Its rich history turns it into a must visit while going from El Calafate to El Chaltén, or vice versa. Bandits, climbers, bank robbers, explorers, they all stopped at La Leona.
Baptized “La Leona Rest Area and Countryside Hotel, Historical and Cultural Heritage in the Province of Santa Cruz” by the Province of Santa Cruz
, this is a very well-deserved distinction.
La Leona Rest Area and Countryside Hotel lies 110 kilometers away from El Calafate
, on National Route 40, meters away from Lake Viedma, right halfway between El Calafate and El Chaltén
. This historical site has become one of the legends of Argentinian Patagonia.
Time passed but the feeling and the spirit of the past are perfectly preserved at this location, as if the clock had not ticked. Having a cup of coffee and a piece of home-made cake, lunch, dinner or going for a short walk, fishing or just resting and enjoying the landscape gives an idea of what things were like in the past.
Built in 1894 by a family of Danish immigrants –the Jensens-, it was precisely at this very place where Francisco P. Moreno (expert Moreno, consecrated Argentinian scientist and explorer) had been attacked and badly wounded by a female cougar (referred to as a lioness by the Patagonian jargon) 17 years before. After this incident, the river that runs through this region was named after this animal, as “la leona”
stands for “the lioness” in Spanish.
La Leona was a witness to significant historical events that made it worldwide famous.
In 1905, three foreigners stayed at La Leona. A few days after they left, a police committee came up searching for the strange guests. The thing is that they were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who were accompanied by the wife of the latter: Ethel Place. They had robbed the Bank of London in Río Gallegos
A famous Uruguayan bandit also assailed this spot. His name was Asensio Brunel and legend has it that he used to be a hermit who was a mixture of Robin Hood and Billy The Kid. He ended up killed by several local colonists in a shoot-out worthy of the best westerns.
The Petersens, along with Alfred Brodersen, from Germany, acquired the venue in 1910. They added two rooms to the already existing pair at the hotel, all of them built with adobe bricks, and they raised a pulpería (gaucho’s pub) and a general store, which today function as the pub and the coffee house at La Leona. Years later, Jul and Feliza Christensen became the owners of this site and in turn they sold it to the Saldia-Westerlund family.
As it was the only recreation area for the local rural workers, the excess of alcohol would give way to a great number of fights that used to be solved through criollo duels that would generally end up with the death of one or more opponents.
In 1922, in the middle of a strike organized by the workers of the Patagonian estancias, La Leona rest area could not remain aside from these events.
La Leona was used by the most famous and formidable climbers in the world used as first base to gather their gear before setting out towards their intrepid and sometimes fatal ascents to Mounts Torre, Fitz Roy and Saint-Exupery, as well as to the continental ice fields.
One of these expeditions was the famous French-Argentinian team made up by Lionel Terrey, Guido Magnone, Lieutenant Francisco Ibáñez, Louis Depasse and Jacques Poincenot (the latter of whom passed away during the expedition). They were the first ones to hit the summit of Mount Fitz Roy on February 2, 1952.
After reaching the top of several of the most dangerous mountains in the region, it was Casimiro Ferrari, Italian by birth and Patagonian by adoption, a real climbing hero, the first man to conquer Mount Torre, on January 13, 1974. Years later, he settled down for good a few kilometers away from La Leona rest area, at estancia Punta del Lago.
The strategic location of the rest area, on the way from El Calafate to El Chaltén or vice versa, makes it possible for visitors to make a stop and enjoy some of the benefits it offers at first sight.