Esquel is a town in the northwest of the province of Chubut, in the Argentine Patagonia. It is located in Futaleufu Department, of which it is the government seat. The towns name derives from one of two Tehuelche words. One meaning "marsh" and the other meaning "land of burrs", which refers to the many thorny plants including the pimpinella and other herbaceous plants whose fruits, when ripe turn into prickly burrs that stick to the animals skins and wool or peoples clothes as a way of propagation.
The founding of the town dates back to the arrival of Welsh immigrants in Chubut in 1865. The settlement was created on 25 February 1906, as an extension of the Colonia 16 de Octubre, that also contains the town of Trevelin.
The city, the main town of the area, is located by the Esquel Stream and surrounded by the mountains La Zeta, La Cruz, Cerro 21 and La Hoya. La Hoya is known as a ski resort with good quality snow right through the spring. The Los Alerces National Park is 50 km (31 mi) northwest of the city.
Another important tourist attraction is the narrow-gauge train (with 75 cm between the rails), known as La Trochita locally and in English as The Old Patagonian Express, after the book by Paul Theroux. It is said to be the only narrow-gauge long-distance train in operation and the southernmost railway in the world. The first fifty locomotives were brought from Germany (Henschel & Sohn) in 1922 and were originally modified to use fuel oil and steam. Later twenty-five locomotives were bought from the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia. The train remains authentic and in operation thanks to the effort of the team of workers at Talleres Ferroviarios El Maiten, that make a lot of pieces and parts by hand. The trains now run as a tourist excursion between Esquel and the small settlement of Nahuel Pan, located at the foot of the volcano of the same name, with other services all the way to El Maiten. Until 1993, the train ran all the way to the city of Ingeniero Jacobacci in Rio Negro, from where trains ran to Viedma and from there to Buenos Aires, forming the General Roca railway.
According to the 2001 census [INDEC], the Esquel district had about 28,000 inhabitants, with one of the highest rates of growth in the province, mainly as result of the immigration of people from Buenos Aires, but also from other provinces. It has wide cement streets with sidewalks, and is clean and well maintained. Their hospital is the primary one for the zone and is often a destination for "Medical Tourism" from both foreigners and Portenos (residents of Buenos Aires) alike.
The townspeople have been in a long battle to prevent a gold mine being set up nearby, with concerns that the metal extraction will contaminate the watercourse permanently and irreversibly. Although the mining companies were prohibited from producing mines in the area, there are still monthly street marches against the mines, and the issue never seems to feel fully settled.
In May 2009, Esquel twinned with Aberystwyth in Wales; with representatives of the Welsh town traveling to Argentina to participate in the signing of a charter formalising the link.