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.