Driving the Seven Lakes Route in Patagonia, Argentina
Driving the Seven Lakes Route, Ruta de los Siete Lagos, is a not-to-be-missed road trip in the Argentinean Lake District. This is what Bunny read in her Lonely Planet Argentina guide and decided to act accordingly.
The classic Seven Lakes Route connects two pretty lakeside towns in Argentinian Patagonia: Villa la Angostura and San Martin de los Andes. The distance between the towns is only about 110 kilometres but the drive will take several hours as the scenery is spectacular and you will want to stop a lot for taking photos.
The Seven Lakes Route is part of the famous Argentinian Route 40. Bunny has no clue why it is called the Seven Lakes Route as there are many more lakes along the route.
The drive covers two different National Parks – Parque Nacional Lanin and Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, gorgeous lake scenery, impressive mountain views, picturesque valleys, thick pine forests, rivers, waterfalls and more.
It is a perfect road trip on a sunny day in the Argentinian Lake District.
You need your own (rental) car to do the route at your own pace. Having a car gives you the flexibility to stop wherever and whenever you prefer for as long as you like. This is essential for enjoying the drive properly, Bunny says.
If you don’t want to drive yourself, there are various tours on offer. Bunny saw a number of minivans during her expedition but personally she wouldn’t opt for that. Too crowded and hurried for her liking…
"Rent a car!"
The Drive Is Doable in One Day
You can easily do the drive in a day, both ways even, if you want to start and end at the same place.
The road is paved and in good condition throughout, so no need to worry about road conditions. And your fellow Argentinians are OK drivers. That said, Mr. Bunny insists they seem to be incapable of using indicators. Oh well.
The weather is a big consideration for the drive. If you go on a grey, cloudy day, you might be underwhelmed by the scenery. The contrast to a sunny day with clear blue skies is palpable.
Bunny knows this because her big driving day dawned grey and rainy. The forecast, however, offered some hope as the clouds were expected to clear by lunch time, giving way to a sunny afternoon. So Bunny decided to make her way to San Martin De Los Andes quickly, without any stops, and then enjoy a leisurely drive back home, hopefully in better weather.
Bunny’s plan worked perfectly and the difference between the scenery on her way up to San Martin De Los Andes and the way back to Villa la Angostura was like night and day.
Bunny’s Experience on the Seven Lakes Route
The Bunnies were staying in Villa la Angostura (in the lovely Las Balsas hotel), conveniently located in the southern end of the drive. On the day of the drive, they had a slow morning and left the hotel around 11am. The weather was grey and rainy, so they drove straight to San Martin de los Andes, without stopping on the way. The drive took them about one hour and 45 minutes.
In San Martin de los Andes, the Bunnies had a quick lunch (nothing to write home about) and kept a close eye on the weather which was slowly improving. At 13:30, they were ready to start the drive back down to Villa la Angostura.
Lake 1: Lago Lacar
San Martin de los Andes is located on the shores of Lago Lacar. The Seven Lakes Drive on RN40 starts by closely skirting the lake. The first unofficial lookouts are just a few kilometres from San Martin de los Andes, offering nice views of Lago Lacar. There is also a roadside sign welcoming visitors to the Lanin National Park.
Some kilometres later, the road veers inland for more than 10 kilometres. There are no lake views here but Bunny very much enjoyed the nice fall colours of the surrounding forests.
Mirador Valle del Arroyo Pil Pil
The first official mirador (lookout) on the Seven Lakes Drive is Pil Pil, 16 kilometres from San Martin de los Andes. There are more than 10 official lookouts on the route and they all have information boards, providing curious details of the surrounding fauna and flora.
As far as lake views are concerned, Pil Pil offered only a small glimpse of Lago Lacar in the background. But the views to the valley were very nice.
Mirador Arroyo Partido
Mirador Arroyo Partido (“divided stream”) followed four kilometres later. For some reason, the parking spot on the right hand side of the road was closed.
Not far from this spot, the waters of Arroyo Partido river divide into two branches. One of the branches flows towards Lago Lacar and the Pacific Ocean, and the other one to Lago Meliquina and the Atlantic Ocean. Bunny thought that was pretty cool, even though the spot itself was not particularly scenic.
Lake 2: Lago Machonico
Driving through some spectacular mountain and forest scenery, as well as over the Hermoso river, the Bunnies next arrived at mirador Lago Machonico. This was approximately 13 kilometres from the previous mirador.
