South America Travel Tips

San Martín de los Andes: “We Found Love in a… Hopeful Place” :)

After my interesting time in Mendoza, I knew things were going to get even better. Finally, I was about to head to the Argentinian side of Northern Patagonia – first stop: San Martín de los Andes.

And, my friends, I would have happily stayed there for longer (hence the reference to Rihanna & Calvin Harris song – with the only difference being the “hopeful” part).

Why San Martín de los Andes is really cool

After another eventful bus trip, I arrived in San Martín on Tuesday. Needless to say I spent the first 24 hours resting and getting to know the apartment (a wonderful AirBnB) and the town.

San Martín is a very popular ski resort here in Argentina, however it’s quite unusual with its altitude of only 640m.

The cool thing about it is that you can basically do anything in here! Ski slopes are 15km from town, and can be reached via shuttle bus during the snowy winters; besides, the town is located on a lake (Lago Lacar) which has a lovely beach, and has lots of water-related activities such as kayaking and swimming. And together with hiking, mountain-biking, walking and fishing, you can’t get bored in here. And let’s not forget about eating (bakeries, homemade ice-cream and chocolate shops everywhere) and relaxing (apart from the main street, you don’t get much noise at night like everywhere else in Argentina).

Mirador Bandurrias, the Mapuche community & La Islita

I took a look at the forecast and realized my best days were going to be before the weekend. So I blocked off Thursday and Friday for my outdoor activities.

On Thursday I decided to take it handy and go for an “easy” walk as the tourist map indicated. The excursion was a great surprise!

The trail to Mirador Bandurrias goes up for a good 400m (not “easy”, really!) and after you enter the Mapuche community (indigenous inhabitants of Patagonia) and pay them 10 pesos you finally reach the Mirador.

The Mapuche people speak their own language, have their own schools, live in remote parts of Chile and Argentina and are one of the few indigenous populations that kept their traditions. Of course 10 pesos equals to less than 60 euro cents, so I’m not sure they make a living with this sort of “toll”.

Anyway, the view of the lake, the mountains and, further away, Chile is breathtaking (and surprisingly this is only the 6th of the Top 10 things to do in San Martin according to TripAdvisor… it really makes you think that site is nowhere near the objective truth).

After a bit of boatwatching, birdwatching and really enjoying the silence, I got back down to the other side of the hill to reach the Islita, a little natural island just off the coast of the lake. The walk itself was pleasant, however for some reason this trail is open to cars and the amount of dust they raise is pretty ridiculous.

The little island is pretty and if I didn’t have the backpack with me I would have definitely swam to get to it! Overall this was a nice, pleasant, interesting hike I’d definitely recommend to do.

Breaking the “law” at Cerro Chapelco

I read somewhere that hiking Cerro Chapelco, the ski resort of San Martín, was a great thing to do if you love the mountains. So, with Friday being a mild, sunny, lovely day I decided to hop on a bus from the terminal, get off on the main road, walk 5km to reach the base of the mountain, hike it and then walk back and hope in a bus or something to get back to San Martín.

The first part of the organisation worked great, luckily. The lady at the ticket office told me to buy the bus ticket directly from the driver, as I was stopping somewhere unusual (just 15km from town). The bus was full – first time in 2 months I see a sold out bus – but thankfully after speaking in some weird language to the driver he took me on… well I had to sit on the steps but the next one would have been after 3 hours!

I got out at the “Chapelco” road crossing and started the 5km uphill roadside walk up to the base of Chapelco. The road is super dusty but the view is already nice. After over 1 hour I finally reached the start of the hike.

At that time I was all excited to finally start the hike… but a security guard (what?) approached me and another couple and told us “it’s closed, you can’t go up, you know, it’s for security reasons”.

Needless to say I got so upset – I almost bribed the bus driver and walked 5km just to arrive here and then this guy tells me I can’t go up? Honestly, I’ve never heard that a mountain is “closed”… the weather wasn’t even bad (actually it was a great, clear, sunny, mild day as I said already).

So, I gave up, and I just took my lunch on a bench then – what a waste!

Well, 20 minutes later, I see a group of 3 ladies in hiking gear coming back down from the mountain. What was the guard talking about then?

So, I just stood up immediately and started hiking (the “security” guard wasn’t even there anyway). I have to say this was one of the best hikes I’ve ever done… fair play to myself!

I basically walked on a ski slope:

But then things got really tough, with the top of the mountain being pretty slippery, windy and soooooo steep. So I just followed some wood fencing and literally climbed the last part by grabbing the fencing with my hands and pulling my body uphill. Trust me, it was really, really steep:

I made it to the top and – wow – I didn’t realize what was around me until I took the camera and started taking amazing shots of the surroundings, including the highest mountain of theje Province, Volcan Lanin:

I guess you’d agree with me. These 2.5 hours of hard work (and breaking some sort of “law”) were totally worth it!

I then got back at the base, walked the 5km back to the main road, and hoped that someone would pick me up and give me a lift to San Martín. Nobody stopped, so I just gave up and started walking towards the town (it would have been another 15km…). Thankfully at some stage a cool guy stopped and brought me back to town. He doesn’t know how thankful I am right now!

Wind, rain, and futbol

Saturday, Sunday and Monday featured the forecasted rain and therefore I got to work a bit from my lovely apartment.

However, I kept my “habit” of going out for an afternoon coffee. During one of these coffees, I ended up in a super busy coffee shop – I didn’t realize the “El Clasico” between River Plate and Boca Juniors was on!

So, I watched it with the fans from both sides (Buenos Aires is miles away, but these big teams have fans all over Argentina) and it was a great match! Boca won it at the end 4-2, after River was up 2-1, Tevez played a great match and scored 2 goals… Boca fans got absolutely crazy after winning, and the whole town of San Martín started to feel like Rome when Roma won the scudetto back in 2001. Singing fans, beeping cars, people were going just mad 🙂

And it wasn’t even a final… just a league match. It was a lot of fun and I got a video with a bit of it:

The day after I watched Roma-Milan in the sameworld bar and I therefore got another boost of happiness in this little Patagonia town. Of course this came together with another cup of coffee and pastries – yum!

Unfortunately this trip had to come to an end, and I had to leave my beautiful AirBnB to move further south, once again along the Patagonia lakes.

And I’ll give you a hint – Villa la Angostura is even better than San Martín. I didn’t think this would be possible.

So, stay tuned for my next “episode”, because you’ll love that 🙂

Hasta luego,