There can be few more magnificent sights than the incredible landscapes of the Lanin National Park. The Vulcan Lanin, a 3,776 metre high snow-capped conical volcano, is the most dominate feature of the park. Its massive bulk was a constant companion as we drove down the dusty dirt road to the park entrance at the eastern end of the deep blue Lago Huechulafquen (Long Lake in the indigenous Mapuche language). The wind whipped down the lake, creating small waves, and the views across the water to the mountains were beautiful enough make you weep.
We set off early from San Martin, reaching the dusty town of Junin de los Andes on the Ruta 40, before turning away from what passes for civilisation in this part of the world into the wilderness. We were headed to Puerto Canoa, which is less a port and more a jetty sticking out into the western end of Lago Huechulafquen. You can drive further along the road, but time was short and our small car was woefully underpowered for a journey of several hours on bumpy gravel roads. Once we’d walked on the beach at Puerto Canoa we turned back to San Martin.
The Lanin National Park was formed in 1937, and is the third largest in Argentina. It would have been wonderful to have had the time to do some hiking and climbing here, but that will have to wait until next time. Prior to the permanent arrival of European Argentinians in the region at the end of the 19th century, there had been a thriving indigenous culture here. Even today, there are Mapuche communities and farms along the route to Puerto Canoa. It must be an isolated existence, especially in winter when they’re at risk of being cut off by snow.
The journey along the lake shore is stunningly beautiful, and involved regular stops for photos, and occasionally to allow cows and horses time to cross the road. The main tourist season hadn’t started, so despite the many camp sites and hostels where you could spend the night, we only saw a small number of people and vehicles. Mostly it was just us and nature. As we made our way along the road we crossed creaky wooden bridges over crystal clear glacier fed streams. The water is intensely cold.
At Puerto Canoa you can take a boat out on the lake and onto another two lakes that are connected by rivers. It was very tempting, but the boat wouldn’t leave for another hour and takes around two hours. We already had a long drive back to San Martin on mostly unpaved roads, so we passed up the opportunity and instead went for a stroll along the black volcanic sand beach, had a paddle in the lake (very cold) and then got back in our dust covered car and retraced our route.