Path of the lakes

On the west of the Patagonia, and parallel to the Andes lies the fabled National Route Nº 40, the longest and most visually spectacular road of Argentina, which begins in Patagonia, specifically in Cabo Vírgenes, on the Southern point of the province of Santa Cruz. That is the beginning of a path that – parallel to the Andes – crosses 2700km of Patagonian territory, then going towards the northern parts of the country, with a total length of 5000km. This trip extends for over 600km on said route which connects mountain towns, millennial forests, beautiful mountains and volcanoes, crystal clear lakes, mysteries related to dinosaurs, native cultures and numerous national parks.
The best time of the year to do this trip is between October and April, since in other times, it is possible that the roads are blocked because of snow and ice. Nevertheless, the geography of the area invites the traveler on any season, having the opportunity to do sports and a varied number of recreational activities in an incomparable natural landscape. Trekking, horseback riding, mountain biking, climbs, game fishing and kayaking are only a few of the recommended activities in an ideal environment for adventure tourism, exploring and discovering.

The trip

The journey begins in town of Villa Pehuenia, province of Neuquén. This little and colourful town is at located a little bit to the west of the centre of the province, on the northern shores of lake Aluminé, between mountain ranges covered in forests of pehuen, prehistoric specimens which name the town. There’s an infinite range of activities to be done in the area, surrounded by an amazing landscape such as water sports, fishing, horseback riding, climbing, hunting trips or trekking are only some of the possibilities. During the winter the snow park Batea Mahuida (2000 m above the sea level), just 8 km from the town and within the lands of the native community Puel, gives the travelers the chance to do alpine skiing or trips on snowmobile, walking racquets and sleds. The park is managed by the Puel mapuche community, and currently offers a wide range of services for the entire family. The trip continues through Aluminé, major urban centre of the Pehuenia area, a place where nature can be seen in all its magnificence, mountains covered by Antarctic beech, coihue, oak and pehuen trees, deep blue rivers, cascades and lakes. Going further south, the traveler arrives to Junín de los Andes. Located at the entrance of Lanín National Park, the city lets tourist get acquainted with its rich history, by means of the Mapuche and Roca Jalil museums, the artisans walk, the Colegio María Auxiliadora, the Nuestra Señora de las Nieves and Beata Laura Vicuña Sanctuaries and the incredible Via Christi park on mount La Cruz, built by architect Alejandro Santana. Around the town, several Mapuche communities welcome visitors to share their culture and view of the world through different activities. Junín de los Andes is surrounded by unique nature; rivers and streams go down winding from the mountains of Lanín National Park, and bathe its fertile lands. The rivers and lakes are full of brown, brook and rainbow trouts. The entrance to the Chimehuín River is a Provincial Natural Protected Area, and is the best place to practice game fishing. It is also possible to do water sports such as kayaking, rafting, windsurfing or enjoying catamaran trips on Lake Huechulafquen from Puerto Canoa. For those in search of an adventure, it is possible to climb the Lanín volcano (3776 m) a worthy challenge for those that enjoy mountaineering. Its summit gives a unique panoramic view of the entire region.
Continuing on National Route Nº 40, we arrive to San Martín de los Andes, a typical mountain village surrounded by thick forests and deep lakes originated by glaciers. It is one of the most visited locations on the Neuquén Province due to its incomparable beauty. With this setting, the town provides a wide range of options for the tourist all year round, the mounts and forests change their colours as the seasons go by from green to yellow to golden to orange to red and white. During the spring and the summer there’s a larger amount of possibilities and allow for a more direct contact with nature: horseback riding, mountain biking, bird watching, trekking and hiking are great options for people of all ages. Close to the town there are lots of paths that go through unique sceneries and allow a close contact with nature such as the Huella Andina Path. During the summer, the rivers and lakes of the area can be enjoyed in boat trips or doing water sports such as kayaking, rafting, sail boating and canoeing. These places are also chosen by game fishing enthusiasts of all kinds (fly casting, trolling and spinning). During the winter a white coat of snow covers the mountains and opens the skiing season at Cerro Chapelco: one of the biggest skiing centres in Southamerica, with 120 hectares of skiing surface and 20 slopes to do alpine and cross country skiing and snowboarding. As the travelers goes onward, he will see that beauty never ceases on the area, breath-taking landscapes follow one to the other nonstop. San Martín de los Andes is located at one of the ends of the famous Seven Lake Road, which connects this town with Villa La Angostura. It is the beginning of one of the most fascinating paths on Patagonia due to its natural beauty all along the way. The lakes are called Machónico, Hermoso, Falkner, Villarino, Espejo, Escondido and Nahuel Huapi and the rivers than run across are Hermoso and Pichi Traful. Before arriving to Villa La Angostura, there are two detours worth taking in order to meet the paradisiac towns of Villa Lago Meliquina and Villa Traful. The first is a tiny town which doesn’t have electricity in which little over 30 families live, Meliquina Lake is one of the main attractions due to its numerous beaches surrounded by trees, perfect for a rest or a picnic. Both the river and the lake are great for fishing, and great specimens of rainbow and, with any luck brown, trouts can be found. Their waters invite travelers to do water sports such as windsurfing or kayaking. Villa Traful’s main attractive are its landscapes and the untouched surroundings, coihue forests and the beautiful shapes of the Patagonian Andes which still favour tourism preserving the landscape and the mountain life.
