The town of Epecuen, in the Argentinian farmlands southwest of Buenos Aires, was once a bustling lakeside resort with a population of over 5,000. Over a quarter of a century ago it was flooded by the waters of a nearby lake and, until recently, it remained submerged. Now it’s finally come back up for air.
Established in 1920 along the shore of Lake Epecuen, the popular tourist destination played host to at least 20,000 visitors every season. Its main attraction was the saltwater lake, which contained 10 times more salt than the ocean. According to local legend, the lake is so salty because it was formed by the tears of a great Chief crying for the pain of his beloved. The waters of the lake were believed to cure depression, rheumatism, skin diseases, anemia, and even diabetes.
Thousands of visitors would arrive by train from the nation’s capital to relax in the town’s saltwater baths and spas. Tourists, mainly from Buenos Aires’ large Jewish community, enjoyed the floating water because it reminded them of the Dead Sea in Israel. The town had almost 300 thriving businesses – including guesthouses, lodges, hotels and other establishments centered around tourist trade.
Photo: Santiago Matamoro
Sadly, disaster struck the beautiful town in 1985, when the place was flooded after heavy rainfall sent the lagoon bursting over its banks. Water quickly penetrated the man-made retaining wall and spilled into the lakeside streets. People fled with whatever little they could, and the slow-growing flood finally submerged the small community under nearly 10 meters of corrosive salt water.
Photo: Santiago Matamoro
Former resident Norma Berg, who lived in Epecuen until the flood, recalls the experience to this day. “I had a bunch of cats and dogs, and they ran away a couple of days before the flood and I never saw them again,” she said. “I think my pets could feel that the water was coming.”
Over the years, the water has slowly receded, exposing the devastating ruins of the once breathtaking town. With all the concrete rubble covering almost every inch of the ground, Epecuen now looks like a post-apocalyptic ruin. The eerie real-life Atlantis is so chilling that it was used as a backdrop in the 2012 thriller And Soon The Darkness starring Karl Urban.
Photo: YouTube video caption
Most of the town’s former residents fled soon after the flood to Carhue, another nearby lakeside town. Many of them built a new life for themselves, with new hotels, spas, and promising getaways with saltwater and mud facials.
Photo: Pablo Curras
82-year-old Pablo Novak, however, still lives at the edge of the town. He is one of the few who refused to leave home, and is now welcoming people who wander into the wreckage. “Whoever passes nearby cannot go without coming to visit here,” he said. “It’s getting more people to the area, as they come to see the ruins.” He now spends his days riding his bike around the ruins and showing tourists around.
“I am okay here. I am just alone,” he insisted. “I read the newspaper. And I always think of the town’s golden days.”