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San Antonio Oeste

 

 

In the late afternoon, scores of birds fly along the narrow arm of the gulf. Sunlight dapples the slow waters. Sea lions frolic in the evening surf as the first of the fishing boats comes in.

 

 

Located on the Gulf of San Matías in northern Patagonia, San Antonio Oeste is a South American birdwatching Mecca. These wetlands are a critical stopping point for countless species of migratory birds which make their annual journeys up and down South America’s eastern coast. There are six endemic species: the Sandy Gallito, White-throated Cachalote, Rusty-backed Monjita, Cinnamon Warbling-Finch, the Burrowing Parrot and the endangered Yellow Cardinal. Other birds that can be seen are the Chimango, Hudson’s Black Tyrant, and several types of gulls and egrets. Birds aren’t the only local resident: sea lions have established colonies nearby and they can frequently be seen basking on the banks of the gulf near town.

 

 

Only 17 kilometers (10 miles) to the south is the popular Las Grutas, or “the grottoes,” named for a series of water-carved caves, and 17 kilometers (10 miles) in the direction of Punta Delgada is Mar Grande, with isolated stretches of sand swarming with bird and sea mammal life. On the way to San Antonio Este, the main port, Saco Viejo, features deserted beaches rich in clams, mussels and other seafood. San Antonio Oeste is a good base from which to make boating and scuba excursions to these and other, more remote areas.

 

 

Also, don’t miss Salina de Gualicho, 45 Kilometers (27 miles) to the south, a blinding white salt flat set in depression 70 meters (229 feet) below sea level.

In the town of San Antonio Oeste itself, a number of early 20th century buildings are preserved: some are now museums. “Nahuel Huasi,” the house of Ingeniero Jacobacci, the man who was responsible for the construction of the Viedma-Bariloche line and that of The Old Patagonia Express, is presently being restored. The municipal museum has interesting displays and the administrator is happy to chat about the region’s history.

 

 

Hotels are open year-round, and in summer there are full-service camp sites. Las Grutas is closed during the off-season months.

 

The train to Bariloche and Viedma still passes through San Antonio Oeste; connecting service to Buenos Aires may be made once a week from Carmen de Patagones, across the river from Viedma. There is also a frequent bus serviceSan Antonio Oeste and its environs offer opportunities to see abundant birdlife, take excursions, fish or scuba dive, or swim in one of the town’s balnearios. Stop for a few days: walk along the estuary, take a boat ride along the gulf coast, listen for the songs of birds, or camp beneath the Southern Cross, and listen to the choruses of the night. The austral summer is the best time to visit northern Patagonia.



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