Travel guide Northern Patagonia, Argentina

Information about Northern Patagonia.


Baptized Neuquén in 1904, this city is the capital of the homonymous province and covers 94,378 square km (58,643 square miles), in the northwest of the Argentine Patagonia. It’s the smallest province of the southern region of the country, though its capital is the most important city of Patagonia, with over 200,000 inhabitants. The climate here is continental and arid. Rainfall is scarce, concentrated in April and the summer months. The plentiful water courses favor fruit cultivation, and in the north region, of vine-stock. The proximity to the Cordillera de los Andes facilitates the access to numerous glacier lakes, multiple water courses, volcanoes and dense forests. It’s paradise for rainbow and brown trout fishing lovers.


Small Circuit – Campanario – Rio NegroNorth of Chubut and east of Neuquén is the Rio Negro province. It owes its name to a river which crosses it and forms one of the most important water networks of the country, made up of several rivers originated in the glacier lakes. The weather presents various contrasts, since the province extends from the Cordillera to the Atlantic littoral. Rainfall can surpass 2000 mm (78.7 inches) annually in the mountain region, while the rest of the province gets only 200 to 300 mm (7.9 to 11.8 inches). The major attractions in Rio Negro reside in its eastern beaches and in Nahuel Huapi National Park, the route of the 7 lakes and the city of Bariloche, in the west.


Chubut is the third Argentine province in surface, after Buenos Aires and Santa Cruz. The main economic activities are hydrocarbons extraction, mining industry, sheep breeding, fishing, agriculture, and since some time now, fine white wine production. Chubut is also, with the Valdes Peninsula, a touristic region, in which abundant marine wildlife can be observed. Besides the high concentration of sea lions and elephant seals, as well as Magellanic penguins, between June and December the famous southern right whale visits its coasts. Another touristic region of this province is located near the Cordillera, where the peaks of eternal snows are ideal for winter sports framing a mosaic of lakes, rapids with great fish diversity and vast forests.


Villa Pehuenia is located north of Lanin Park, on the shores of the glacier lakes of Alumine and Moquehue, surrounded by the mountains of the lower Cordillera. Villa Pehuenia was founded in 1989 on the emplacement of a Mapuche hamlet, and has become a touristic center. The Mt. Batea Mahuida tracks are managed by the Mapuches community. They also organize hikes, salmon fishing excursions and photo safaris.


North of San Martin de los Andes, Lanin National Park protects within 412,000 hectares a beautiful forest of araucarias – a type of pine which can reach 45 meters (148 feet) – the southern river otter and the pudu, both endangered species. Diverse paths have been traced to offer pleasant horseback rides through the park, bordering Lake Huechulafquen towards Lanin Volcano, always alongside the border. Its snowed peak, at 3776 meters (12,388 feet), can be seen in the distance. This volcano has been inactive since the XVIII century. Unfortunately, since the 1980s, the glaciers on the northern slope have practically disappeared. Seven Mapuche communities live in the park.


In Mapuche tongue, huechu means big and laufquen means lake. It’s the largest lake in Lanin Park, easily reached from Junin de los Andes. A must for fishing fans, each year fishermen get together to reach their catch quota, strictly regulated. Boats leave from Port Canoa for an excursion which begins in the lake dominated by the Lanin Volcano, before entering Lake Epulafquen, and concludes at El Escorial, a river of solidified lava from the eruption of the Achen Niyeu Volcano 400 years ago. The volcanic stone snakes in the forest before ending the lake’s circuit. A show you cannot miss.


On the shores of Lake Lacar in the Neuquén Province, San Martin de los Andes is a growing mountain town which has known how to conserve its stone and wood architecture and calm today unknown in Bariloche. Attractions are plentiful in San Martin: Mt. Chapelco Ski Center, which is the access point to the entrance to Lanin National Park and a stage in the route of the 7 lakes; besides skiing in winter, diverse sport activities can be done, such as walks, mountain biking and fishing, or also carrying out lake excursions.


A must of Park Nahuel Huapi. The route of the 7 lakes, from San Martin de los Andes to Villa La Angostura, crosses Lakes Machonico, Escondido, Correntoso, Espejo, Lacar, Falkner and Villarino, along 107 km (66 miles) on National Route 234. This splendid access (partially paved), known for the beauty of its landscapes, also crosses Nahuel Huapi and Lanin National Parks. Lake Espejo reflects the mountains in its crystal clear waters and is bordered by the volcanic sand beaches, fields of reeds and cliffs. The lakes’ water source comes from the melting glaciers and snow.


Near Lake Meliquina, south of San Martin de los Andes, the forest gives way to strange rocky formations sculpted by ice, water and wind, at Paso de Cordoba. The road ascends zigzagging until a viewpoint which offers a beautiful view of the valley, attractive with its autumn colors. Not far from there is the natural grotto, la Casa de Piedra, formerly inhabited by the Mapuches, for whom these lands are sacred.


