LAKE DISTRICT ITINERARY & PLANNING RESOURCES

Trip Start Dec 02, 2008
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Trip End Dec 26, 2008


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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

LAKE DISTRICT ITINERARY & PLANNING RESOURCES

Imagine pristine mountains and jagged rock formations set among immense lakes, streaming rivers and waterfalls, and thick forests of deciduous trees.  Vast tracts of land are protected by four national parks along the north-south axis of the Andes.  With just a few population centers planned when the parks were created and a combination of paved and unpaved roads, the Lake District of northern Patagonia is accessible to anyone who wants to enjoy this beautiful landscape!

We prefer to see a small region in depth, so we planned sixteen nights in the Lakes District.  We are hikers, not too big on car-based siteseeing, and we like nice lodging with good food and wine.  We were looking for a relaxing time to balance our more intense city experience in Buenos Aires.  We prefer to choose what we see carefully so that we can focus on the quality of the experience, not the quantity of places seen.  Harvey & I enjoy the beauty of nature and we are both drawn to mountains, lakes, waterfalls and trees.  We are physically active; at the time of the trip we are 58/59 years old.  We are studying Spanish and although not fluent, we can communicate in a basic conversation with the help of a dictionary.  For lodging, we look for experiences that are uniquely Argentine and will give us local flavor. 

Our itinerary - 4 National Parks in 16 days!  Nahuel Huapi, Los Alerces, Los Arrayanes, Lanin National Parks
1 night:   Fly to Bariloche and Nahuel Huapi National Park
               Lodging:  Posada Los Juncos
               http://www.visitlosjuncos.com

5 nights: Los Alerces National Park  
               Lodging: Lago Verde Wilderness Resort, the cabanas are called Hosteria El Aura
               http://www.hosteriaselaura.com/

4 nights: Nahuel Huapi National Park and Los Arrayanes National Park, Villa La
              Angostura area
              Lodging:  Hosteria El Faro
              http://www.hosteriaelfaro.com.ar

5 nights: Lanin National Park, area south of San Martin de los Andes
               Lodging:  Rio Hermoso Hotel
               http://www.riohermoso.com

1 night:   Nahuel Huapi National Park, Villa Traful area
               Lodging:  Marinas Puerto Traful
               http://www.marinaspuertotraful.com.ar/

Where we stay is as important a decision as where we choose to go. We view our lodging as more than a place to sleep at night, but an integral part of our experience!   We used the following criteria to help with our selections:
ˇ    Small lodgings in beautiful setting.  Land around the property, so you don't feel crowded, but in nature.  Views from room and if available, be able to sit on balcony taking in the view
ˇ    Friendly staff. Sometimes family run is great.
ˇ    Lodge or maybe cabin to have a comfortable, charming feel with personality and quality.  Not stuffy, formal or exclusive feeling or with so much design flair that you get the feeling it could be anywhere in the world.
ˇ    No resort with a golf course or too polished/fancy
ˇ    Casual dress for dinner - not feel we have to get dressed up
ˇ    Would like to have guests in the hotel not just from the U.S., but from Argentina and other countries as well
ˇ    Because we are a couple, we prefer not to be in a hotel that caters primarily to families

Our lodging reviews are posted at the end of this trip journal. 

The challenge with itinerary planning is that these national parks are so huge, that with the limited time that we have, we will only sample and get a flavor of each.  I needed help with the planning and here are the resources that I found most helpful:


TripAdvisor.com
My #1 trip planning resource is TripAdvisor (http://www.tripadvisor.com), a forum of fellow travelers and location experts who share information and respond to questions.  Instead of relying on one travel agent, you have the benefit of knowledge from many locals and other travelers like yourself.  The lodging reviews are also especially helpful.   I planned the Buenos Aires portion of our trip exclusively from TripAdvisor.

Wild-Patagonia.com
Even with TripAdvisor, I decided to enlist the assistance of a local travel agent who I felt could understand what we had in mind and could guide me in determining how many days to spend in each park, a resource for reviewing lodging alternatives, and offer hiking and excursion alternatives.  I contacted numerous agents, and chose Wild Patagonia (website: http://www.wild-patagonia.com or email: info@wild-patagonia.com) that had been mentioned by someone on TripAdvisor who had taken a full week hiking expedition with them.  Although we were looking for a lodge based trip, their website indicated that they do custom trip planning.  I liked that their expertise was outdoor activities of hiking, trekking and mountaineering, horse back riding (winter activities include ski touring, ice climbing, snowshoeing) and that their focus is exclusively Patagonia.  I began my communication with Anna Margaroli with a general information request explaining what we had in mind.  From that point forward, she has always had excellent, detailed follow up lending her local expertise to our trip planning.  Her familiarity with the parks and towns was invaluable.  When I mentioned a possible hotel in Bariloche that she was not familiar with, she drove over to check the place out.  She made lodging suggestions in various price ranges, so if we had not wanted to go as upscale in our accommodations as I had had in mind, there were plenty of options.  Communication was easy as Anna is fluent in English; she is an American, married to an Argentinian and they live in Bariloche.  A winning combination of local expertise and being able to communicate in English!  Anna met us at the airport and smoothed over a pick up issue with the car rental company by arranging a remise to take us to our lodging and car delivery there.  If you want Anna to arrange any excursions or activities, she will do that as well.  We arranged for a multi-sport day with Anna and her husband Gabriel, doing rock-climbing, fly fishing and canoeing.  You can read about that day in our journal! 

