Things to Do in Lake District
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.
Nahuel Huapi National Park, which surrounds the lake of the same name, and within which San Carlos de Bariloche is located, is an expansive park of nearly 1.8 million acres, and Argentina’s oldest national park.
The park actually contains another park, Parque nacional Los Arrayanes, which is where the much-visited Quetrihué peninsula is. This peninsula is home to a large tract of 300-650 year old red-to-light-brown-barked Arrayan trees.
The larger park covers a large range of altitude, from 700 to 3400 meters, and contains four distinct ecosystems, from high Andean peaks (above 1600 meters), including the imposing Cerro Tronador, Andean forests, Valdivian rainforests and (mostly treeless) windblown Patagonian steppe.
With four different ecosystems, there is a great variety of different types of vegetation, including several types of Patagonian beech.
The Arrayán forest is the main attraction Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes, which is easily accessed from Villa La Angostura. This forest is an important remaining natural stand of the arrayan, or the Chilean myrtle tree. They are a slow-growing tree with a narrow trunk whose bark is reddish to light coffee in color, often referred to as cinnamon, and which peels off as the tree grows. The tree’s bark is cool to the touch. They bloom white in the summer (January and February), and give an edible dark blue-black fruit in early autumn.
You can visit this protected forest, which covers the Quetrihué Peninsula by horse, or on foot, horseback or bike. The trail is 12 km long. You can also visit the forest by boat, either from the park itself, or as a longer tour beginning in Puerto Pañuelo, and also stopping at Isla La Victoria. Some of the gnarled trees in this forest, which are native to a narrow band of south latitude, only in Chile and Argentina, are up to 650 years old.
Cerro Tronador is the standout attraction among many day-trip and hiking options in Bariloche. It is named for the thunderous sound the volcano made before it went extinct, but the name (Thundering Mountain) is still apt, for the rumbling icefalls as giant pieces of ice shed from the glacier, which are audible at a safe distance. The main attraction is the Ventisquero Negro (also called El Manso), which means black glacier, and it’s easy to see why. It is mainly covered in darkish soil and moraine, and small pieces that have broken off float in a milky lake at its foot.
The glacier is the source of one of the nearby rivers, called Río Manso (tame river), which you can also see, and there are waterfalls, including the impressive Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), where several waterfalls come together.
Isla Victoria is a small island located in Nahuel Huapi lake, which is part of the park by the same name. The lake is one of the main defining features of this part of Patagonia, with the city of Bariloche on the south shore, and smaller town of Villa La Angostura on the north side.
Victoria Island is located in the middle of the northernmost branch of the lake and is accessed from Puerto Pañuelo, a 30-minute drive from Bariloche. There are a couple of sailings daily, some of which continue to Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes, specifically, to the Quetrihué peninsula, which is home to the rare protected arrayán (Chilean myrtle) forest, with slender, cinnamon-barked trees which grow in a dense grove, and some examples of which are up to 650 years old. Isla Victoria has varied foliage, including the arctic beech, and some easy hiking trails, and if you spend time wandering, you can find some solitary beaches on which to sit and contemplate the lake, or take a chilly dip.
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.
Nahuel Huapi Lake is the main lake within Nahuel Huapi National Park. It is a glacial lake with many islands, and it is located in the lake region of northern Patagonia between the provinces of Río Negro and Neuquén near Bariloche. It has a surface area of about 210 square miles and a depth of 1,394 feet, making it the largest and deepest clear water lake in Argentina; it extends 62 miles across the border into Chile. In 1670, Nahuel Huapi Lake was discovered by Nicolas Mascardi, a Jesuit priest who was doing missionary work in the area.
Bariloche is the biggest city in the area and sits on the southern banks of the lake. The town was founded in 1902, but tourism grew after the 1930s when the national park was established. Bariloche and the surrounding areas are known as the honeymoon capital of Argentina. The area is also well known for chocolate manufacturing. Many people use Bariloche as a base for skiing, mountaineering, hiking and enjoying Nahuel Huapi Lake.