The road of the seven lakes finishes in Villa La Angostura, a town surrounded by forests and lakes found in a precious corner of the Andes. The town is considered the gateway to Los Arrayanes National Park: the only place in the world where a natural forest of this unique species can be found. Villa La Angostura is today a warm Andean village with buildings made of stone and wood, which stays in harmony with nature and with the typical image of a mountain village. A protected natural environment due to being inside the Nahuel Huapi National Park, is the perfect setting for adventurous activities as well as walks available all year round: horseback riding, mountain biking, bird watching or trekking through paths such as Huella Andina or the circuits of Incayal, Río Bonito, Dorada and Santa Ana cascades. During the winter, the skiing centre of Cerro Bayo offers visitors over 20 slopes, 12 elevation methods and 200 hectares where all styles of skiing and snowboard can be done. On top of that, it possesses all the necessary services so that the skier can enjoy of a beautiful day. A few kilometres away is one of the most traditional and notorious destinations of the Patagonia: San Carlos de Bariloche. On the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, the city –of great touristic development – is the national capital of adventure tourism. Famous for its discos, wide variety of pubs and bars, gastronomy which mixes European culture with game meat, fish, smoked meats, cheeses and berries, typical dishes such as trout carpaccio, lamb and curanto strudel, chocolates in fondues, in beverages or in logs. Here, travelers may enjoy countless activities on each step of their journey: trekking, mountaineering, paragliding, kayaking, bike riding, horseback riding, and fishing are only some of the many options this multifaceted Andean city has to offer. When cold and snow come, Cerro Catedral, Cerro Otto and Neumeyer have a wide range of options so that both sport enthusiasts and those who enjoy activities in the snow have a great time. For those still initiating themselves in winter sports, the mounts have areas with easy slopes and forests. As for the experienced ones, they will find spectacular slopes on which to ski which go as high as 2100 m over the sea level. Those who enjoy country skiing will be amazed with options available.
To the south, another city of the province of Río Negro shines on the route, we are talking about El Bolsón; the city provides a unique way of getting mind, spirit and body into harmony; combining a conscious contact with nature, doing healthy activities and complementary therapies, and getting to know varied traditions and local practices. There are interesting options for the entire family: hiking and horseback riding through the forests of the Andes, participating in rural life and local production. For those who are interested in more intense activities, they may choose rafting, paragliding, ATV riding, high ropes courses, biking and many more options. Moving on, the road takes its travelers to the towns of Lago Puelo, El Maitén, El Hoyo, Epuyén and Cholila (all in the province of Chubut) where farms, orchards and rural establishments can be visited to get to know the local production of this area of the Andes, always surrounded by amazing scenery. The last link on this fascinating Andean tour is Esquel. Patagonian steppe and Andean forest combine themselves perfectly around the city, set at the foot of the mountain range on a valley created by glaciers. There, it is possible to take a trip on La Trochita, also known as the Old Patagonian Express. Another of the must see locations is Los Alerces National Park, which holds a lake system of unique beauty. The greatest location is the millennial forest of larch trees, with specimens of over three thousand years. It may be travelled through its main road or different lake or terrestrial trips, or simply enjoying lookout points, beaches and trekking paths. On mount La Hoya, everything is prepared for practicing winter sports, mainly skiing and snowboarding. It has 10 elevation methods, 25 slopes and 60 hectares for skiing, as well as restaurants, skiing schools, nursery and ski renting. During the summer, the mountain keeps one of the elevation methods and several trekking paths open. For all those that love panoramic views, from the path, the valley where the town of Esquel is located and the summits of the Andes can be seen.

The length of the trip is calculated if it’s done entirely by car. If the travelers have fewer days, we suggest that the trip be done starting in San Carlos de Bariloche, either northwards or southwards. It must be taken into account that between May and September there are snowfalls in the area, which complicates driving on the roads, so it is necessary to take the appropriate precautions for driving over ice and snow (go to the Travel Tips sections on “Organize your trip”).