Ins and outs

Getting Around

Bicycle

The area is fabulous for cycling with unparalleled views, lots of hills, but generally good roads, even where they are ripio (gravel). The Seven Lakes Drive is gradually being paved but is full of potholes for 50 km in the middle. Avoid cycling in January and early February when there is lots of car traffic around the lakes. During the rest of the year there are few cars and you'll have some superb rides. There are good bike shops in Bariloche and San Martín, which carry a wide range of spares and do repairs. You can also rent bikes, although they're not of the highest standard. Carry plenty of food and water, as services are few and far between, though there are plenty of campsites. There is almost no shade on the stretch from Bariloche to Esquel.

Boat

There are lots of boat trips around Lago Nahuel Huapi which can be used as a means of transport as well as a day out. The Three Lakes Crossing to Chile from Bariloche is an appealing way of getting to Puerto Montt in Chile, but the bus is cheaper.

Bus and car

Hiring a car is the most appealing option, as it allows you to stop where you like and explore places off the beaten track. However, if you're travelling alone, you might find the distances tedious. There are excellent bus services around Bariloche, on the road to Llao Llao, and to Pampa Linda, making it possible to do long hikes in these more remote areas. There are also regular bus services running north/south between Junín de los Andes, San Martín de los Andes, Bariloche and El Bolsón, and on to Esquel, with less frequent services via Cholila, Lagos Puelo and Epuyen. Many big buses will take bicycles, but always arrange this beforehand. The national parks are less easy to access by bus, although there is a daily bus into and out of Los Alerces from Esquel. Reaching Pehuenia and the dinosaur region near Neuquén are both almost impossible by bus. These places largely cater for Argentine tourists, who mostly bring their own cars. Unless you have a lot of spare time to wait for buses, hiring a car is the best way to get the most out of the northern lakes.

W Bariloche is the best starting point for visiting the lakes, with excellent transportation and accommodation.

Car hire is easiest in Bariloche, and also possible in San Martín de los Andes, El Bolsón, and Esquel. Car hire costs around US$50 a day; and for an extra charge of around US$40, the better companies will allow you to drop the car off at a different town from where you hired it. If you plan to take a hire car over the border into Chile, let the car-hire company know ahead of time, as by law the vehicle must have its registration number etched on the windows.

Walking

There are plenty of
refugios
in the mountains behind Bariloche, making it possible
to plan four or five-day hikes. They vary in quality but most will provide hot meals and advice on routes. There are more
refugios
near Pampa Linda, in the hills around El Bolsón, and a couple in both Los Alerces and Lanín National Parks. Get advice from park offices or
Club Andino Bariloche
. Bus services around Bariloche are well set up to help hikers get about; again, ask in Club Andino for an updated schedule.

Best time to visit

Summer (December to February) is the obvious time to come, but be aware that January is impossibly busy throughout the region, as this is when Argentines take their holidays en masse, and accommodation is hard to find. Come in March and early April instead, when days are still likely to be clear and there are far fewer visitors, making it much easier to get flights and be spontaneous with accommodation. Late spring and early summer (October to November) can be lovely, though cool but also busy. Autumn is the most beautiful time of year to visit, with brilliant displays of autumn leaves in late April to early May. The skiing season runs from late June to September and is busiest in July, when prices rise, and Bariloche is inundated. Outside the peak season, transport services are fewer, requiring more flexible schedules, but well worth it to enjoy greater tranquillity. Hotels are all more expensive in peak periods, with the highest in January and July.

Tourist information

The best centre is in Bariloche. It is well set up for tourism with good tour operators and well-organized boat and cable car services to make the most of the stunning mountain landscape nearby. Tourist offices are given for each town, but to plan your trip and for more information before you come, check out these sites: www.neuquentur.gov.ar (in English); www.barilochepatagonia.info (a great site in English, French, Portuguese and German); www.visitchile.org; www.interpatagonia.com (excellent site for general information on the area-in English); www.clubandino.org (for walks and mountain climbing); www.active patagonia.com.ar (hiking and trekking expeditions); and www.revistapatagonia.com.ar (a useful magazine).

National parks

There are no less than four national parks covering enormous swathes of the Lake District, and these areas are generally where you'll find the best hiking, rafting and horse riding, in the most unspoiled forests and mountain landscapes you can imagine. The area's main centre, Bariloche, is inside Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, and has well-developed infrastructure for activities in the park . Inside this park is another, tiny park, Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes, accessed from Villa La Angostura. Immediately to the north of Nahuel Huapi is Parque Nacional Lanín, which contains the town of San Martín de los Andes, and has also superb hiking, especially around Volcán Lanín. South of Bariloche, there is the tiny but beautiful Parque Nacional Lago Puelo, just south of El Bolsón. Finally, Los Alercesis the most pristine of all the parks, with just one road running through it, and most areas accessible only on foot. The nearest towns are Esqueland Trevelin. Each park has a ranger's station, where guardaparqueswill give you a map and advise on walks in the park, as well as on accommodation and state of the paths.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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