Patagonia’s Northern Lake District: Sapphire Lakes and Snow-Covered Peaks of the Andes

Moreno and Nahuel Huapi Lakes, Bariloche, Argentina | Photo: Eddy Ancinas

Moreno and Nahuel Huapi Lakes, Bariloche, Argentina | Photo: Eddy Ancinas

 

From hundreds of sapphire lakes in the foothills of the Andes to the booming vacation town of Bariloche, the Northern Lake District of Patagonia is an enchanting traveler’s dream. 

An excerpt from Eddy Ancinas’ description in Fodor’s Patagonia Guide: Argentina’s Lake District

Hundreds of sapphire lakes lie hidden amidst the snow-covered peaks of the Andes on the western frontier with Chile, in what has become the most popular tourist area in Patagonia—the Northern Lake District. Bariloche is becoming the booming vacation town in the center of it all.

Parque National Lanín, in Neuquén Province, and the neighboring Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, in Río Negro Province, add up to 2.5 million acres of natural preserve. South of Bariloche and the Cholila Valley and northwest of Esquel, the Parque Nacional los Alerces, named for its 2,000-year-old alerce trees, covers 2,630 square km (1,015 square mi) of mountains, forests, and lakes, with only one dirt road leading into it.

Outdoor activities and a wide variety of lodgings in extraordinary settings attract visitors year-round. In winter, skiers come to Cerro Catedral for its size and terrain, superb setting overlooking Nahuel Huapi Lake, and its proximity to Bariloche. Smaller areas such as Chapelco in San Martín de los andes, La Hoya in Esquel, and Cerro Bayo in Villa La Angostrua attract mostly Argentines, and lots of Brazilians.

In spring, ribbons of pink and purple lupine line the roads and fill the mountain meadows along the Seven Lakes Route or Route 40 south to Esquel. Hikers and horseback riders will discover waterfalls cascading from mountaintops into deep, dark canyons. From November to March, fishing enthusiasts reel in the swollen rivers, alive with feisty trout or salmon.

Welsh farmers have grown wheat and raised sheep and cattle on the vast open plains and valleys of Chubut since 1865, and many of their descendant continue to live and work on the land, while preserving their Welsh culture in music, food, and architecture.

See more of Eddy’s Tips and Trips on Patagonia

Casa de Uco Vineyards & Wine Resort ~ Vista Flores, Near Tunuyán ~ Uco Valley ~ Mendoza

Golf, tennis, vineyards, horseback riding, a spa and more by the Andes….

This is the ultimate Uco Valley Vacation lodge: golf, tennis, horseback riding (into the nearby Andes) on 790 acres, with a wide open natural reserve on one side, vineyards as far as you can see, a lagoon and a spa. The hotel, designed by the architect father of the owner, has an organic roof garden and sun decks. Rooms open on to lagoon or the vineyards, and you can dine in an elegant restaurant, at the casual “quincho” (Argentine outdoor bbq) or at a special table set up in the vineyard.

http://casadeuco.com/blog/

 

Alpasión Lodge ~ Tunuyán ~ Uco Valley ~ Mendoza, Argentina

Sip and sleep when the sun sets behind the Andes….

 

In this modern adobe structure with five rooms (each with a hammock on its veranda), guests gather in the evening on the roof of Alpasión for sipping while the sun sets behind the Andes. It’s remote setting could be a plus or minus, depending on your personal tastes. An unusual amenity is the fun kid-friendly suite with bunk beds. Award-winning wine, produced on the premises, is served in the wine bar.

www.alpasion.com/the-lodge/

 

Nearby Wineries

Bodega J&F Lurton

Clos de Los Siete

 

 

Casa Antucura Wine Lodge ~ Vista Flores, Tunuyán ~ Mendoza

There’s a small hotel….

Casa Antucura Wine Lodge, Vista Flores, Tunuyán, Mendoza, Argentina | Photo: Eddy Ancinas

Casa Antucura Wine Lodge, Vista Flores, Tunuyán, Mendoza, Argentina | Photo: Eddy Ancinas

This gracious country estate, with huge bedrooms, a second-floor library that houses 8,000 books and 2,000 DVDs, feels like home. Cocktails and dinner served outside on the veranda, followed by dinner in front of the fireplace. Stroll around the premises and admire the sculptures. Go beyond the swimming pool, through the rose garden and into the vineyards. Plan with guests or staff a visit to nearby wineries.

www.casaantucura.com/index.php/antucura-hotel

Nearby Wineries

O. Fournier

Finca La Celia

Bodega Aconcija

Siete Fuegos Restaurant at Vines Resort and Spa ~ Uco Valley ~ Mendoza

Lunch, Dinner, and a Rock-Star Chef  at Siete Fuegos Restaurant
Vines Resort and Spa
Tunuyán, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

