Burrrrrr. It’s cold in Patagonia! There are periodic snow flurries, sun shine, wind and rain. It’s also beautiful.
San Carlos de Bariloche is a popular German heritage tourist destination located in the northern part of Patagonia. While Technically spring but I have been told it can snow in January (summer) here, when a change in the winds brings colds fronts from Antartica. I had grand plans for River rafting, hiking and boat trips and last week it was nearly 70F (21C) here, but this is Patagonia known for dramatic weather, if you don’t like it, just wait 10 minutes. The seven lakes region of Argentina is compared to the Alps, and I will also add the Pacific North West, Bariloche has a lot of the same activities as Lake Tahoe.
Most people fly into Bariloche, I embarked on grand adventure and decided to drive. In researching online I estimated it would take one long day and one short day then on day three I would start the iconic seven lakes tour from the Northern most town of San Juan de Los Andes and spend a night in San Martin de los Andes. South America Lessons:
- Do NOT trust the road maps, or google maps.
- Assume roads are NOT paved unless specifically noted.
- If you think you are going to take a “road trip” in South America, get an SUV.
It seemed simple enough, stay on highway 40 from Mendoza to Chos Malal. Stay in hotel one night then a short 3-4 hours to San Martin. Reality, day one was 11 hours at least 50% of that time was on gravel roads. I never imagined having strong oppinions on different types of gravel roads. The map listed 20km on “Deterated pavement” while a great improvement over watched out gravel/dirt roads massive tire and axel destroying potholes it was faster going but just as challanging.
Ruta 40 – highway 40 Argentina – is a legendary drive, but think of it as a safari and bring your camping gear. After 4 hours of driving we came upon this lake with house boats, I would have loved to fire up a perilla (grill), open a bottle of Mendoza wine, and pitch a tent. Unprepared, I drove for another 7 hours past the boats and at 9pm lumbered into the rural town of Chos Malal, and an oasis of business hotel’s Terra Malal. The next morning exploring the town I noticed a lot of booming business for a rural town. When I thought about it I had passed several palentoligal sites, neighboring oil rigs and fracking across entire hillsides. The hotel was newly built to service visiting business people and the town is building a new school, luxury apartments, middle class homes and new civic center, all while YPF Oil tankers skirted the town on a newly paved section of ruta 40.
Driving day two was more relaxed and we shifted from desert to high desert to pine forest. Stopping for fresh Trucha (trout) in San Jaun de los Andes, iconic fly fishing distention and the northern most of the “de los Andes” towns. In the last hour of the drive we rolled into picturesque San Martin de los Andes, a quaint town at the top of lake ___ that flows into the Pacific. This bavarian like town reminded me of french/swish/italian alps towns and copies like Leveanworth Washington.
The bavarian roots do not stop with the architecture, there are chocolate shops, fresh venison, smoke trout, sausages, cheeses while boar, good bread, beer and fondue. Balanced the rich local food with plenty of outdoor exercise actives like treking, wind surfing, skiing, biking and rowing.
We rented an outstanding apartment owned by a extremely helpful British expat and expert trek guide author of trckbarlioche.com among other guides. I am loving the plush bed topped with fluffy duvet and clean white sheets, it is more comortable than some four star hotels I have stayed in. With the rough weather we are experiencing, winds over 20 mph, snow, rain, and more wind it has been tempting to stay in and admire the apartment view.
South and West of Barioche is the half day driving loop – full day bike ride – Curcuto Chico or “short loop”, is stunning. Even after hours on gravel roads I found the motivation to take my gutless rental Fiat Curso down 3km road to Colonia Suiza, settled by a Swish/French family in the 1890’s and now a tourist trap justified by its breathtaking natural surrounding and use of natural lumbar in unique building construction.
On our last day we signed up for a boat trip to Isla Victoria and an Arrayanes forest. These boats leave rain, snow or shine. Our luck it was snow. We had an hour “tour” of the island while the boat returned to port for another group, and this was freezing, but also beautiful. Finally a short forest walk and back on the relatively warm boat for the 45 minute return ride. There are two different boats, the Catamaran is significantly faster, and you can take pictures of the pretty boat, win win.