Cerro Otto is a hill just barely on the outskirts of the town of Bariloche which has turned what was formerly just a lookout point into a tourist center. It has several activities and attractions in addition to the cable car ride up, the sweeping vistas and the 360 degree rotating restaurant on top.
The summit is at 1400 meters, and you can either opt to walk or bike a steep 8 km up, or do as most do, and go up in one of the hanging red gondolas up the the top. Once on top, the views, either outside or while inside enjoying a warm drink (it’s nearly always chilly up here, and there’s always a breeze blowing) are expansive, and include lake Nahuel Huapi (and Isla Victoria) as well as a few of the other nearby peaks, such as Cerro Catedral, Cerro Tronador and Cerro Campanario. The restaurant turns slowly, completing a rotation in 20 minutes.
Activities at the top include sledding on groomed trails in the winter, or a kind of tubing in the spring, summer and fall.
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.
The Centro Cívico was built in the late 1930s, to reflect the architecture of the early German and Swiss settlers (from Berne) in a style referred to as “Bariloche-Alpine.” It serves as a central reference point, and a nearby sheltered area houses the helpful, multilingual tourist office.
The plaza that lies between the civic center and Lake Nahuel Huapi is a scene of ongoing activity and contrast. There are the tourist-happy vendors, complete with photo-ops with barrel-toting Saint Bernards, and more than its share of postcard vendors. At the same time, there’s a continual rotation of graffiti on the statue of General Roca, a controversial figure in Argentine military history.
More Things to Do in Lake District
Villa La Angostura is a small town nearby well-touristed Bariloche, which also has the closest airport. Villa La Angostura is built on the north shores of lake Nahuel Huapi, and is the preferred Patagonian destination of wealthy Argentines as well as international travelers.
The area is great for cycling, fishing, horseback riding and hikes, such as the one to emerald-green Laguna Verde, around which there is a walking trail. The best views from near the town are from Mirador Belvedere, which is about 4 km away. From here, you can get a good view of lakes Correntoso and Nahuel Huapi. The road to the mirador (look out point) is also the starting point for walks to two waterfalls, 50-meter high Cascada Inacayal, and 35-meter high Cascada Río Bonito. Visit one or both on the same day.
Villa La Angostura is also the perfect jumping-off point to Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes, which is home to an undisturbed arrayán (Chilean myrtle) forest.
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.
Lake Moreno is a glacial lake in the providence of Rio Negro near Bariloche, Argentina. The lake covers an area of more than 4,000 acres, and mountains, such as Lopez, Capilla, and Catedral, are the predominant feature of the surrounding landscape. The lake is divided into two sections, Western Lake Moreno and Eastern Lake Moreno. The western section is connected to Lake Nahuel Huapi by a narrow channel. The water in Lake Moreno is generally mild since most of its water does not come from ice melt. This makes it a popular destination for water sports and swimming. There is also a small circuit track that goes around the lake, and it is one of the most popular tracks in the area. The northern end of Western Lake Moreno is part of Nahuel Huapi National Park. The rest of Lake Moreno has seen more development and human interaction than other lakes in the Bariloche area.
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.
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.
Cerro Bella Vista is a mountain in the province of Rio Negro near Bariloche, Argentina and falls within Nahuel Huapi National Park. It is 5,577 feet high and fairly easy to climb, but a hike to the summit can take between two to four hours, and descending can take two to three hours. It's not as well-known as some of the other peaks in the area, but it is visible from Bariloche and from the nearby heights. It also offers spectacular views of the nearby peaks, Nahuel Huapi Lake, Lake Moreno, and sections of Nahuel Huapi National Park. During the climb, you will hike through a forest of coihue trees and lenga trees. You will also have the chance to see flowers and birds that are native to the Patagonian Andes.
The best time to hike up Cerro Bella Vista is during the summer, which runs mid-December to mid-March. The weather should also be mild from November to May. Snow is possible during the winter months.