Siete Fuegos restaurant at the Vines of Mendoza Hotel and Vineyards Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina | Photo: Eddy Ancinas

Francis Mallman’s Siete Fuegos restaurant at the Vines of Mendoza Hotel and Vineyards
Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina | Photo: Eddy Ancinas

Argentina’s rock-star chef, Francis Mallmann, grills beef, lamb, vegetables, potatoes over open flames in the outdoor kitchen, where all can observe. Start with a Proveleta (grilled Provolone cheese with oregano and tomatoes).

Dine inside or out by the pool. Chose from 250 wines, or try one from the surrounding vineyards, where wannabe winemakers have paired a little cash with local agronomists and award-winning wine-makers to produce their own wines.

 

Open 12:30-11pm

www.vinesofmendoza.com

Lunch at Restaurant Andeluna ~ Tupungato ~ Uco Valley ~ Mendoza

Lunch, Wine, Vineyards and Mountains in the Uco Valley

Andeluna Vineyards and the Tupungato Volcano from the Restaurant Andeluna | Photo: Eddy Ancinas

Vineyards and the Tupungato Volcano from restaurant Andeluna | Photo: Eddy Ancinas

 

The Andeluna restaurant in Tupungato has an open kitchen where you can watch your six course meal being chopped, sliced, grilled, mixed and served. Add six or more wines to pair, then enjoy the view of miles of vineyards reaching to the mighty mountains.

Open for lunch Mon-Sat

Grapes to Glaciers ~ Drive in the Andes from Mendoza to Aconcagua

Aconcagua-Giant of the Americas 22,834 feet, Mendoza, Argentina/ photo by Eddy Ancinas

Aconcagua-Giant of the Americas 22,834 feet, Mendoza, Argentina/ photo by Eddy Ancinas

 You can drive from Mendoza, Argentina’s Wine Capitol, to the top of the Andes in one long all- day round trip (242 miles/190 km). Whether you rent a car in Mendoza, hire a Remis (car with driver), or sign up for a tour, this is a road trip you will never forget.

 

When I crossed the Andes from Chile to Argentina in a freight train in 1961, my husband couldn’t wait to show me the highest mountain in his country and in the Western Hemisphere.  Aconcagua towers above the Andes at 22,834 feet, and you can gaze up at its 10,000 foot-high wall of granite, topped by five gleaming glaciers and wind-whipped summit from the parking lot at the Parque Provincial on the Uspallata Pass at 10,400 ft.

The train is gone, but the road is better; so leave your glass of Malbec on the table in one of the fine wineries or bistros of Argentina’s wine capital, and head for the mountains.

Ruta Nacional 7 (the Pan American Highway, the only road that connects Argentina to the Pacific Coast) follows the Mendoza River into blue-black mountains.  In 1934, an ice dam broke from a glacier at the top of the pass, sending mud, rocks and debris down the canyon, destroying every thing in its path including two hotels.

Into the Andes on RN 7

Into the Andes on RN7

After you pass Uspallata, the last town before the Chilean border, the multi-hued mountains rise on either side of the road, followed by dark, brooding mountains.  Stop for a photo break where two rivers–Tambillos and Blanco spill out of the mountains and under the road into the Rio Mendoza,  Inca tambos (resting places) will remind you that this was once an Inca route from Peru through northern Chile to Argentina. The movie, Seven Years in Tibet, was filmed in the rugged mountains nearby. At Punta de Vacas, corrals that once held cattle en route to Chile lie abandoned alongside a now defunct cog railway.  The two countries have discussed re-building that railway from Santiago to Mendoza –an “Andean Express?”  Another photo stop–Looking south,  Cerro Tupungato’s white cone rises above the Uco Valley at 22,304 ft — 3rd highest montain in the region. After you pass the ski area at Los Penitentes, named for the rock formations that resemble penitent monks, you will see Puente del Inca on the left side of the road.  At 9,000 feet, its red rocks encrusted with yellow sulphur form a natural bridge over the Rio Cuevas.

Puente del Inca on Uspallata Pass at 9,000 feet on Pan American Highway Argentina to Chile

Puente del Inca Uspallata Pass 9,000 feet. /photo by Eddy Ancinas

The refugio, where mountaineers hang out before and after climbing Aconcagua, is a good place for lunch and a soak in the hot sulphur springs after visiting the Parque Nacional Aconcaua–just a few more miles past the Argentine customs station. About 9 more miles west of the park entrance, the road forks right to Chile, left to the statue of Christ the Redeemer–a symbol of peace between Argentina and Chile. At 13,800 feet, you can see a lot of Chile!

