Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes Route) is the more common name given to the famous Provincial Route 234 in NeuquĂ©n Province. This is one of the most spectacularly scenic stretches of road in the Lake District, if not all of South America. The narrow track passes through the forested valleys of both LanĂn National Parks and Nahuel Huapi, winding its way around secluded sparkly pools and waterways to connect San MartĂn de los Andes with Bariloche to the South, passing through the up-market town of Villa la Angostura and several tinier Patagonian lake villages along the way.
The partially-paved, 110-kilometer (67-mi) route can be driven, biked or even hiked in either direction. Itâ€™s possible but tiring to drive the whole circuit in a day; if you have the luxury of a little time, better to take a few days to allow for plenty of stops along the way. Modest lodging and camping is available on the shores of several of the lakes, or spend a night in charming Villa Traful or the classic mountain town of Villa la Angostura. While the former is smaller and more remote, both have plenty of amenities and make good bases for exploring the area. From Villa la Angostura you can visit Los Arrayanes National Park, a thick expanse of rare Arrayanes trees through which you can walk or admire from a boat.
The route is so named for the seven main lakes it passes, starting by the shores of LĂˇcar (not usually counted in the seven) in San MartĂn and skirting MachĂłnico, Falkner, Villarino, Escondido, Truful, Correntoso and Espejo, before arriving on the shores of Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche. Many beautiful (and swimmable!) smaller pools lie along the way.
South of San MartĂn de los Andes, the road wraps around Lago MachĂłnicoâ€™s eastern shores (30 km/18.3 mi). Five kilometers (3 mi) south, a detour track leads to tiny Lago Hermoso, a good place to camp (sites with amenities). Alternatively, Refugio Lago Hermoso (54-294-442-5290, www.refugiolagohermoso.com) offers lovely lodging in a delightful, airy inn just off the main route.
After 15 kilometers (9.2 mi), Ruta Provincial 234 arrives at Lago Falkner, a popular fishing hole with a long strip of pebbly beach and camping with facilities. Fantastic treks of varying lengths climb around the lake and up to Cerro Falkner and around the VulliĂ±anco waterfall. The road then passes Villarino and Escondido Lakes, both to the west. Five kilometers (3 mi) past Lago Escondido is a turn-off to the east for Lago Pichi Traul, an arm of large Lago Truful. Further down the main road, rustic HosterĂa 7 Lagos, run by the local Quintupuray family, has good baked snacks and camping (no phone onsite; make arrangements by calling the taxi in Villa la Angostura at 54-294-449-4218 who will radio the hostel, or just walk in).
Another 20 kilometers (12.2 mi) brings travelers to Lago Espejo, so dubbed for its perfectly calm, reflective waters. Said to be the warmest lake in the area, it is a great place to stop off for a swim or a picnic on its pretty beaches. Thereâ€™s free camping alongside the park ranger post, nicer sites sit just beyond on the beach and cost a dollar per person. If you didnâ€™t bring a tent but want to stay the night or just grab a bite, HosterĂa Lago Espejo (54-294-449-4583; email@example.com) has surprisingly charming rooms overlooking the lake and a good bar and restaurant. Ruta 234 meets Ruta 231, winding down along Lago Correntosoâ€™s southern point to Villa la Angostura (30 km/18.3 mi). Along the way are magnificent views and plenty of mirador pull-offs aside the road.
Ruta de los Siete Lagos is a deservedly famous mountain biking destination, with gently inclining track passing bridges over sparkly azure waters and between lakes, all the while snow-dusted peaks towering in the backdrop like a scene from Lord of the Rings. Take caution biking in high season mid-summer months when the road is particularly dry, making it hard to see in the dust trails of fast traveling cars that can kick up rocks. The whole route can be done by bike in two days, although a great section to cycle if youâ€™re picking and choosing is the stretch from Villa La Angostura to San MartĂn, reversed if youâ€™re up for an uphill challenge.
Albus and Ko Ko bus companies run slightly sporadic services along part of the route between San MartĂn de los Andes and Villa La Angustura ($7), though youâ€™re much better off renting a car, taking a tour or even hitchhiking (while we wonâ€™t go so far as to recommend it, an extremely common mode of transportation in the area) as the joy in the trip is stopping off to enjoy vistas and dip in the lakes.