Days 64 to 70: El Bolson to St Martin de Los Andes, via the epic Route of the Seven Lakes
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
The day I left El Bolson the weather packed up a bit, and as it was 130km up to my next proper stop including a lot of climbing I decided to split it over two days. There was a small town about 50km along the way, but that was still enough time for me to get soaking wet through by the time I arrived. My socks and gloves were like sponges.
The next day was much better as I made my up to Bariloche - a city of 120,000 and the regional capital of the Argentinian Lake District. I stayed for free at the house of a guy who welcomes cycle-tourists, nice place and interesting guy too. He calls it the Casa Cicilista Bariloche. He'd previously been in the Argentinian water polo national squad, and followed rugby pretty closely as well having been both a prop and a flanker in his club days. There was a Spanish cyclist called Jose also staying, and I took the opportunity to spend 3 nights there and enjoy being in a bigger city again - lots of craft beer included. One highlight was when we went out for a "Pizzanesa", which is kinda like a pizza... but the base is made out of schnitzel meat rather than dough! Ah, only in Argentina....
Jose and I decided to cycle up to the next town of Villa La Angostura together, during which it actually started snowing on us! The snow became heavier and even started accumulating on the road which was a bit dicey but kinda fun as well. I'm generally at about 1000 metres for this part of my trip, although that much snow this early in Spring surprised even the locals. We made the 88km in pretty quick time up to Villa La Angostura - one of the many cute small towns in the Lake District.
Jose pushed on the next morning (he was going to Alaska!) but I stayed another night as there was a nearby national park called Los Arrayanes I wanted to visit for the day - the snow of the day before now looked totally stunning on top of all the peaks and under a bright blue sky, sitting behind beautiful lakes surrounded by native bush.
The National Park of Los Arrayanes was like a nature playground, and I was glad I went there.
The combo of blue skies, snow-capped mountains and glistening lakes continued the next day as I made the 110km up to St Martin de Los Andes, indeed that road is known as the Route of the 7 Lakes, and it's been pretty easy to understand why this area is high on the itinerary list even for people just on short holidays here and is considered a highlight of all of Argentina. Even the lofty Lonely Planet lists the route as one of its “Top Twenty Must Do’s” for Argentina.
I figured the day ahead would involve a war of mathematics. On the one hand I had numerous lakes to stop at and explore, but on the other hand I still needed to cover over 110km with a lot of climbing in order to get to San Martin de Los Andes. The day would thus be characterised by pushing for the maximum possible time off the bike while still ensuring I arrived before darkness.
Rolling out of Villa la Angostura, I was treated to a beautiful view of Lake Correntoso with its blue-green waters surrounded by yet more snow-clad mountains. The shorelines of Lake Correntoso and Lake Nahuel Huapi are only a couple of hundred metres from one another, and the short river that runs between them is one of the most famous fly-fishing spots in all of Argentina. Even as I made my way out of town early, there were already a couple of earnest fishermen out trying their luck.
The quiet road was hemmed in by thick forest and took me on to the next lake named Espejo, or Mirror Lake. As the name suggests, the clear and calm water and surrounding snowy mountains combine to deliver a postcard photographer’s dream. The dreamy landscape reflected back off the lake perfectly, as did the occasional swishes of white cloud overhead. Lake Espejo had a wide volcanic sand beach which made for an inviting place to stop and chill for a while, so that’s exactly what I did.
After Lake Espejo was Lake Bailey Willys, a smaller lake wonderfully concealed by thick woods. The meandering road then arched back around the north end of Lake Correntoso, offering a sweeping vista back down the narrow 20km lake. The road continued its general ascent higher and higher, taking me up past Lake Escondido, which hid behind a thick crop of trees through which I could catch glimpses of the lakewater glistening in the afternoon sunlight.
Eventually I reached what was arguably the best view of the day where the road carved a narrow isthmus between two lakes: Villarino to the West, and Falkner to the East. Lake Villarino presented an open and panoramic vista that was jaw-dropping, in contrast to Lake Falkner which had the ambience more of a fjord surrounded by forest-clad mountains which rose almost vertically into the sky, with the most striking snowy peak towering a further 1000 metres overhead yet barely a kilometre away from the road. Its lofty and imposing presence invited me to sit on Lake Falkner’s long narrow beach for yet another moment to chill out and enjoy what was turning out to be a truly stunning day.
Despite being beautiful, the day also hid a tough side, because buried within the 115km was over 2000 metres of vertical elevation gain. The ample opportunities to get off the bike were therefore as much about taking a break as they were about enjoying the vistas. The final stretch into San Martin was the main exception as I enjoyed one of the longest steady downhills of my time in Patagonia, dropping a solid 500 metres over about 15 kilometers; pedalling only when I felt like it, and just cruising the rest of the time.
As I finally rolled into the attractive chalet-style village of San Martin, it seemed that I’d timed my day pretty well. Dusk was falling over the town which meant I’d made the most out of the daylight hours exploring the Argentinian Lake District yet still got into town before darkness fell. I was too exhausted to make much of the evening, but I figured that such a superb day deserved a solid feed so headed out for a rack of lamb with a couple of glasses of Malbec before sleep called for me loud and clear.