Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Lake District
Stretching over 1.8 million acres, Nahuel Huapi National Park is Argentina’s oldest national park. Centered around the region’s largest lake, Nahuel Huapi, and encompassing the popular resort town of San Carlos de Bariloche, this enormous park offers mountain and forest hikes, and the opportunity to cruise the lakes.
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 Seven Lakes Road 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. Though the road only takes about 3.5 hours to drive from end to end, plan on devoting the entire day towards the exceptional alpine beauty. Many of the lakes have short hikes that lead to sweeping overlooks, and the fly fishing in the gurgling streams is Argentina’s best. Or, to truly immerse yourself in Andean beauty, stay at one of the primitive lodges scattered along the route, and find your own little corner of the forest to sit, relax, reflect, and rejoice in how lucky you are to be here.
Victoria Island (Isla Victoria)—the largest island in Nahuel Huapi lake—lies at the heart of the eponymous national park. The island is characterized by rugged coastline, volcanic black-sand beaches, and pine forest, and features a backdrop of snow-capped peaks; all of which make it one of the most picturesque spots in Argentina’s Lakelands.
Arrayanes Forest (Bosque de Arrayanes), named after the rare Arrayán trees that grow along the northern shores of Nahuel Huapi Lake, is Los Arrayanes National Park's star attraction. Covering more than 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) along the Quetrihué Peninsula, it’s a picturesque spot for hiking and wildlife watching.
Rising 11,660 feet (3,554 meters), Tronador Hill (Cerro Tronador) is Bariloche’s highest mountain. It sits on the border between Argentina and Chile, nestled between two national parks. The mountain’s name comes from the Spanish word for thunder, a reference to the rumbling icefalls from the area’s seven glaciers, which are audible from a safe distance.
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 that arguably rank as some of the best in Patagonia. Or spend a day at Quila Quina on the lake’s southern shore, a lakeshore village that’s full of watersports and native Mapuche crafts.
With a surface area of 210 square miles (338 square kilometers) and extending over the Chilean border, Nahuel Huapi Lake is Argentina’s largest. At the heart of the Lakeland region, visitors come to explore the beaches, islands, and lakefront towns of Nahuel Huapi against a backdrop of the Andes Mountains.
With a summit at 12,388 feet (3,776 meters) Lanin Volcano ranks among the highest peaks in Patagonia. The volcano straddles the border between Argentina and Chile, where three quarters of it sits within Argentina’s Lanin National Park. Surrounded by plains and low hills, the snow-covered conical peak is visible from towns well over 100 miles away.
A trek to the summit of Lanin takes two to three days and requires crampons and other climbing gear. During the spring and summer months (November to April), it’s possible to take a sightseeing flight over the volcano. Softer trekking opportunities abound throughout the park for visitors who want views of Volcano Lanin but don’t necessarily want to summit it.
At the far western end of Lake Lacár by the placid shores of Lake Nonthué, Chachin Waterfall (Cascada Chachin) 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. Once in Chichin, a 30 minute hike leads through temperate rainforest to the lookout over the falls, where snowmelt gathering from the Andean peaks will eventually make its way down to Lake Nonthué and on to the big blue Pacific.
Otto Hill (Cerro Otto) is a mountain that stands on the outskirts of Bariloche. With several activities and attractions in addition to the cable car ride up, sweeping vistas, and 360-degree revolving mountaintop restaurant—the only one of its kind in Argentina—Otto has turned what was formerly just a lookout point into a tourism center.
More Things to Do in Lake District
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.
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.
With its tufa-brick façade, slate roof, and wooden balconies, the Bariloche Civic Center (Centro Cívico) pays homage to the town’s German and Swiss heritage. Dominating the central square, the complex is classified as a National Historic Monument and offers great views of Nahuel Huapi Lake.
Perched on the northern shore of Nahuel Huapi Lake, and surrounded by the forests and snow-capped peaks of the Lakelands, Villa La Angostura is nicknamed the Garden of Patagonia. Ideally situated for exploring the Argentina’s lakes and mountains, the small resort town makes a popular alternative to Bariloche.
Glacial Lake Moreno (Lago Moreno) lies in the Río Negro province of Argentina, near Bariloche. It covers more than 4,000 acres (1,618 hectares), and its waters are warmer than other lakes in the area, making it a popular destination for water sports and swimming. Along its shores are two small resort towns, Colonia Suiza and Villa Llao Llao.
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 ChapelcoSki Resort 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. Best of all, is at the end of the day, when your thighs are burning, cheeks are red, and a smile is tattooed on your face, the alpine village of San Martin de los Andes is only a short drive away.
The glittering lakes of Nahuel Huapi, Espejo, Correntoso, Villarino, Falkner, Machónico, and Lácar are the star attractions of the aptly named Road of the Seven Lakes (Ruta de Siete Lagos). Running through the heart of the Patagonian lake district, the 65-mile (108-kilometer) drive is one of the most spectacular in Argentina.
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. Some sections of the park are covered by temperate rain forests, and most of the trees you will see in the area are the lengas, coihue and the ñires.
The snow-blanketed peak looming on the horizon south of Bariloche is the 7,800-foot-high (2,388-meter-high) Cathedral Hill (Cerro Catedral), one of the city’s most memorable landmarks. A paradise for hikers and site of a popular ski resort, the mountaintop affords spectacular views over the Lakelands.
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.
To reach the summit of Cerro Lopez—or at least get near the top—there are a number of different options for travelers depending on fitness and skill. Making the climb all the way to the top requires 7 to 8 hours of hiking, with a short stop at Refugio Lopez at 5,300 feet. From here, it’s an hour-long scramble up Pico Turista to an area close to the summit, or simply finish at Refugio Lopez and order a meal and drink. Alternatively, there’s a 4x4 road that climbs its way up the bumpy spine of the mountain, which is used by tour companies accessing the refugio or ziplining their way back down.
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. It’s an unknown curiosity, as this region is the only known fresh water habitat for either species.
Capilla de San Eduardo, or San Eduardo Chapel, was built in 1938 in Bariloche, Argentina. It was built with neo-gothic and European influences by architect Alejandro Bustillo, who also built the Hotel Llao Llao next door. It was built with stone and cypress logs from the area, and the stained glass windows depict religious scenes and stories. The chapel lies within the boundaries of the Nahuel Huapi National Park, and from the front of the building, you can enjoy beautiful views of the forest, mountains such as Mount Tronador, and several lakes including Lake Nahuel Huapi and Moreno Oeste.
The chapel is one of Bariloche's most famous buildings and a popular tourist attraction, and it's a local favorite for weddings. Hikers often stop at the chapel to take a break and enjoy the views while hiking the Circuito Chico.
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. 24 shimmering, forest-lined lakes are found within the park, including Lake Lacár, Lake Huechulafquen, and the famous “Road of the Seven Lakes” that’s one of Argentina’s best drives. In summer, bask on sandy Catritre Beach on the shores of Lake Lacár or explore the backcountry in search of puma or the elusive Andean Condor. Camping is available at designated spots throughout Lanin National Park, and from its southern border with Nahuel Huapi National Park to the summit of Volcán Lanin, this park is a Patagonian utopia of beauty and recreational fun.
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