Monday, January 31, 2011

San Martín de Los Andes, Argentina, Part 1

The view of Lago Lácar (Lacar Lake) from our excursion boat in San Martin de los Andes

The next day, we decided to explore everyone's favorite town of San Martín de los Andes, so we walked down to the bus terminal to ask about times and fares. It turned out that San Martín was only about 45 minutes away and cost 7 pesos (about US$1.50) on local buses that ran all day and most of the evening. We took the next bus and arrived in just under an hour in the lovely Alpine-themed, albeit touristy, town. The bus terminal is just steps away from the lake dock and boat basin so we started our tour there. San Martín is an easy place to explore: compact, safe, clean, modern and well-maintained. The wind off the lake was blowing at gale-force speed that day though, so we were forced to cut our lakefront visit short and head to the center of town.

Sim at a town park in San Martin

San Martín is a popular destination for Argentines and Chileans (it is only 45 km or about 27 miles from the Chilean border at the foot of the Andes). In the winter, it attracts skiers and snowboarders to the famous ski resort of Chapelco and in the summer, hikers, golfers and boaters flock to the area for the breathtaking mountain scenery, crystal blue lakes, secluded beaches and mild weather. The town is charming and filled with Swiss and German style tea and coffee houses, chocolate shops and bakeries. We wandered through the orderly streets, stopping to admire the hundreds of scented rose bushes and flower gardens. The central plaza and  various parks are also all well-kept: the fountains, paths, gazebos, monuments and play areas were all spotless in the true Swiss-German tradition (the first time I have ever seen the buildings and statues of a South American town not covered in graffiti).  

Luis taking a break from hiking at a remote waterfall at Quila Quina on Lago Lácar

Everyone told us not to miss taking a boat excursion, so we signed up for the full-day boat trip that travels around the lakes of the Lanin National Park, Lago Lacar and Lago Nonthue on Sundays, stopping at various spots to hike and to visit waterfalls, beaches, scenic overlooks and to have lunch. We arrived early in the morning to stop at a cafe for Swiss hot chocolate (gotta have our sugar-fueled strength!) and then boarded the boat. The weather was perfect for a boat trip: sunny and much less windy than it had been on our first day. The boat traveled around the two lakes, stopping first at Quila Quina, a small, peaceful lakeside community with a beautiful beach, waterfalls and hiking trails. Many people were already in the water, swimming, jet-skiing, canoeing and kayaking, so we decided to hike up to the small waterfall. The trail wasn't very steep and it was an easy hike up. We were the only ones not at the beach, so we had the trail all to ourselves which provided much-needed solitude in our long travels.  

   Kayakers on Lago Lacar near the beach at Quila Quina

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