In the midst of Nahuel Huapi Park, Lake Traful is another prestigious fishing preserve during the Argentine Patagonia summer. The town is also known for the surprising Viewpoint of the Wind: a natural viewpoint on the peak of a 70 meter (230 feet) defile overlooking the lake, with the mountains and 2000 meter (6562 feet) high Traful’s peak in the distance. The rocky wall creates a natural phenomenon in which the wind hastily thrusts any light object upwards… A few miles away is a rocky pillar plagued with caves, which serves as a hideout for condors.


Located on the northwest margin of Lake Nahuel Huapi, surrounded by exceptional landscapes, Villa La Angostura is a small mountain town, much quieter and well preserved than Bariloche. Walks can be done in Los Arrayanes National Park, salmon fishing in Correntoso River or skiing on the tracks of Mt. Bayo. The presidential residence of the Peron family was in Villa La Angostura, which continues to be an exclusive destination.


Los Arrayanes National Park (1753 hectares) covers the Quetrihue Peninsula, on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, and protects a forest of temus almost unique on Earth. The temu (arrayan) is a tree of the Myrtaceae family and produces lovely white perfumed flowers and an edible fruit similar to blueberries. Its bark is cinnamon-colored. In the park, accessed from Villa La Angostura, temus reach 20 meters (66 feet) high. There is a path which crosses the peninsula, offering a 3 hour walking circuit.


Bathed by the waters of the Limay River, the Enchanted Valley, located northeast of Bariloche, is made up of strange rocky formations eroded by the wind and rain of Patagonia. These gave birth to all sorts of objects and animals: the Express Train, the Siamese, the Finger of God, the Castle, the Penitent, etc. A beautiful landscape of rocks and cypresses in which our imagination has free will and where here and there guanacos and condors surprise us.


Its source being Lake Nahuel Huapi, the Limay River crosses a natural amphitheater. From a viewpoint the river’s winding path can be observed, in a semicircle. Immediately after, northwards, the Enchanted Valley appears. The Limay River is one of the most prestigious spots for fly fishing for rainbow and brown trout.


Nahuel Huapi National Park, one of the most beautiful in Argentina, offers diverse outdoor activities along an extension of 705,000 hectares of forests, mountains and lakes alongside the Chilean border. Various circuits are possible, from a simple walk to the most daring trekking on Mt. Lopez and Tronador, without forgetting the Enchanted Valley and the route of the 7 lakes. Ski season is from June to September. Lake Nahuel Huapi covers 560 square km (348 square miles), in the southern area of the park, surrounded by forests. The southern river otter is especially protected since it is an endangered species, as the colonial tuco-tuco (a rodent) and the little mountain monkey, two endemic species. Also near extinction is the pudu, one of the smallest deer in the world.


Lake Nahuel Huapi and Victoria IslandLake Nahuel Huapi’s Victoria Island (31 square km – 19 square miles) can be accessed from Puerto San Carlos or Puerto Pañuelo in Llao Llao. It can be toured on foot, by horse or mountain bike, crossing a beautiful forest of conifers and ascending on a chair lift to the peak of Bella Vista Hill, at 900 meters (2953 feet). The circuit includes a great number of natural viewpoints and crosses a narrow corridor of centennial coihues and autochthonous cypresses. Diverse species of deer can be observed, such as the pudu (midget deer). This natural reserve also includes cave art from over 500 years ago.


Skiing, pines, chalets and chocolates (the national capital!), San Carlos de Bariloche (pop. 90,000) reminds us of the Alps, which has much to do with it having been founded by Germans and Swiss. It’s the most important ski center in the country and has the best tracks a few miles off, such as Mt. Cathedral’s. In summer as well as in winter, outdoor activities are countless in the outskirts of this magnificent city: skiing, mountaineering and walks in Nahuel Huapi National Park, horseback riding, mountain biking, rafting and kayaking, fly fishing, parasailing and lake excursions.


The Blest arm, the most important of the seven of Lake Nahuel Huapi, disembogues in the town of Puerto Blest. It’s also one of the rainiest places in Argentina, favoring the exuberant vegetation of the forest where coihues, conifers, laurels and cypresses grow, plagued by lianas and climbing plants. Numerous falls can be found within the forest, such as the Cascada de los Cantaros, accessed by wooden stairs. Centinela Island conserves the remains of the Argentine explorer Franciso Moreno, creator of the natural parks. Puerto Blest can only be reached by boat.


With its 23 x 4 km (14 x 2.5 miles) surface, Lake Mascardi, located south of Bariloche, offers lovely boat rides on its green waters, with the impressive Tronador Volcano in the background. Excursions can be done leaving from Villa Mascardi. The splitting line of the Atlantic and Pacific passes in between Lakes Mascardi and Gutierrez.


El Tronador is the highest peak of the lakes region after the Lanin. Its name comes from the noise of the fall of ice blocks down its slopes. This inactive volcano actually has seven glaciers and three peaks – one Argentine (3200 meters – 10,500 feet), one Chilean (3470 meters – 11,385 feet) and one international (3554 meters – 11,660 feet). It is crossed by the border separating Nahuel Huapi Park and Vicente Perez Rosales Park in Chile. The foot of the Ventisquero Negro Glacier can be reached by car, where the Manso River is born, heading towards the Atlantic, although later changes course towards the Cordillera and Los Alerces Falls. It then heads southeast where it converges with another river, finally resuming its course towards the Pacific.


