A road trip through Patagonia: 7 obligatory stops on a journey along Route 40
San Martín de los Andes, Villa La Angostura, Bariloche, Lago Puelo, Esquel, El Chaltén and El Calafate are some of the places not to be missed. What to do, when to go and what to see in each destination.
Embarking on a road trip through the Argentinean Patagonia, following the path of the emblematic National Route 40, implies immersing one self in one of the most privileged natural sceneries of the planet: immense blue lakes, imposing glaciers, volcanoes and mountains with peaks snow-capped and extensive forests stained with yellow, orange and red depending on the season.
Route 40 draws a line that seems infinite on Argentina. In the Patagonian section, it crosses four provinces and about 2,700 kilometres along the way, where geography and visual sights change dramatically.
In Rio Negro and Neuquén, the seven-Lakes Road gives us film postcards. In Chubut, petrified forests surprise us. In Santa Cruz the landscape begins to change and becomes more isolated, even if sometimes desolate. As if one was in uncharted territory. In the end, the experience of trekking on the glacier, one completely falls in love.
For those who are encouraged to make the complete journey from San Martín de los Andes to El Calafate, passing through Esquel and Lago Puelo, a journey through the landmarks of the legendary Route 40 is a trip of a lifetime.
#1 stop: San Martín de los Andes
This small mountain town on the edge of Lake Lácar combines relaxation and a wealth of tourist circuits in a natural environment of millenary forests, spas and glacial lakes.
Here there are activities for all tastes. You can choose between horseback riding and hiking in the Lanín National Park, or a moment of relaxation at the Termas Lahuen Co (miraculous waters in the Mapuche language).
San Martín de los Andes is one of the most important tourist spots in Neuquén and the kick to start the Seven Lakes Road, one of the most beautiful sections of Route 40.
The road begins at Lake Lácar and continues along the Machónico, Falkner, Villarino, Escondido, Correntoso, mirror and the immense Nahuel Huapi in Villa La Angostura. It is a road circuit of 112 kilometres that is totally sealed and crosses a dazzling natural landscape.
#2 stop: Villa La Angostura
The natural environment could not be better: a lush forest of ñires, lengas and coihues around lakes of crystalline waters. This is the charming Villa la Angostura.
This small mountain village is the gateway to Arrayanes National Park, the only forest of this species in the world, and the perfect place to explore the trails of Nahuel Huapi National Park.
If it is hot, the extensive bay of Lake Correntoso is the ideal place to spend the day in pure relaxation. Surrounded by mountains and sand of volcanic origin, it is the place chosen by tourists and locals to take a dip because its temperatures are warmer than those of the Nahuel Huapi.
At lunch time, the emblematic Correntoso Lake & River Hotel, founded in 1917, is the perfect spot to rest, taste a typical dish and get one of the most spectacular panoramic views of the villa.
#3 stop: San Carlos de Bariloche
Bariloche doesn’t need any introductions to the well travelled. It is one of the most traditional and emblematic destinations in Patagonia. However, the vast majority of people know it to be covered in snow. What they don’t know is that beneath the snow lies an incredible landscape.
In spring/summer Bariloche is transformed. When the snow is gone, beaches and water sports become the protagonists.
Nahuel Huapi National Park offers a great camping and many walks. On the lake, in addition to the classic catamaran rides, you can practice sport fishing, kitesurfing, windsurfing and kayaking.
Those looking for an activity for the whole family can choose to do rafting in the tranquil Limay River or in the Manso River. Another plan is to visit the revolving confectionery of Cerro Otto or get to know the other side of Cerro Catedral.
At night there are more proposals. Bariloche has an important brewing circuit that offers more than 20 artisan beer factories. These breweries offer to taste with their beers, chopped smoked meats, cheeses and sauerkraut, a classic Bariloche and typical dishes of the region.
