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Easily one of Argentina’s best road trips rests along Ruta 40, ruta de los 7 lagos in Patagonia. The section between Villa La Angostura and San Martin de los Andes in particular. If you’re in Bariloche, taking this trip is absolutely an activity worth doing. If you’re curious about other activities in Bariloche, I wrote a blog post about just that.
Officially, there are seven lakes along this route, though there are several more stops just off the main road, from extra lakes to waterfalls and hikes.
The official 7 Lakes:
1. Nahuel Huapi
2. Lago Correntoso
3. Lago Espejo Grande
4. Lago Escondido
5. Lago Villarino
6. Lago Falkner
7. Lago Machónico
The ‘extra’ stops:
There are several other stops you can make on this trip, and here are a few to mark on your map between Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes:
Villa La Angostura & Puerto La Angostura
Playa Espejo Grande
Lago los Bullines
Valle del Arroyo Pil Pil
How to see the Ruta de los 7 Lagos
There are two main ways to go about seeing the lakes: booking a tour & car rental. I opted for the car rental route.
I used Rucaco Rental Cars, as it is in the center of Bariloche. However, there are certainly other car rental options around town.
Rucaco whatsapp number: +54 9 2944 89 8934
If you want to rent a car, you’ll need to show your passport, driver’s license, and a valid credit card. You can still pay in cash at the counter, but you’ll need to show a credit card for security. The cost was 12,000 pesos per day ($40).
Each ‘day’ is a 24-hour period; you’ll need to drop off the car the following day at the same time. You’ll also need to return the car with a full gas tank. There are several around Bariloche, so this shouldn’t present a problem. Also, gas tends to be more affordable in Patagonia than in the rest of the country.
I picked the car up at 2 pm on the first day, and dropped it off at 2 pm on the last day.
The benefit of renting a car is that you can make as many stops as you want, for as long as possible. A tour will stop only at the official 7 lakes, and Cascada Villugnanco, and for only several minutes at each stop.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, there is also the possibility to rent a bike and ride several kilometers along this route as well.
How Long Do You Need?
If you drive from Bariloche directly to San Martin de los Andes with no stops, it will take just over 3 hours. Therefore, a round trip will take 6 hours without stopping. Add a few more hours for stops. Add an hour for lunch. Technically, you could do this in one day. But do you really want a 10-hour day of rushing to fit everything in? My answer to that question was a resounding NO. But if you don’t mind the long day, if you’re crunched for time, or you only want to rent a car for half a day, then it is certainly possible.
Needless to say, there are several options for arranging your time around this adventure; I chose to rent a car for 48 hours, over the course of 3 days.
I, along with 2 friends, picked the car up at 2pm in Bariloche. We then made our way up north, making stops at Villa La Angostura, Lago Nahuel Huapi viewpoints, Mirador Inalco, Playa Lago Espejo, and Lago Correntoso. Then we headed directly to San Martin de los Andes to check into our accommodation and go to dinner.
Our second day was dedicated to seeing the area around San Martin de los Andes. We hiked at Cerro Colorado, cooled off at Playa Yuco, and had dinner at a hip indoor food market back in San Martin.
We got up early to head back south; we stopped at all the places we missed on the way up: Lago Machónico, Lago Hermoso, Cascada Villugnanco, Lago Falkner, Lago Villarino, Lago Escondido, Lago Espejo Chico, and a quick stop at Puerto La Angostura. We made it back to Bariloche just in time to drop off the car again by 2pm.
Personally, this amount of time worked for me. I saw what I wanted to see. If you aren’t interested in the area around San Martin de los Andes, you can easily complete the route in two days: one day up, one night in San Martin, and one day down. I stayed just outside of San Martin in a shared cabin.
If you have more time and want to see more, of course, your itinerary can be easily expanded. There are campsites all along the route of the seven lakes. You can also spend time north of San Martin de los Andes visiting other lakes, such as Lago Lolog and the town of Junin de los Andes.
What’s the best time to go?
The answer to this question depends entirely on what you want to see. It is beautiful all year, but it changes dramatically depending on the season. The high seasons for the area are winter and summer. Regardless of the season, however, I suggest booking your accommodations in advance. Try filtering for the ‘pay when you arrive’ option so that you can pay in cash.
The 4 Seasons Breakdown
In Argentina’s winter (July and August), there will be snow. This area is famous for skiing, and you’ll see several ski resorts along the route, and just outside Bariloche. Lots of people come to the area in these months for winter sports. You should take more precautions and drive slower in this time period. However, snow-covered lakes are also stunning.
In Argentina’s summer (January and February), you’ll find the most tourists. Of course, seeing the surrounding nature will be stunning, though you might run into more cars on the road and more people at all the stops. The weather will also be much warmer, so you can take advantage of the heat and jump into the lakes to cool off.
Shoulder seasons are generally the best time to travel, especially in Argentina. You’ll find fewer people and more affordable prices.
Fall in Argentina (March, April, and May) is a nice time to visit, but the weather will definitely be getting cooler down south. However, you will also be treated to amazing colors as the leaves begin to change.
Spring in Argentina (November and December) is a perfect time to visit the area. It’s warm during the day, but chilly at night. There are fewer people around, and prices have not yet soared for accommodation. The lakes are beautiful as ever. If you like old classic cars, you may consider planning your trip around the 1000 Millas; This occurs every spring and is a classic car race of 1000 miles around Patagonia. I’m not so into cars, but it was very cool to see all the old cars passing us by along the route.
Where should I stay in San Martin de los Andes?
There are a ton of places to stay in the area. I stayed just outside of town in an A-framed cabin with a shared kitchen. It was very cozy and quiet.
A very popular hostel (breakfast included) is the Alhue Patagonia Hostel. This is where my friend stayed, and enjoyed it.
Is this trip worth it?
Yes, 100 times yes. Patagonia is incredibly beautiful, but the ruta de los 7 lagos is one step up. Every view will astound you, every lake will take your breath away, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of photos you’ll have by the end. I spent two weeks around Bariloche, and driving the route of the seven lakes was easily one of my favorite activities. Whenever you decide to take this trip, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
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