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Rio Turbio

Long before humans walked on this planet, Río Turbio and the surrounding area was a vast inland sea. This twist of fate is what makes Río Turbio what it is today: Argentina’s major coal mining region. After seeing the pristine beauty along Ruta 40 and visiting the virgin wilderness of El Chalten and El Calafate’s Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, approaching Río Turbio is quite a shock. The first thing that greets visitors is kilometers of mines and conveyors alongside the highway. Then, before the city itself, come the miners' block housing.

Life in Río Turbio centers on those black carbon seams, which means the city has a somewhat gloomy atmosphere. The streets flow with men who come hoping to find work in the bowels of the earth, and since the announcement of a sixth mine to be opening, the population has swollen by several thousand. It’s hard to find room at any of the inns. These are just some of the reasons many travelers pass by Río Turbio on their way from El Calafate to Puerto Natales. The town, though, does have some interesting attractions.

In the mine installations on the east side of Río Turbio is Escuela Museo Minero. It was established in 1978 to teach the village’s students about mining, but tourists are also welcome to learn all about coal, from its ancient geological past through the mining process (Monday - Friday 8 a.m. - noon, 2:30 - 5 p.m. 4 km/2.4 mi east. Entry: free). Not too far away is the turn-off for the Reserva Hidroecológica Vega San José, also known as Dique San José. Located four kilometers (2.4 mi) north of the city, this is a good place to camp, canoe and kayak. Some birds, including flamingos, now reside at this man-made lake.

Traveling south of Río Turbio are more intriguing places. About one kilometer (0.6 mi) away is Bosque de Duendes. A path following the course of a stream wends through a damp forest. Hidden among the trees are over 40 sculptures done by Patagonian woodcarvers. Further south on 40 is a roadside shrine to the folkloric hero Gauchito Gil. Near the Chilean border (4 km/2.4 mi south) is Mina 1, the original mine, which is now a historical site. Also in this district is Centro de Deportes Invernales Valdelen: here you can get your skiing in–both cross-country and alpine. The 500-hectare complex has eight runs, ski lift, hostel, instructors, guides, equipment rental and restaurant. The season runs May - September (Tel.: 42-2708, E-mail:, URL:

Andean Condors frequent the Río Turbio area. There are several new viewpoints at Mina 1, Mina 4, and Cerro de la Cruz from which you can watch these majestic birds. On the horizon is the Tren Bioceánico, a 40-kilometer (24 mi) train ride to Puerto Natales, Chile. This line carried cargo and passengers from 1952 to 1997. Service, hopefully, will resume by 2011.

Like any town, RĂ­o Turbio has its celebrations:
October – Feria de Colectividades – The cultures of all the nations who founded this town, including Spain, Italy, Syria, Lebanon, Bolivia and Scotland, are celebrated with food, dances and other shows.

Late August – Fiesta Provincial de la Nieve – a snow festival, with skiing, a triathlon, snow football, folklore and other events.

December 4 – Día del Minero y de Santa Bárbara – Santa Bárbara is the patron saint of miners, and there is a religious procession on this day. This is the only time of the year women are allowed to enter the mines (bring a helmet and flashlight). At any time of the year, you can visit her chapel, Capilla de Santa Bárbara, which is decorated with flags from the original miners’ countries (two blocks east of Plaza San Martín, off Calle San Martín).

December 14 – Aniversario de Río Turbio – This is the city’s anniversary fete and includes the Festival de Doma y Folklore, a rodeo and other gaucho events.

RĂ­o Turbio History

The history of how all these immigrants came to this valley begins in 1873 when Englishman William Greenwood and Frenchman François Poivre founded a settlement on the banks of a turbulent river. The village RĂ­o Turbio was formally founded in 1887. In that same year Teniente AgustĂ­n del Castillo discovered coal. During World War II, Santa Cruz Governor Gregores ordered the exploitation of this resource. Since then, the mining industry here has had its cycles. In the 1990s it was privatized, but since the 2004 underground shaft fire which killed 14 workers, the mines are once more operated by state-owned Yacimientos CarbonĂ­feros Fiscales (YCF) RĂ­o Turbio. 

Most services are on Avenida de los Mineros. The DirecciĂłn de Turismo Municipal is very helpful (Monday - Friday 8 a.m. - 9 p.m., weekends 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. Plazoleta AgustĂ­n del Castillo, between Av. de los Mineros and the main plaza, Tel.: 42-1950, Fax: 42-2451, E-mail:, URL: The GendarmerĂ­a (immigration police) is at the border (Tel.: 42-1108); city police at Castillo near Irigoyen (Tel.: 42-1172).

Banks have ATMs that accept MasterCard, Cirrus, Visa and Plus cards: Banco Santa Cruz (Lista, across from tourism office; ATM also accepts American Express), Banco de la NaciĂłn Argentina (Avenida de los Mineros and Roca; exchanges U.S. dollars, Western Union agent). Many businesses accept Chilean pesos and U.S. dollars, as well as the local currency. RĂ­o Turbio also has a hospital (Bolados, between MurallĂłn and Upsala), post office (Avenida de los Mineros and Irigoyen) and right next door, Oyikil, the phone and Internet ($1.20 per hour, Skype; slow connection) center. Keyem Viajes y Turismo provides tours in the area (Avenida Jorge Newbery 600, Tel.: 02902-42-2591 / (02966)1541-1611).


Even though eight hostels operate in Río Turbio, rooms are scarce. Most are solidly booked by migrants coming to work in the mines. The tourism office can help you find a place in a pinch. Free campsites (without services) are at Bosque de los Duendes (1 km/0.6 mi south of town) and at Dique San José (4 km/2.4 mi east).

Albergue Mina 1 (Paraje Mina 1, 4 km/2.4 mi south, near Chilean border, Tel.: 42-24-2498, E-mail: – shared room $11.

Hotel Yenu (2 de Abril 170, Tel.: 42-1694) -- $23 single, $34 double with breakfast.

Hotel Nazo (Moyano 464, Tel.: 42-1334, Fax.: 42-1800, E-mail: – 1 or 2 persons $50 - 56.


Most restaurants in town are rotiserĂ­as (chicken joints) or snack stands. At Castillo and Kista is a La AnĂłnima supermarket.

RotiserĂ­a El Quincho (Roca and Antartida Argentina, Tel.: 42-1570)

Pizzaría Don Pablo (Pellegrini and Sáenz Peña, Tel.: 42-1220)

Restaurante Fond de Cave (Moyano 464, Tel.: 42-1800

(Altitude: 352 m / 1144 ft, Population: 6650, Phone Code: 02902)


Other places nearby Rio Turbio: El Chaltén, Los Antiguos , Parque Nacional Perito Moreno , El Calafate, Gobernador Gregores, Cueva De Las Manos , Lago Posadas and Perito Moreno.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

08 Oct 2009

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