BY BEN BOX
The whole of the west of the country, along the mountains of the Andes, offers superb opportunities for trekking.
The Lake District in summer is the most rewarding because there are so many spectacular landscapes to explore within easy reach of the centres of Bariloche, El Bolsón and San Martín de los Andes. The national parks here are well set up for walkers, with good information and basic maps available, and refugios and campsites that provide convenient accommodation on longer hikes. However, it’s worth exploring the lesser-known extremes of the lakes, at Pehuenia in the north, with wonderful walks among the araucaria trees, and at Parque Nacional Los Alerces, with trekking into the virgin forest. The season for walking is December to April.
The mountainous region to the west of Mendoza, around Aconcagua, offers good and challenging trekking, as well as further north in the Cordón del Plata in San Juan, where oasis villages in the valley are good bases for several peaks around Mercedario. Altitude sickness can be a problem in these areas, and you should allow time in your schedule for adjustment. Further north, in Salta and Jujuy, there’s a complete contrast of landscape. The puna to the west is dramatic desert, dropping to the arid and rocky mountainous landscape in the Quebrada de Humahuaca and, continuing east, there are cloudforests. It’s possible to walk through all three zones in a single extended expedition, though you’d need to go with a guide. Throughout the area there are attractive villages to use as bases for day walks.
In the northeast, there are a few good walks in the national park of the Iguazú Falls, and many more good places to walk in the provinces to the south. The centre of the country, in the sierras around Córdoba, are good for day walks, especially in the Traslasierra.
In Patagonia, there are petrified forests and caves with prehistoric handprints to walk to, as well as the remoter reaches of Parque Nacional Perito Moreno. The most dramatic trekking is in the south of Patagonia, whether in the mountains around Cerro Fitz Roy or ice trekking on the glaciers themselves in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. And near Ushuaia, there are unforgettable views from peaks in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, along the shores of the Beagle Channel and from wilder peaks in mountains behind the town.
These are the highlights, but wherever you go in Argentina, you can find somewhere to trek. The spaces are wide open and there really are no limits.
Located in the heart of Córdoba province, La Cumbrecita is a small town best accessed on foot. No cars or motorcycles are allowed into the village, and this simple rule creates a peaceful getaway. What you will see is lots of thirsty trekkers looking for some of the locally brewed beers. You can walk here from the German-style town of Villa General Belgrano and from some of the other little towns nearby as well. This is an easy to intermediate trek. The village’s website has lots of useful information.
Less than 200 km from Mendoza, Aconcagua National Park is home to the highest peak in the world outside the Himalaya. The mighty Aconcagua scrapes the sky at 6959 m and should only be attempted by experienced climbers with a guide. Allow at least eight days to acclimatize to the altitude before you attempt this trek, and speak to the park rangers about a permit. For more information, see www.aconcagua.mendoza.gov.ar.
Sendero Chorro de los Loros
Only a short distance from Salta is El Rey National Park, located in a horseshoe-shaped valley, surrounded by the peaks of the Sierra del Piquete mountain range. Few people make it here due to its remote location, ensuring clean trails, more wildlife and the chance to be alone in the wild. There are eight trails, with the most interesting being the Sendero Chorro de los Loros, which takes you through the jungle for 10 km and brings you up close and personal with the local wildlife. This is an intermediate trek. See www.welcomeargentina.com.
One of the world’s most beautiful mountains, Lanín (3776 m) is geologically one of the youngest volcanoes (though now extinct) of the Andes. To reach the summit is a challenging three-day climb, with two refugios at 2400 m. The views are spectacular but the climb will keep you out of breath. Because of its relative accessibility, the risks are often underestimated: crampons and ice axe are essential.
Parque Nacional Perito Moreno
If you are a lover of all things remote and inaccessible, head to the Perito Moreno National Park, just off the Ruta 40. Tours to the park are increasing, but it may be easiest to rent a car. The best trek to do is to Lago Burmeister, which is easy, relatively short and offers stunning views of the lake as well as the pristine surrounds. You will be the only person here. Camp by the lake and watch the shadows of the mountains dance in the moonlight. Check out www.losglaciares.com.
Nestled in between jagged peaks and snow-laden valleys, El Chaltén is the perfect base for treks in the area. Follow the signs from the edge of town, and in less than 30 minutes you’ll be all alone on a mountain pass overlooking deep blue lakes and fertile valleys. Return to your hostel and relax in one of the lively restaurants in town. The routes range from easy two-hour walks to challenging multi-day treks. A helpful website is www.elchalten.com.