True to its sixties hippie refuge past, El Bolson was declared, years after, nuclear free zone and ecologic municipality. Located in a fertile valley, this city’s farms produce hop, homemade beer and red fruits, as well as local handicrafts which are sold in a fair open twice a week. El Bolson is located at the foot of Mt. Piltriquitron a few miles away from Lake Puelo Park, on route 40, between Bariloche and Esquel.


Founded by Welsh between the Cordillera and the Patagonia desert, Esquel is a small quiet town, providing access to Los Alerces National Park, in the Chubut province. Its main attraction is La Trochita, a steam locomotive with wooden cars which circulate on 75 cm (30 inches) wide tracks. Until 1991, Esquel was the terminal station of the Patagonia Express, which began its circuit in Ingeniero Jacobacci, east of Bariloche. Today, the circuit responds to tourism and reaches Nahuel Pan, 15 km (9.3 miles) away. This region is also sown with huge livestock and gaucho estancias.


In the midst of the Patagonia desert, 100 km (62 miles) west of Comodora Rivadavia, the Jose Ormachea Petrified Forest near the town of Sarmiento presents itself as a lunar landscape characterized by the presence of petrified trunks. These are trees which, 65 million years ago, were covered in lava and ash product of volcanic eruptions and the formation of the Andes, later carried off by gigantic currents towards their present location. But not only trunks leaning on orange cliffs can be admired: also leaves and roots which, incrusted in the soil, survived different geological eras and defeated the pass of time.


The city of Puerto Madryn, as well as Trelew, Gaiman and Rawson, was founded by a colony of Welsh that arrived to try their luck in these near-virgin inhospitable lands in the XIX century. Today it’s a first rate nature tourism destination, visited by people from all over, interested in seeing whales, penguins and sea lions. It’s also the most important diving center in Argentina. Puerto Madryn is the entrance gate to the Valdes Peninsula and the ideal place for organizing excursions to the Punta Tombo Reserve.


The Valdes Peninsula is a protected natural area offering refuge for whales, sea lions and elephant seals, penguins, killer whales and birds. Every winter, the southern right whale, protected in Argentina since 1937, approaches the peninsula’s shores to breed. This marine mammal measures 13 – 15 meters (42 – 49 feet) and weighs 40 to 50 tons. Beginning in late May, 450 to 600 whales gather in the New and San Jose Gulfs to give birth, between July and October, to about 200 babies which will be nurtured during the year. In December, the whales head south. The Valdes Peninsula was declared Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.


Puerto Piramides, the only town in the Valdes Peninsula, has tripled its population in the last years. It’s a perfect base point from where to begin discovering the peninsula and watching southern right whales. This mammal, although not an endangered species, is protected by a law which allows getting close to it in a speedboat or lifeboat, turning off the engine 100 meters (328 feet) from its presence.


Punta Tombo is the most important safekeeping sanctuary for Magellanic penguins on Earth. One hundred and ten km (68 miles) south of Trelew, penguins visit these lands every year, from September to March, to nest and give birth to one or two offspring in November. Hundreds of thousands of specimens which look to be good parents come and go to and from the sea in search of food for their hungry offspring. Some accesses are reserved for them (true highways!), but they can be seen from close range and, if you’re not careful, you may bump into one! In January, babies begin to moult their feathers and take their first dip into the water. In March, Magellanic penguins migrate north. A cute and emotive spectacle at the same time: without a doubt, one of a kind.


A few kilometres from Puerto Madryn, you will find Trelew, another city founded by Welsh people by the end of XIX century, when the tracing of the train tracks was made. It is in this place that 90% of the wool produced in the huge estancias of the Patagonia is manufactured and traded. The Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio displays Patagonic plant and animal fossils and its main attraction is the Dinosaurs Room where among others you may see the Carnotaurus Sastrei, one of the most impressive, which lived in Patagonia 70 million years ago. The museum also organizes visits to Bryn Gwyn Geo-park, 25km, where you will go back 40 million years in the past.


Gaiman has known how to preserve, much better than its neighbor Trelew, the Welsh customs, such as the five o’ clock tea ritual. In tea houses, delicious scones and traditional black cake are still served. The first house of the town is still standing, built in 1874 from wood and stone. Plus, its inhabitants keep other traditions such as choirs, buildings with brick walls and outlets, nurtured with the waters of the Chubut River. The antique train station is currently a regional museum offering testimony of the Welsh customs as well as the epical construction of the Patagonia railroad. Gaiman is the town closest to the Bryn Gwyn Paleontological Park.


Small nature paradise located on the edge of San Jorge gulf, between Trelew and Comodoro Rivadavia, in the Province of Chubut, Bustamante Bay is a town dedicated to seaweed harvesting, mollusk breeding and recently to rural tourism. San Jorge gulf is characterized for its rich biodiversity, protected by the Patagonia Austral park . You can take long walks to observe sea birds, killer whales or sea lions. You can go on foot, on horse or bikes in a complete tranquility. From Bustamante Bay, you can also go to the interior of these Patagonian lands to discover Sarmiento petrified forest.