We spent more time in the Argentinian lake district than we did anywhere else on the trip. We spent over a month driving, hiking and camping around the lakes at a very leisurely pace. Since we were there in December, we had it almost to ourselves.
Argentina and Chile start their summer school breaks right after New Years resulting in this area being swarmed by South American tourists in January. But in December it is the best of all worlds, we had the start of the warm summer weather without the crowds and off season prices for everything. The weather was really great, so warm we were wearing shorts most of the time and besides the annoying horse flies and an occasional windy camp spot, it was pretty much perfect.
Sam’s sister and boyfriend were visiting us in ten days, so we decided to spend that time looking for all the best lakes, camp spots, fishing areas and hikes to take them back to. We wanted to make sure that the two weeks they had with us were perfect, so we drove all over trying to find the “best of the best” for them.
Lanin National Park
The first national park we visited was Lanin, named for the large volcano that towers above it. The Argentinian lake district is dominated by national parks, and most of the roads into them are free (all those with borders to Chile), where the ones that “dead end” charge 80 pesos per person for entry. There are so many lakes here, SO MANY, that trying to figure out where to go is a bit overwhelming. They are all so pretty, and even now I can’t really decide which one was my favorite. We decided to just start driving around until we found something that was too beautiful not to stop for a bit.
While we were camping near Lago Tromen we made friends with a Brazilian couple and our Mapuche camp host. The Mapuche are one of the indigenous tribes that still inhabit areas around both Argentina and Chile lake districts. Many still own land within the national park boundaries and run campgrounds. Our camp ground host was so friendly that it was a bit overwhelming. He spent the day within three feet of us. Literally, three feet away.
Our Spanish is so limited (also we were challenged in what to talk to a Mapuche gaucho about even in English for hours on end) that within 30 minutes neither of us knew what else to talk about with him. But instead of giving us a reprieve, he just stood feet from us the entire time we were camped. We did not want to go into the XP because it was so warm outside and I did not want to be rude, so instead we smiled, offered him a soda, made silly small talk, offered him snacks, and then tried to read our Kindles pretending he was not standing there just looking at us (this did not work). We think he was just lonely, or maybe curious, or maybe totally bored or maybe a bit strange? The good news was when the Brazilians arrived we got to take turns entertaining our host.
As darkness came some American guys on a fishing tour stopped by with extra trout and gave them to us. With the help of our camp host and his alarmingly sharp knife he wore on his hip, the trout were gutted and flattened, flavored with salt and lemon and put onto the BBQ within minutes.
And then the booze started flowing (Brazilians are so much fun!), and to be honest, I am not sure where that night disappeared to, I just know that my glass was never empty and the next day I was not going on any hikes. Oh, and the trout was pink, flaky and perfectly cooked.
The charming town of San Martin de los Andes (my favorite town in the lake district full of chocolate shops and cute restaurants) is dominated by Lago Lacar. It is a massive lake and the road winds all along the side of it. We stopped for two days in two different spots on this lake. I wish I had the words to describe how beautiful this area was.
Nahuel Huapi National Park
Driving from San Martin de los Andes to San Carlos de Bariloche took us on the route of siete lagos (seven lakes). The hardest part of driving this road is not stopping every five minutes to jump out and take pictures. The scenery is just bonkers. It is like the entire thing is a green screen of the most idyllic lake scenery you could ever imagine.
Our final few days were spent at one of our favorite campgrounds of the trip. I think it might have been our favorite because we were alone, the weather was perfect, the camp spot right on the private lake beach was amazing and there was fire pits on the beach and grill in the camping area. It was so pretty! We both loved it here.