Protecting a glorious chunk of the Andean cordillera and its neighbouring steppe, most of the park falls within the watershed of the immense Lago Nahuel Huapi, an impressive expanse of water that can seem benign one moment and a froth of seething whitecaps the next. Of glacial origin, it’s 557 square kilometres in area, but highly irregular in shape with peninsulas, islands and attenuated, fjord-like tentacles that sweep down from the thickly forested border region. The lake’s name comes from Mapuche for Isle (huapi) of the Tiger (nahuel) and refers to the jaguars that once inhabited regions even this far south. Heavy rainfall permits the growth of temperate rainforest and species such as the alerce, here at the northernmost extent of its range in Argentina. Other species typical of the sub-Antarctic Patagonian forests also flourish: giant coihues, lengas and ñire among others. The dominant massif of the park is an extinct volcano, Cerro Tronador, whose three peaks straddle the Argentine–Chilean border in the south. Glaciers slide off its heights in all directions, though all are in a state of alarmingly rapid recession.
Snow can fall as late as December and as early as March at higher altitudes: it’s not advisable to hike certain trails outside the high season. Bear in mind the area is a long way west of Buenos Aires despite being in the same time zone, so the sun is overhead in summer closer to 3pm, rather than midday. Average temperatures are 18°C in summer and 2°C in winter. The strongest winds blow in spring, which is otherwise a good time to visit, as is the calmer autumn, when the deciduous trees wear their spectacular late-season colours.Read More
- Cerro Catedral
Villa La Angostura
Villa La Angostura
Spread along the northern lake-shore of Nahuel Huapi, VILLA LA ANGOSTURA has grown enormously in the past decade, capitalizing on the Lake District’s surging popularity. The settlement originally swelled owing to its proximity to the trout-fishing at Río Correntoso, one of the world’s shortest rivers, but today caters mostly to upper-end tourists, with whole new areas of wooded hills giving way to luxury hotels, cabins and spas. The almost ubiquitous log-cabin architecture can feel a bit forced, rather like a mountain-village theme park, and the constant flow of traffic rather ruins the peace. However, it is smaller than Bariloche, has some top-notch accommodation (though not many budget options), and provides the only land access to Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes.
The town sprawls along the lakeside, with the centre known as El Cruce. Avenida Arrayanes transects the town; everything you are likely to need during your stay is concentrated in a 200m stretch between Boulevard Nahuel Huapi and Cerro Bayo. The park is reached by crossing the isthmus at La Villa, a 3km-long peninsula west of the centre – the old harbour.
Other than visiting the park or going on fishing trips, you can get good views from the summit of Cerro Bayo, 10km east from the centre of Villa Angostura; you can hike up in summer but you’ll need a guide – ask at the tourist office. Another good local hike (or short drive) is to Mirador Belvedere and Cascada Inacayal, a delightful waterfall, both along the southeast shore of Lago Correntoso.
Ruta de los Siete Lagos
Ruta de los Siete Lagos
The classic Ruta de los Siete Lagos (“Seven Lakes Route”) connects Villa La Angostura with San Martín de los Andes in spectacular fashion, passing through forested valleys and giving access to many more than the eponymous seven lakes, which are lagos Nahuel Huapi, Espejo, Correntoso, Escondido, Villarino, Falkner and Machónico. You’ll also pass several fishing spots – buy permits before setting off (from tourist offices, YPF stations or campsites). The route is mostly paved, but be warned that the unsealed section – between Lago Espejo and Lago Villarino – can get extremely dusty, especially in summer, although it is being gradually tarred. Note that the entire route is now considered part of the classic RN-40; previously, it was the RN-231 in the southern half and RN-234 in the northern half, and older maps still mark it as such.
