down the pretty streets winding down to the river to find many early pioneer buildings along the riverside: the Torre del Fuerte, tower of the stone fortress built in 1780 against indigenous attacks; the Casa de la Tahona, a disused 18th-century flour mill now housing the Casa de la Cultura; and another late colonial building, La Carlota.. Nearby there's the fascinating Museo Histórico Regional 'Emma Nozzi'  giving a great insight into early pioneer life. There are Tehuelche arrowheads, stone boleadoras, silver gaucho stirrups and great early photos - one of a baptism by Salesians of a 100-year-old Tehuelche man in a field, next to delicate tea cups. There are great guided tours too. The Museo de la Prefectura Naval www.prefect uranaval.gov.ar, is also worth a look if you're into ships, it's housed in a building dating from 1886 and contains a marine history of the area.

Patagones is linked to Viedma by two bridges and a very small ferry which takes four minutes and leaves every 15 minutes. The town is packed out for the Fiesta de 7 de Marzo, which celebrates the victory at the Battle of Patagones. It's great fun but make sure you book accommodation in advance.

Around Viedma and Carmen de Patagones

At El Cóndor, 30 km south (also known as La Boca) there is a beautiful beach, with the oldest lighthouse in the country, dating from 1887.

This whole stretch of coast is great for shore fishing, with pejerrey, variada and even shark among the many other species. Playa Bonita, 12 km further south is known as a good fishing spot, and offers more good beaches. Equipment is available in Viedma . Ask the tourist office for their leaflet Lobería Punta Bermeja; 60 km south is a sea lion colony visited by some 2500 sea lions in summer, which you can see at close range (daily bus in summer; but hitching is easy).

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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