#4 Stop: Lago Puelo
Very close to El Bolsón, and 120 kilometers from Bariloche, this small town is called “Refuge of Nature” by its inhabitants. It houses the Lago Puelo National Park, where one of the most crowded walks is the “Forest of Shadows”.
This forest is extremely humid and has many myrtle trees, ferns, and vines along the way. Although there is sun, it is always dark, so has a feeling of constant suspense. It is a short path and very easy to do with young children.
In addition, if you are looking for an experience closer to nature, on the shores of the lake there is a recreational area with two camps. The park also has an area called “La Playita” with very pleasant temperatures because of the shallow depth of the lake.
Another option from Lago Puelo is to visit the small town of Epuyén, only 40 kilometres away, where the southernmost winery in Argentina (Patagonian wines) is located.
#5 Stop: Esquel
Esquel definitely deserves a stop on this road trip. Located at the foot of the Andean foothills, this city is surrounded by the Andean forest and the Patagonian steppe.
With a majestic landscape, which treasures ancient forests, Los Alerces National Park is one of its great attractions. Another of these is “La Trochita”, officially known as the Old Patagonian Express, the famous narrow-gauge train that revives the mythical Patagonia.
But if you have to choose an unforgettable experience, it is to ride in the area of Valle Chico and the Cerro Nahuel Pan. The geography of Esquel, made up of imposing hills and valleys, constitutes the perfect setting to enjoy a guided horseback excursion.
Several farms offer horseback riding, which start with a traditional breakfast and then crowns the day with a lamb on the spit.
#6 Stop: El Chaltén
A very small and young town, El Chaltén was founded in 1985. Its streets are full of life and shelter many tourists coming from all over the world to know their most precious treasures.
From El Chaltén, a town named “the National capital of trekking”, you can walk the most spectacular trails in Patagonia. Most of them are self-guided and are carried out within the National Park Los Glaciares, but others, for the more experienced, require several days and camping on the way.
The path to Laguna de los Tres is the most recommended. All the way up to the foot of Cerro Chaltén (or Fitz Roy) is an adventure: you have to cross forests, lakes and climb mountains. The last stretch is quite demanding because it is done in ascent, but not impossible. In total, they walk about 20 kilometres, and although the return has a cost by the tiredness, each one of them is a beauty to behold.
Another safety pin is the path that leads to Cerro Torre, considered one of the most beautiful and difficult mountains to climb in the world. This trekk starts with a slight slope, but after the first stretch the road becomes much more bearable.
At dusk the activity continues at a very relaxed and calm pace. The lights of artisan breweries and groups of backpackers come together to enjoy the happy hours. In the evening, the restaurants invite you to recharge the next day with typical dishes such as Patagonian lamb, Creole roast and Andean rabbit.
#7 stop: El Calafate
On the shores of the great Lago Argentino, El Calafate was born in 1927 as a gateway to the great Patagonian glaciers. Only 80 kilometres from the village is the entrance to the National Park Los Glaciares, home of Mount Fitz Roy, Lake Viedma and the imposing Perito Moreno, declared World Heritage by UNESCO.
Inside the park, there is a circuit of three wooden walkways to know all the faces of the glacier and witness in the front row the detachments of small and huge blocks of ice.
For those who are looking for a different experience to meet the Perito Moreno Glacier from the inside, there are two excursions. A mini trekking, which lasts about an hour and a half on the ice, and another called Big ice, which lasts three and a half hours.
Both start with a 20 minute sailing along the rich lake and continue with a short hike through the Magellanic Forest to the foot of the glacier. Then comes the time to put on the crampons and embark on the exciting an adventure on the ice.
The experience is expensive but unforgettable. There you can see cracks, small gaps and the incredible shades of blue that collects the ice depending on how the light impacts. A real marvel.
If you have time to return another day, in the park you can also take a boat on the Lago Argentino to see the beauty of the glaciers Upsala and Spegazzini. Truly an awesome sight.
Source: La Cronista ( translated )
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