Spectacular Andean landscapes on the Ruta de los Siete Lagos

The Ruta de los Siete Lagos is one of the most dramatic and beautiful road trips in the world. The sheer grandeur of the spectacular Andean landscapes through which you pass en route from Bariloche to San Martin de los Andes is, quite simply, breathtaking. I’ve waited twelve years to make this legendary trip, ever since I ran out of time on my first visit to Argentina. I’d seen photos, heard reports from other travellers, and my expectations were high. I need not have worried, the sun shone in a blue sky and our journey was accompanied by snowcapped peaks, wooded hills and aquamarine lakes.

The landscapes are vast in this part of the world, and in winter they can be very hostile, but on a glorious early summer’s day the 200km route from Bariloche to San Martin is simply extraordinary. The Seven Lakes route officially starts in Villa La Angostura, a bustling tourist village on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi, and covers around 100km of winding roads through the heart of the Argentinian Lake District – although the first 100km to reach Villa La Angostura is almost as dramatic.

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

The route takes you past more than the seven lakes it’s named after, but those seven – Nahuel Huapi, Espejo, Correntoso, Escondido, Villarino, Falkner and Machónico – are magnificent sights in their own right. The road is remarkably free of heavy vehicles, and remarkably well maintained. Only light tourist traffic seems to use it, which makes it a perfect route for cycling. We saw a number of cycle groups, as well as individuals. From the comfort of a car it was easy to envy them, but the climbs on the route are severe.

We decided that, since we’d be coming back along this same route, we wouldn’t spend too much time stopping and exploring on this leg of the trip. We were keen to reach San Martin in good time, but the journey is so beautiful we couldn’t help but stop to take in the views, and take more photos than was entirely necessary. There are places where you can stop and hike to various sights, including the Cascadas Ñivinco, a series of dramatic waterfalls.

We reached San Martin around lunch time, the final section of the route runs down hill alongside the huge Lago Lácar. The attractive town nestles at the eastern end of the lake, while the western end almost reaches the border with Chile. It’s a fantastic sight. Keeping with the luxury travel theme of the rest of our trip, we’d booked into a spa in San Martin, with a heated outdoor swimming pool. Perfect for floating and watching the stars at night. We checked in and went to explore the town.

San Martin was founded only in 1898, when a border dispute with Chile forced the Argentine government to settle the region. Before that, few Europeans had been into this area and it was still populated by the indigenous Puelche peoples. It’s a small and sleepy place of around 25,000 inhabitants and, like Bariloche, it depends entirely on tourism for its modern existence. Unlike Bariloche, it has retained much of its original charm. We met several people who’d relocated here from Bariloche for that very reason.

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Patagonia, Argentina

San Martin de los Andes, Patagonia, Argentina

San Martin de los Andes, Patagonia, Argentina

San Martin de los Andes, Patagonia, Argentina

San Martin de los Andes, Patagonia, Argentina

San Martin de los Andes, Patagonia, Argentina

San Martin de los Andes, Patagonia, Argentina

San Martin de los Andes, Patagonia, Argentina

San Martin de los Andes, Patagonia, Argentina

We stopped into the tourist office to get some advice on excursions, as well as eating and drinking options in town. There’s no shortage of restaurants and cafes, even the ubiquitous microbrewery movement has made its way here. We found an outside table ordered food and Patagonia beer, and planned our trip into the Parque Nacional Lanin for the following day.