San Martín and the Route of the Seven Lakes

 The past few days in Bariloche had been a little grey and drizzly, but we had heard so many good things about San Martín de los Andes and the route of the seven lakes that we didn’t want to miss it. Beautiful, lindo, serene, stunning were some of the adjectives used to describe the landscape we’d experience along the way.  So it was settled. We hired a car from ABC Car Hire (the best deal in town) and we left Bariloche for San Martín for a few days.

 

The seven lakes –  Nahuel Huapí, Correntoso, Espejo, Villarino, Falkner, Hermoso, Machónico, Meliquina – lead from the northern shore of Lake Nahuel Huapí, to arrive at the shore of Lago Lácar in San Martín.

The route of the seven lakes (los siete lagos) is a well-travelled tourist path, but it’s serene natural beauty, green-blue waters, snow-capped mountains and beautiful flora and fauna found in virgin forest are what makes this area unique.

As we left Bariloche, the sun started coming out from its hiding place beyond the clouds and the colours of the far-reaching landscape started to pop. The browns and yellows of the grassy valleys below turned to magenta and white of the rocky mountains above. Beyond the windy road lay glimpses of blue, turquoise and green and the light reflected off the vast lakes in the distance.

As we drove, the sunshine turned quickly to clouds, and then to rain and we were worried about our ability to see the famous seven lakes on the way.

The landscape was changing, as a once very green valley was now dusty brown with volcanic ash. About 10 km before Villa Angostura it started to snow and the ash was now piled up along the road, covering houses and treetops.

By the time we reached Villa Angostura it was snowing so heavily that we decided not to stop, and continue to San Martín before it got dark.

The snow got heavier and the roads got dodgier as tarmac turned to a narrow, windy dirt road for the next 50 km. The path was so bad that we were travelling at a maximum speed of 30 km per hour, trying our hardest to avoid the many hundreds of deep pot holes, and black ice across the road.

In hindsight, a 4×4 was the only appropriate vehicle for roads like this. But we finally made it, ten photo stops, 186 km and seven hours later in San Martín. As we descended the valley on our way into the town, the sun came back out, offering hope of nicer weather the next day.

San Martín de los Andes is a charming town. With a population of approximately 28,000, the town itself is not huge, but the centre with its stone and timber buildings is postcard material, nestled in between the mountains.

Despite a rather touristy feel, the Mapuche ancestry is still strongly felt here in this town and surrounding areas. The Mapuche people dominated this area until the 19th century when the European settlers arrived, and many Mapuche still live in the areas around San Martín, running estancias and campgrounds in the national parks.

The next morning we woke up to discover that the sky was deep blue, it was a perfect day. Wanting to make the most of the sunshine we headed out with the intention of visiting Hua Hum, and the two miradors Bandurrias and Arrayán that apparently give spectacular views onto the town and the lake.

Hua Hum is a quaint little day trip that most tourists do by boat from the lake in San Martín. With the car we headed out of San Martín into the Parque Nacional Lanín only to be met by another dirt track. Two hours and many various wild bulls and horses later we arrived at the township of Hua Hum, where the only attractions are a café on the lake, a tourist office (that was closed) and a waterfall, Cascada Chachín.

Naturally we took the waterfall track and decided that at least we could fit in one good little walk in the day. We parked the car at the entrance to the falls and took the marked path up to the top. There was not a soul in sight. No other cars, no travellers, except for us…and one obviously very hearty bull.

The pathway up was lusciously green, surrounded by myrtle trees, and  the humidity of the falls could be felt on the steep, narrow path, slippery with moss and elm. Despite the restriction and the gradient of the footpath, every 5 or so metres was a very fresh bull dung pattie.

My eyes and ears suddenly pricked up. Coming from a country that has more deadly species of insects, amphibians and mammals than any other country on earth, sensing that there could be an animal at close range that is likely to be a raging bull prompted my survival instincts and I was a little less tranquil for the rest of the walk up.

Reaching the top, we first heard then saw the roar of gush of streaming waters. At 100ft tall, Cascada Chachin is no Igúazu but it is a very soothing and beautiful sight. On the way back down, I was still aware that there could be a wild, rampant bull somewhere closeby, and then…I spotted him, just off the track. My heart skipped a beat until I realised that this feral bull was so gentle-looking, and unaware of our presence he was munching away at low-hanging leaves, stopping every few mouthfuls to give himself a head massage against the tree.

I was now much more assured and we stopped to picnic at the tables nearby before heading back into San Martín.

The next day we had perfect weather again. We headed back early along the same route to rediscover what we couldn’t see through the snow the first time round.

Back in Bariloche we returned the rental car and hopped straight on a bus to El Bolson, two hours south.

It’s true what they say about the route of the seven lakes, the scenery and drive were truly stunning, and well worth the road trip.

 

 

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Comments
5 Responses to “San Martín and the Route of the Seven Lakes”
  1. Cameron says:

    Hi,

    My partner and I are planning to do the same trip that you did. What time of year did you do the drive? Do you know what the conditions would be like on the road in July?

    And we’ll be coming from Lima, what is the best way in your opinion to arrive in Bariloche?

    Any help would be appreciated =)

    • munyivaresponsibletravel says:

      Hi Cameron,

      We were there in August last year. The conditions were driveable, though we did have some heavy snowfall on our way to St Martin. That said, weather conditions are quite unpredictable these days and we were there just aftre the volcano eruption, so in fact we had a lot more ash than snow. From Lima, I would have no idea. We found by far the best way to get around on the continent was by bus. The Route of the 7 Lakes though should be done by car because it’s a nice drive. I would say do a lot of research and be very prepared if you decide to leave from Lima to Argentina’s Lakes region because you will have a lot of terrain to cover and a huge amount of varying conditions. Peru is quite mild but then you would no doubt pass through the high plateau of Bolivia which is very unforgiving terrain, freezing at night and high altitude conditions, through the desert region of either Argentina or Chile and down through the Andes. Breakdowns on the salt lakes in Bolivia can be hard (we broke down with a guide, so I could imagine driving alone would be harder) and in general I think driving that region would be impossible without a guide (think bliding white terrain as far as the eye can see). I would bus from Lima to Salta, then if you really are keen to drive to Bariloche hire a car in Salta, but be prepared for anything and everything to happen and be extremely flexible with time! Hope that helps 🙂

      • munyivaresponsibletravel says:

        p.s. take a look through out other blog posts for info on travel right through from Ecuador to Ushuaia (the other way around)

      • Cameron says:

        Thanks for your help =)

        We were thinking of flying into Osorno (Chile) and bussing it to Bariloche, then drive ourselves from there. Was the car hire quite expensive? I’ve heard some places require something like a $6000 hold on your credit card while you hire the car. Did you book ahead with your accommodation or is it less busy during the winter months?

        • munyivaresponsibletravel says:

          Hi Cameron,

          I haven’t heard anything like the $6000 bond for car hire. Be careful with that. It is much quieter in the winter months, so we rarely needed to book ahead. We highly recommend the hostel chain Ho.La hostels. They were almost always very friendly, decently priced, clean, good facilities, and most of all…most of them have certifiable green practices and encourage responsible travel.

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