Anna at Wild-Patagonia is very professional and highly recommended.  As is her husband, Gabriel, for guiding on treks, rock climbing, etc.  Check out their website:  http://www.wild-patagonia.com

Maps and guidebooks
ˇ    The Rough Guide to Argentina.  It has a large section on the Lake District.

ˇ    Driving map: "Lagos Del Sur Araucania" map by Zagier & Urruty Publications, ISBN 1-879568-95-0. This map covers the Lake District, but only goes as far south as El Bolson.  It is available on Amazon and from http://www.patagoniashop.net.  

ˇ    Hiking Guide with local maps:  "Las Guias Sendas y Bosques for El Bolson, Lago Puelo and Los Alerces National Parks".  Anna (from Wild Patagonia) had given us this book and we are glad she did as we were staying in the northern section of the park, over 50km from the park tourist office and there is not much information available on-line.  Although the book is written in Spanish, there are English abstracts and a Spanish-English glossary.  The hiking alternatives and local maps are excellent.   I would recommend that you order this before your trip.  If you are visiting other national parks in the Lake District, check out their other titles and their maps.  Their website is:  http://www.guiasendasybosques.com.ar

ˇ    I found something that looks like the Michelin Green Guide called Guia Verde and covers Los Alerces, Puelo, Nahuel Huapi and Lanin National Parks, 44 trekking paths and 100 tourist circuits.  Since it was near the end of our trip, I did not purchase it, but it looks promising.  Check out their website & click on English version, http://www.guiaverde.net  The printed green guide has a companion map. http://www.edicionesverdes.com.ar/  If I were to do this trip again, I would purchase the green guide, and confirm that it also includes the map.

ˇ    http://www.interpatagonia.com    Resource for lodging in all price ranges, hiking, driving circuits and other excursions in the Lake District.


What to Do
In my internet and guidebook research prior to the trip, I had identified a number of possible options for activities in each national park.  Anna from Wild Patagonia also mailed me maps with possible hikes marked on them.  I insert this personal list of options here so that you can have an idea of the possibilities for each area.  Of course, this is a limited list based on our interests and knowledge at the time!   
Read our journal to see what we actually did and get ideas! 
Check out the above resources to identify your own list of options! 


Los Alerces National Park - Northern Section
ˇ    Boat trip to El Alerzal trailhead and see El Abuelo tree that is 2600 years old!
ˇ    Suspension bridge over Rio Arrayanes, hour long loop along the riverbank to Puerto Chucao.
ˇ    Hike Pinturas Repestres - indigenous rock paintings
ˇ    Hike part of El Dedal Circuit
ˇ    Hike Cerro Alto El Petizo

Los Arrayanes and Nahuel Huapi National Parks - Villa La Angostura area
ˇ    Parque Nacional Arrayanes. It is a 3 hour, 12 km hike from Villa La Angostura to the tip of the peninsula on an interpretive nature trail.  It is recommended that you take a boat to the end of the Peninsula and hike back to town.  
ˇ    From the park's northern entrance at Villa La Angostra, a very steep 20 minute hike leads to 2 panoramic overlooks
ˇ    Cerro Belvedere.  A 4 km hiking trail starts from 7 Lakes Route, northwest of the tourist office, and leads to an overlook with good views of Lago Correntoso and the surrounding mountains.  It then continues another 3 km to the 1992m summit.  After visiting the overlook, retrace your steps to a nearby junction that leads to Cascada Inayacal, a 50m waterfall.
ˇ    Rio Bonito Waterfall and Cerro Bayo
ˇ    Sail on the lake
ˇ    Drive toward Chile via Paso Puyehue - Frommers describes it as a spectacular drive - with lovely picnic spots and short hiking trails en route.

Lanin National Park - area south of San Martin de los Andes
ˇ    Materials from the Rio Hermoso Hotel describe these possibilities:  kayaking, canoeing, trekking, mountain biking, flyfishing, birdwatching, horseback riding, rafting, getting in contact with the Mapuche community and learn another culture's way of life.
ˇ    Cerro Chapelco ski area for hiking
ˇ    Boat trip to Quila Quina to a Mapuche reservation; once there take the 800m El Cipresal interpretive path by the mouth of the Arroyo Grande, or a 500m path to the rapids.
ˇ    Lake Meliquina - quiet spot near the hotel
ˇ    Hua Hum - Lago Queni Thermal Hot Springs  
ˇ    From San Martin, at the east end of Lake Lacar, take RP 48.  Can stop anywhere along the lake, but could go to the Chilean border at Paso Hua Hum & hike to Cascada Chachin.  Frm the highway, its 3 km down a dirt road and then another 20 minutes walk along a trail to the waterfall.   It's a great spot for a picnic.
ˇ    Just up the hill above town, the quaint and cozy Arrayán Tea House, Circuito Arrayán, Km 4 (tel. 02972/425570), has the area's best view. Built at a clearing in a cypress forest in 1938 by Renee Dickenson, a spirited young British woman, the house today maintains the same style that first charmed local residents. During the '40s and '50s, this was the hot spot in San Martín, on the old road to Bariloche. it's open afternoons for exquisite teas, coffees, and pastries, and for lunch and dinner with a reservation only.
Also:  Route 63 as an alternate to Seven Lakes Route on return to see 10,000 year old rock paintings

Villa Traful
ˇ    Rock paintings - take boat ride across lake & hike - may need a guide.
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