Before the 16th-century arrival of the Spanish here in Patagonia, these hills, lakes, forests, and mountains were inhabited by native Mapuche. While most of the land the Mapuche inhabited is in Chile’s modern day Lakes District, some still inhabit the rolling hills outside San Martin de los Andes. In total, about 300,000 people in Argentina identify as native Mapuche, and since the 1990s when Argentina and Chile both achieved democracy, a large Mapuche movement has taken place to reclaim the culture and land.
Though the cultural conflict is still ongoing and is rife with political undertones, visitors to San Martin de los Andes can still experience Mapuche culture in a number of different places. On the lakeshore village of Quila Quina, wander through markets where Mapuche artisans sell handmade wooden crafts. Hike past traditional Mapuche dwellings made from long, vertical sticks, and there’s even the chance of overhearing the native Mapudungan language.
About 13 miles south of town on the road towards Bariloches, visitors can learn Mapuche history the intriguing Mankewe Cultural Center. Guided tours are usually available, and it’s a great way to experience firsthand the plight of the modern Mapuche. Recently, as an increasing amount of tourists visit northern Patagonia, the Mapuche are working to bolster their economy with services for visiting tourists. Many of the campgrounds in Lanin National Park help raise funds for Mapuche residents, and in the Mapuche community of Curruhuinca near the shores of Lake Lácar, a handful of restaurants, beaches, and stores are managed by Mapuche community members who continue to call this land home.