Mascardi Lake is a glacial lake in the province of Rio Negro south of Bariloche, Argentina. It was named for a Jesuit priest named Nicolas Mascardi who did missionary work in the area during the 17th century. The lake is within Nahuel Huapi National Park, which is the oldest national park in Argentina and covers an area of almost 2 million acres. Mascardi Lake is divided into two sections by a peninsula. From the lake, you can admire several peaks of the Andes Mountain range. There are several good beaches along the shores of the lake, and swimming is a popular activity here. Other activities include boating, kayaking, fishing and hiking around the lake.
Many animals can be found near Mascardi Lake and in Nahuel Huapi National Park. These include river otters, deer, foxes, cougars, and guanacos. There are also several species of birds, such as ducks, geese, swans, Austral Parakeets, cormorants, and Andean condors.
Because its waters are warm and teem with fish, Lake Gutierrez is one of the most popular destinations near the Argentinean resort city of San Carlos de Bariloche. Situated within Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina’s oldest protected land, the lake has two common access points that sit on opposite shores. Villa Los Cohiues is the closest access point to the city and it’s where most people access the lake. Swimming, kayaking, and sport fishing are popular on the lake itself, while both hiking and horseback riding offers visitors the chance to explore the surrounding forests.
Fishing is best at the opposite end of the lake, where the Torrontegui river flows into Lake Gutierrez. Declining fish populations encouraged the national park service to restock the lake, so rainbow, brown and brook trout are plentiful once again. Two seabirds—the Kelp Gull and Blue Eyed Cormorant—also live on Lake Gutierrez and throughout Nahuel Huapi National Park.
With its alpine peaks, crystalline lakes, and wealth of artisanal chocolate, Bariloches is a dream destination for South American travelers. In summer, the hiking, biking, kayaking, and fishing are some of the best in Patagonia, and the accessibility and ease of access make them easy for travelers to enjoy.
In terms of hiking and views of Bariloches, one of the best trails in northern Patagonia is the climb up Cerro Lopez. This 7,178-foot mountain towers above Bariloches, and offers unparalleled, panoramic views of the entire Argentinian Lakes District. Standing atop the windswept summit, gaze out towards active volcanoes that rise from the spine of the Andes. Down in the valley, thousands of feet below, the outline of Lake Nahuel Huapi shimmers and weaves through the hills, and the summit holds an inspiring and energizing sense of alpine freedom.
Puerto Blest is on the western end of Nahuel Huapi Lake. It is part of the Nahuel Huapi National Park in the Rio Negro province of Argentina. Nahuel Huapi Lake is divided into different sections, and the western arm of the lake is the Blest section. The Blest branch of the lake covers an area of about 14 square miles. At the entrance to the Blest section of the lake is Centinela Island, where explorer Francisco Moreno is buried. He came to this region of Argentina in the late 1800s and later founded Nahuel Huapi National Park.
From Puerto Blest, you can reach Los Cantaros Waterfall as well climb the steps near the waterfall to Los Cantaros Lake which feeds into the falls. While hiking in the area, you will find cypress and coihue trees that grow in this area's rainforest micro climate. This region receives more rainfall than any other part of Argentina, and plants and fungi grow here that you can't find in other parts of the country.
Cerro Catedral is a major attraction in the Bariloche area. It’s 20 km southwest of the city, and is a 2388-meter (7,800-foot) high peak from which you can see the contours of the valley, and the snow-capped volcanoes in the distance, on both the Chilean and Argentine side. There are abundant wildflowers in summer, and you get a view over one of the area’s major winter sports centers as well.
Most visitors take the Cablecarril and Silla Lynch, (two different gondolas/lifts) which also have a great view, and stop at the Confitería (café) for a coffee or hot chocolate to enjoy the view.
From here you can continue hiking along the ridge, to Refugio Frey, for a day hike or to spend the night. The area is very popular with rock climbers, and the mountain takes its names from the rocky spires that look like those of a Gothic Cathedral.
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