The Argentina Lake District is located in the northwest corner of Argentine Patagonia. An incredibly beautiful region filled with picturesque glacier lakes, forests and mountains. After exploring Bariloche and driving the Circuito Chico, it was time to head up north to Villa la Angostura. This is our guide to driving the stunning Route of the Seven Lakes (Ruta de Los 7 Lagos).
After a lovely morning at the top of Cerro Otto overlooking Bariloche, it was time to move on. Our goal for today was simply to reach Villa la Angostura, so we could get an early start the next morning on the Ruta de Los 7 Lagos.
The small town of Villa la Angostura is just 84
For those without their own transport, it’s possible to take a local bus from Bariloche. It’s only 160 Argentinean pesos, so just a few US dollars. The journey time will take around an hour and a quarter.
We spent the night just on the outskirts of town, and from our bed, we had great views of the nearby mountains. Having arrived late afternoon, we headed down to the main strip to explore the town. Prettier and a little more upmarket than Bariloche, Villa la Angostura felt very touristy and a bit fake. Everything along that stretch was geared towards the tourist; maybe there aren’t any locals living there full time. The shops seemed better quality though than Bariloche, and this was also reflected in the prices.
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Heading back to our guesthouse, we stopped for a hearty meal at Chop Chop. What a great find! The food was delicious, the service was excellent -and for a great bottle of wine, steak for Jon and a veggie dish for me, the bill came to less than $40 total.
Villa la Angostura To San Martin de los Andes
We woke early with the sun streaming in through our windows. Tempting as it always is, to lay in bed longer, we decided to head out in search of coffee before starting our road trip along the famous Route of the Seven Lakes along Route 40. We were only about two kilometres out of Villa la Angostura when we found the perfect spot for coffee and a light breakfast. The simple Parador Arrayanes del Correntoso, which overlooks the northernmost point of Lake Nahuel Huapi and also doubles as the Centro Cultural for the Mapuche indigenous people, hit the spot. It’s just a very short walk from here to the Rio Correntoso that at 250 metres is considered the smallest river in the world.
From here, we set off on what turned out to be a stunningly beautiful drive from Villa la Angostura to San Martin de Los Andes. It’s possible to do this as part of a tour. There are plenty of agencies selling tours in Bariloche and Villa la Angostura, but we’d strongly recommend hiring a car. Unlike the drive from Bariloche to Villa la Angostura, there were plenty of places to pull over and admire the view and considering we were doing this in the high season; there was very little other traffic. Mind you, this was on a weekday not at the weekend.
Do be warned, whenever you see the ‘punto panorâmico’ signs, the view and parking are coming up almost immediately so be prepared to pull over quickly, there’s minimal warning. Sometimes the viewing spot and the place to park are on opposite sides of the road so take care when crossing as drivers here unsurprisingly seem to be more focused on the scenery than pedestrians.
The first stop coming from Villa la Angostura is Lago Espejo (Mirror Lake,) followed fortunately by two stopping places to see Lago Correntoso. Why fortunately? Well, as we mentioned above, the signs, particularly at the start of the route from Villa la Angostura (there’s a bit more warning to vista points later on), gave so little notice that you were there, that we were way passed before we realised we had missed the spot.
The next spot was Lago Escondido. We wondered why we had stopped here; it was hard to see anything through the trees. Then it dawned, Lago Escondido means Hidden Lake!!!
We continued driving. Next stops Lago Villarino and Lago Falkner. Lago Villarino (Villarino Lake) is named after a Spanish explorer who first navigated the Patagonian coastline in the 1770s. Close to Lago Falkner (Falkner Lake) named after an English Jesuit who lived with the indigenous tribes during the 1770s, there were a couple of food trucks and toilets. Actually, we saw very few places to get food en route so bring water and snacks with you. There are several cool places to stop to enjoy a picnic along the way.
A little further along Route 40 is the waterfall, Cascada Vulinaco. It’s pretty, but it’s a fair distance from the road.
Just after Lago Machonico, the last lake you pass before arriving at Lago Lácar in San Martin de Los Andes is the Arroyo Partido. Now, apart from having to dodge cows and wild ponies on the road, at first glance the Arroyo Partido (Divided Stream) doesn’t seem that impressive, certainly from a photo opportunities point of view, but it is. Rocks force the stream to divide; the right side of the creek flows into Lake Lácar and out into the Pacific Ocean, and the left side flows into Lake Meliquina and into the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t know why, but for some reason, we found that fascinating. Guess we don’t get out much!
Our Favourite Lakeside Town – San Martin de Los Andes
Almost at San Martin de Los Andes now, just one more viewpoint to see -The Valley at Valle del Arroyo Pil Pil.
San Martin de Los Andes was our favourite of the three towns we stayed in around the lake. Although the main shopping streets were fairly touristy, it felt more real. The town didn’t seem to be created just for tourists as Villa la Angostura and not as scruffy as Bariloche. One of those places, you think, I could live here, and then you remember that you still feel cold and this is the peak of summer! It is a great base though to stay if you enjoy cycling — lots of cyclists here, bicycles for hire and many shops catering for the cyclist.
We stayed in a nice hotel, close to the lake – La Posta del Cazador. It was a little more expensive than we usually pay, but that’s the punishment for booking last minute in high season, but the room was lovely and in a great location near the lake. Although we were hoping to relax for the rest of the day on the lakeside beach, it wasn’t to be. The famous Patagonian winds arrived, so we went shopping instead.
That evening, we enjoyed a fabulous meal at the Morphen restaurant. The restaurant was located literally just 20 metres from where we were staying. We were able to peak out of our bedroom window to see when our table would be ready. Reservations were necessary to eat here.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we headed back towards Bariloche. Rather than follow Route 40 all the way back, we turned off onto the unpaved and rather dusty and bumpy Route 65, part of the Circuito Grande. The road may have been bad, and we pitied the poor cyclists inhaling copious amounts of dust as we passed, but the views alongside the crystal clear waters of Lago Traful were worth it. We also came across some rather interesting rock formations as we passed through the Valle Encantado.
That night, we stayed just outside of Bariloche in a small town of Dina Huapi. After all this time exploring the Lake District, we finally had lake views from our hotel room, and we were really close to Bariloche Airport. For tomorrow we would be flying to El Calafate, our next base in Patagonia. We could have chosen to travel by bus for 25 hours, but we found promo flights on Aerolíneas Argentinas for just $10 more than the bus, and it would only take an hour. It was a no brainer!
Unfortunately, although we wanted a room with lake views and to be in a really convenient spot for the airport, there were no restaurants nor supermarkets in the vicinity. Plus, the whole vibe of Dina Huapi was a bit odd, but after a search, we did find cheese, biscuits and a bottle of Malbec. So all’s well that ends well. It was time to say farewell to Patagonia’s Lake District and hello El Calafate.