Things to Do in San Martin de los Andes
In all of Argentina—or perhaps the world—has a stretch of 114 miles ever looked so good. Patagonia is known for holding some of the world’s most breathtaking alpine landscapes, and the section known as “Road of the Seven Lakes” is the most spectacularly scenic of it all. Beginning in Villa de Angostura to the north of Bariloches, the road travels all the way to San Martin de los Andes on the shores of Lake Lacár. In between, visitors are treated to epic vistas that stretch all the way out towards Chile, and pass by shimmering cobalt lakes such as Correntos, Espejo, and Falkner. The name of the road is actually a misnomer since there are far more than seven lakes, although all combine to create pinchworthy scenery that borders on the surreal. By summer the road is clear of snow and is the most popular time to visit, although unpaved section can occasionally become muddy after exceptionally heavy rains.
With its shimmering blue waters and forest-lined shoreline, Lake Lacár is one of the most popular attractions in San Martin de Los Andes. In the peak of summer, when the temperature can regularly reach 70 degrees and the sun hangs high in the sky, bask on a beach beneath snowcapped peaks over 200 miles from the ocean. Enjoy the 15-minute stroll from the center of town to dramatic Bandurrias Lookout, and then continue on foot for 30 minutes to La Islita beach. Hire a canoe and paddle the waters surrounded by mountains and silence, or hop on board a sightseeing cruise to motor past islands and virgin forest towards the neighboring Chilean border. On a full day cruise, disembark at the port of Chachín to hike 30-minutes to Chachín waterfall as it powerfully spills through the forest. On the ride back towards San Martin de los Andes, admire a shoreline pockmarked with caves where the indigenous Mapuche once thrived, and soak in the vistas.
At the far western end of Lake Lacár by the placid shores of Lake Nonthué, Chachin Waterfall spills 66 feet through the green Valdivian forest. This isolated cascade near the Chilean border is a highlight of Lake Lacár boat trips, and one of the most popular outings and day trips from San Martin de los Andes. Admiring the tumbling waterfall itself only takes a couple of minutes, but it’s the journey to get there that makes it such a popular and enjoyable trip. To reach Chachin waterfall, visitors must board a three-hour cruise from the port in San Martin de los Andes, and disembark by the port of Chachin on Lake Lacár’s western end. The cruise to Chichin passes small islands that spring from the impossibly blue lake, and skirts past sea caves that were once used by indigenous Mapuche settlers. Or, to drive to the waterfall, rather than cruise, the drive down gravel Route 48 passes numerous hidden beaches.
Every June, when snow begins to fall on the hills of San Martin de los Andes, skiers and snowboards from around the globe journey all the way to Patagonia for the chance to ski at Chapelco. While smaller than Catedral ski resort in neighboring Bariloches, Cerro Chapelco offers exceptional skiing in a relaxed and friendly setting. Chapelco’s base is higher than Catedral—at just over 4,100 feet—and tops out at 6,945 feet for over 2,800 feet of vertical. Cerro Chapelco also receives more snow than many of the surrounding resorts, and since the slopes haven’t been affected by deforestation, offers the best tree skiing of any resort in Argentinian Patagonia. In total, Cerro Chapelco offers 346 skiable acres with 22 different runs, and has modern, gondola lifts and carpets for black diamond on down to beginners.
Between 1000 and 1600 AD, native Ayampotín, Sanavirones and Comechingones peoples inhabited a series of caves outside of Córdoba, leaving behind one of the most important collections of petroglyphs in Argentina. These cave paintings, carved and painted into the pink rock faces of the caves and mountains near the village of Cerro Colorado, depict animals and human forms, including what appear to be native hunters and Spaniards on horseback.
The ancient artists of Cerro Colorado used a mixture of pigments — ochre, charcoal, chalk, oils and vegetable extracts — to add color to their scenes. Many of the petroglyphs have faded from centuries of erosion, but other, especially the black and white ones, remain visible. A small archaeological museum displays photos and information about the petroglyphs and the native animals they depict.
On the south shore of Lake Lacár in San Martin de los Andes, Quila Quina exists as a fusion of holiday homes and culture. Here on this string of sandy beaches looking out at Lanin National Park, modern lakefront vacation homes combine with the Mapuche village of Curruhuinca for an Andean village like no other. On a sunny day, take the ferry from San Martin de los Andes to the happening Quila Quina port, where shops sell wooden, handmade crafts from native Mapuche residents. Hire a kayak or windsurf board and brave the chilly lake temps, or bask on one of the sandy beaches that dot the winding lakeshore. A number of short walks lead out from the village towards secluded beaches and coves, and you can even access some mineral springs just a short hike from the village. Before catching the ferry back to San Martin de los Andes, sit on the dock with some coffee or chocolate and watch as the sun fades gently behind the snow-capped Andean peaks.
To the native Mapuche of Argentina’s Andes, the name Huechulafquen means “long lake.” It’s an apt title for this azure spectacle that stretches for 18 miles, and is officially the largest of the 24 lakes in Lanin National Park. Next to the lake, on the northern shore, the conical, snowcapped Lanin volcano rises 12,293 feet into the blue Andean sky. In spring, summer, and early fall, thousands of visitors flock to the lake for camping, hiking, and staging attempts on the dormant volcano’s summit. There are boats for hire at Puerto Canoa and scenic lakeshore cruises, and the fly-fishing in the neighboring Chimehuin River is among the best in the world. A mile and half past Puerto Canoa, visitors will find scenic Piedra Mala and a protected corner of the lake. Walking trails lead towards Lake Paimun and El Salitillo waterfall, and the epic, Andean, mountains vistas are a highlight of both Lanin National Park and San Martin de los Andes.
Covered in native Araucaria trees and riddled with dozens of lakes, Lanin National Park is a Patagonian treasure in the Argentine state of Neuquén. This park was established in 1937 at a time when the border with neighboring Chile was still hotly disputed. Both of the nations could agree, however, that given the area’s biodiversity and magnificent natural beauty, it was an area deserving of preservation for hundreds of years to come.
Today, Lanin National Park holds some of Argentina’s best hiking, fly fishing, and camping. The park stretches out over a total area that’s larger than the state of Rhode Island, and the dormant, snowcapped, Lanin volcano dominates the vista from a lofty height of nearly 12,300 feet. The two-day climb up Lanin volcano is one of the park’s most popular activities, but shorter day hikes and biking trails are available for summer visitors.
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