Gauchomania in San Antonio de Areco

Once the gaucho roamed freely across the pampas, needing only a knife, a lasso and a good horse. Considered an outlaw, he survived by his wits and lamented his misfortunes to the strum of a guitar, then vanished into legend.

His noble virtues, however—courage, honesty, generosity, and a kind of humble toughness—endure in literature and in the soul of the nation, and nowhere is this more evident than in San Antonio de Areco,  just 68 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.

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San Antonio de Areco celebrates its gaucho tradition.

Hooves clatter on cobblestones, signaling the start of the gaucho parade– an event that occurs every November since 1939. Estancieros from nearby ranches, paisanos (ranch hands) and campesinos from neighboring provinces line the streets. A chacarera blares from the loud speakers as Los Salteños (gauchos from the northern province of Salta) prance in front of the Plaza Arellano.  Spurs clink beneath giant rawhide chaps that wrap around horse and rider. With their red ponchos thrown back, black broad-brimmed hats tilted forwards, they ride 4 abreast.  The crowd cheers, children wave.

 

Gauchos from Salta/Eddy Ancinas

Gauchos from Salta/Eddy Ancinas

“Esto es Argentina!” my Argentine husband declares.

We watch for hours, as thousands of horses and riders pass, dressed in traditional attire –the men in black bombachas (full, pleated pants) tucked into shiny boots or casually buttoned at the ankle above alpargatas (canvas espadrilles).  Women ride side-saddle.

Ponchos in variations of a black and white geometric design lie folded on the front of the saddle or draped regally over man and beast.

Gaucho Parade Gaucho Parade 2358IMG_2343

A hand-tooled facón (silver knife) protrudes from the back of their wide leather belts.

Rastra 015Rastra blog 040

IMG_2674IMG_2685Reins, ropes and rebenques (crops) exhibit the fine art of rawhide braiding. Silver bridles, stirrups, spurs and buckles gleam against black polished leather.

After the parade, everyone walks to the huge field for “Destrezas de Gaucho”—a rodeo  which involves bareback bronc riding, a wild horse race and the grand finale—–

Las Tropillas—40 groups of 7 matching horses (the gaucho used 1 horse for each day of the week) enter with one rider and a bell mare per group, and begin to gallop around the arena-faster and faster in a cloud of dust—until they become one herd of flying manes and tails.  A whistle blows, and the first tropilla that re-groups with its mare, wins the coveted prize.  

No parade of marching soldiers, tanks, guns and weapons can equal the grandeur of gauchos on parade.

Whenever I return to Areco –the horses, the riders, the music, the people watching  — all remind me that the true strength of Argentina is its tradition.

“Dead, the gaucho still survives—in the literature he inspired, and in the blood of every Argentine.”             Jorge Luis Borges

Cheap Hotels in Million $$ Locations: Lago Trafúl (Patagonia)

Lago Traful, Patagonia/Eddy Ancinas

Lago Trafúl, Patagonia/Eddy Ancinas

Lago Trafúl is one of the forty + lakes that sparkle like sapphires in the lake region of northern Patagonia, but this lake is special.

One small village (Villa Trafúl pop. 500), a dirt road around one side and nothing else but blue, blue water. Stay here a week or a year and fish, hike, explore and gaze at the stars.

Eat with the locals at Nancu Lahuen. Sleep in a campground or the Marinas Puerto Trafúl.

You can arrive by car or bus from Bariloche on the 7 Lakes route via Villa Angostura, or on RP65 from Confluencia.

Cheap Hotels in Million $$ Locations: Tronadór, Patagonia

Mt. Tronador (Thunder Mountain) 11,453 ft. Patagonia/Eddy Ancinas

Mt. Tronador (Thunder Mountain) 11,453 ft. Patagonia/Eddy Ancinas

Hotel Tronadór, situated on the western shore of Lago Mascardi, is the base lodge or excursions to Mt Tronadór, which straddles the border with Chile at 11,453 ft.—the highest mountain in Argentina’s Lake Region.

 

Hotel Tronador/Eddy Ancinas

Hotel Tronadór/Eddy Ancinas

Easy hikes to nearby waterfalls, mountain biking, horseback riding adn more serious hikes up to the glaciers can keep an active outdoor enthusiast entertained for a week.

With 30 rooms and 7 apartments, all means and 50% discounts for children 1-8.

This is a good family destination.

Closed all May. No credit cards.

www.hoteltronador.com