Patagonia is the most southerly region of South America, comprising the southern section of the Andes shared by Argentina and Chile. We limited our visit to this region to its most northerly portion, an area known as the Lakes District due to its abundance of lakes. This area (like all of Patagonia) is all about the outdoors: hiking, skiing, kayaking, fishing and the list goes on. In total we spent about 10 days in the Patagonian Lakes District, spread amongst three different towns: San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina; San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina; and Pucon, Chile.
In Bariloche, we took a 45 minute bumpy bus ride out of town to the trail head of a short hike that lead to the top of Cerro Llao Llao. From the top of this hill, we were given some really nice views of the area.
On another day in Bariloche, we rented some bikes and peddled a 30 km hilly route known as the Circuito Chico. This circuit, which took us about 5 hours to complete, winds past some of the different lakes in the area and, with a small detour down a dirt road, through the very small town Colonia Suiza. Lunch was actually a bit of a treat in Colonia Suiza as they were serving local trout, which was a nice break from red meat!
On our last day in Bariloche we rented a car to explore Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, which is located about 70 km north of Bariloche. We followed a circuit referred to as the Seven Lakes Drive since (go figure) it takes you past seven different lakes. Although some stretches of the drive were less exciting (ie. those sections where you couldn’t see the lakes!), it was fun to explore the area with our own rental car as we passed through some smaller towns that we would not have visited otherwise and were provided some beautiful views of the landscape. The drive actually took us down a much bumpier gravel road than we imagined it would – apparently washboard gravel roads can pass as a “highway” here in Argentina.
The next morning we took a bus from Bariloche to San Martin in order to catch the early morning bus the following day to Chile. In San Martin we treated ourselves to a night in a hotel, Monteverde Hotel, and spent the day wandering the fairly empty streets (the ski season had just ended). Although the town was quiet it was easy to see its draw. San Martin is picturesquely located on the shores of a lake between two mountains. San Martin was pricey however which, coupled with its emphasis on outdoor activities, reminded us a little of Whistler.
Our early morning bus took us directly into Pucon, Chile where we spent the next four nights at a lovely hostel/B&B (Frontera) run by a Brazilian couple. They treated us like old friends and we were sharing wine by the end of our stay. To top it all off, our room had an excellent view of the active volcano (Volcan Villarrica) which is located on the doorstep of the town.
We spent two of our days in Pucon just relaxing and enjoying its lakeside and quiet streets. On the third day, Patrick joined a guided tour that hiked to the top of the volcano (unfortunately Ashley was a little under the weather so skipped out). It was a fairly difficult climb over snow and ice which required the use of crampons and an ice axe (only used in case of slipping). While reaching the top after 6 hours of a steep hike was rewarding, it was so bloody cold and windy that we were all keen to turn back after about 15 minutes. The climb down was much easier, assisted by sledding on our butts over the majority of the descent.
On our final day in Chilean Patagonia we rented a car and travelled about 2 hours to some very luxurious hot springs (Thermal Geometrics). Although there were other hot springs closer to Pucon, we were told that these were the best and well worth the trip. And the hot springs did not disappoint – 20 different pools of varying temperatures that we had basically to ourselves. The hot springs were a perfect treat after a week spent doing a number of different physical activities. Of course a picture is worth a thousand words…
Where we stayed: Our apartment in Bariloche was amazing (www.airbnb.ca/rooms/817747) as was the hostel/B&B in Pucon (www.fronterapucon.com/)
Best meal: The Bife de Lomo (filet mignon) at El Bariloche de Alberto