Lago Nahuel Huapi to Lago Correntoso
Soon after leaving Angostura, the paved RN-40 crosses Río Correntoso, famous for its fishing and, at barely 250m long, one of the planet’s shortest rivers; the road then skirts the northernmost tip of Lago Nahuel Huapi, by far the largest lake on the route. As you turn north, you quickly sight Lago Espejo (“Looking-glass Lake”), renowned as the warmest and smoothest (hence the name) lake hereabouts. Alongside the Seccional Espejo guardaparque post is a free campsite, by a beach that’s good for swimming. Just before the guardaparque’s house is another campground, with spacious pitches and a beach, while opposite is an easy forest trail (30min) through the woods to an isolated spot on the western shore of magical Lago Correntoso. Beyond here you trace Lago Correntoso’s northern shores and pass a lakeside campground, run by one of the area’s original indigenous families and offering tortas fritas, meals and provisions.
After the road swings sharply north you’ll reach the RP-65 turn-off via the Portezuelo pass to Villa Traful. You then pass through a magnificent valley with sheer cliffs towering over 600m. It’s worth stopping at the signposted track to a series of five waterfalls known collectively as Cascadas Ñivinco. Reaching them involves an easy 2km walk through ñire and caña colihue forest, but you’ll get your feet (and possibly knees) wet when you ford the river.
Lago Escondido, Lago Villarino and Lago Falkner
Further north is pint-sized Lago Escondido, the most enchanting of all the lakes, hiding its emerald-green charms demurely in the forest. Before crossing the limpid waters of Río Pichi Traful, you pass through Seccional Villarino (8am–8pm), where the guardaparque will give you information on recommended walks, such as the trek up Cerro Falkner.
Continuing north you come to the eastern point of Lago Villarino, a popular place for fishing, with Cerro Crespo (2130m) as a picturesque backdrop and a free lakeside campground. On the other side of the main road, Lago Falkner is a perennial favourite of fishermen, sitting at the foot of Cerro Falkner (2350m) and a campground here provides accommodation. Just to the north of Lago Falkner you pass Cascada Vulliñanco, a 20m waterfall to the west of the road.
Lago Machónico to San Martín
Continuing on the RN-40, you cross from Parque Nahuel Huapi into the neighbouring Parque Lanín. You then skirt the eastern shore of Lago Machónico and, in the final meanders of the route, pass through handsome ñire and coihue woods. Make sure you stop at the Mirador de Pil Pil to take in the superb panorama of mighty Lago Lácar, whose waters lap San Martín de los Andes, the route’s northern terminus.
The 123km trip southwards along the RN-40 from Bariloche to EL BOLSÓN offers yet more stunning mountain and lake views. Just inside Río Negro Province and set in the bowl of a wide, fertile valley, hemmed in by parallel ranges of mountains, El Bolsón is a thriving tourist centre with numerous trekking opportunities close at hand. It was Latin America’s first town to declare itself nuclear free and an “ecological municipality”. Owing to the claim that the jagged peak of the nearby Cerro Piltriquitrón is one of the earth’s “energy centres”, El Bolsón became a popular hippy hangout in the 1960s, and while it’s a bit more commercial these days, the laidback atmosphere persists. In summer it’s particularly popular with young Argentine backpackers, since it’s far easier on the wallet than nearby Bariloche.
Wildlife in the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi
Wildlife in the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi
Nahuel Huapi park has abundant birdlife, with species such as the Magellanic woodpecker, the green-backed firecrown, the ground-dwelling Chucao tapaculo and the Austral parakeet. You’ll hear mention of rare fauna such as the huemul and the pudú, though you have only a slightly greater chance of seeing them than you do of spying Nahuelito, Argentina’s answer to the Loch Ness monster. Animals that make their home in the steppe regions of the park (guanaco, rheas and foxes) are more easily seen. Of the non-native species, the most conspicuous are the red deer (ciervo colorado) and the wild boar (jabalí), introduced by hunt-loving settlers. In an effort to cull their numbers, the authorities issue shooting permits, which continue to serve as a source of revenue for the park – expect to see roast boar and venison carpaccio on many a local menu.