Lago Machonico had excellent views of the lake as well as of numerous mountain peaks surrounding the dark-blue waters. A truly beautiful spot.
Lake 3: Lago Hermoso
Approximately six kilometres from Lago Machonico, the Bunnies briefly turned off the official route to check out Lago Hermoso. This required a mere two kilometre detour, driving on a dirt road with quite a few potholes. Bunny didn’t particularly enjoy the road but it was manageable, even with Bunny’s little ratshit rental car.
The views at the end of the road were worth it. In fact, Lago Hermoso was one of Bunny’s favourite lakes along the route. It was blissfully quiet and pretty, with some big drift wood along the beach. Bunny thought it would have been a perfect place for a little picnic had she been wise enough to bring some goodies with her.
After the little detour, the Bunnies continued along the RN40 and entered Nahuel Huapi National Park.
The first mirador in Nahuel Huapi was Cascada Vulinanco, 16 kilometres from Lago Machonico. The lookout is named after a 20-metre waterfall forming from Rio Filuco. There was an additional path to the right for those who wanted to get closer to the waterfall.
Lake 4: Lago Falkner
Shortly after the waterfall, the Bunnies arrived at Lago Falkner - Bunny’s favourite lake on the route. Lago Falkner has a gorgeous camping site and amazing views to the surrounding mountains. It also boasts a long sandy beach with some picturesque drift wood.
Bunny spotted some people kayaking on the lake and felt a small pang of jealousy as she hadn’t thought to look into that herself…
Lake 5: Lago Villarino
Only two kilometres further from Lago Falkner, another mirador was on the right hand side of the road: Lago Villarino which connects to Lago Falkner.
Lake 6: Lago Escondido
Another kilometre ahead and there was the tiny Lago Escondido on the same side of the road. This was perhaps the mirador with the worst visibility, due to trees. You get just glimpses of the sparkling lake behind the trees but Bunny enjoyed her brief stop here nevertheless.
After Lago Escondido, there was a long drive, more than 30 kilometres until the next mirador. The Bunnies decided to make another detour, turning off to Villa Traful on the Provincial Route 65.
Side Trip to Villa Traful (Lago Traful)
It was already 4pm when the Bunnies headed towards Villa Traful. The dirt road was not awful but it was slow going towards the little hamlet, with practically no other traffic along the way. There was some interesting scenery, including impressive trees and a couple of narrow bridges over small rivers.
It took the Bunnies almost an hour to drive to Villa Traful and they were a bit underwhelmed when they finally arrived. There was not much there to see. Sure the lake scenery was gorgeous but there was equally stunning scenery along the official Seven Lakes Route, with much better roads.
The Lonely Planet writer that raved about Villa Traful must have gotten laid there, Bunny thinks.
The bottom line is this: drive this extra leg to Villa Traful only if you have plenty of time and patience to drive a bumpy gravel road for almost two hours (remember, you will have to return by the same road).
Lake 7: Lago Correntoso
The Bunnies were back on the main road just before 6pm. Lago Correntoso was the next lake and it had a couple of separate miradors along the route. Mr. Bunny was particularly fond of Lago Correntoso and declared it his favourite of the lot.
Lake 8: Lago Espejo
Almost immediately afterwards was Lago Espejo. There was a special access road to the lake but the Bunnies skipped it as the sun was starting to set at this point. Admiring the sunset from the mirador itself was enough for the Bunnies and a perfect ending to a nice day.
The Bunnies were back at their hotel at 7pm. The drive to San Martin de los Andes and back, including the two detours to Lago Hermoso and Villa Traful, had taken them almost eight hours in total.
Lake 9: Lago Nahuel Huapi
The last official mirador is outside the classic Seven Lakes Route, on Lago Nahuel Huapi, some 83 kilometres from Villa la Angostura towards Bariloche.
The Bunnies did this drive the following day, on their way from Villa la Angostura to Argentina’s most famous hotel, Llao Llao, at the other end of Lago Nahuel Huapi. This was a drive of just under an hour and the views were equally impressive as earlier on the route.
Bunny’s Final Thoughts on the Seven Lakes Route
Is the Seven Lakes Route worth driving? Absolutely!
Bunny grew up in a country full of lakes so she wasn't sure how impressed she would be with the views. They were spectacular.
But don’t go if the weather is bad. You need sunshine and blue skies to properly appreciate the beauty of this region. Ideally, reserve a couple of days for the Lake District and follow the weather forecasts to pick a perfect day to do the drive.
And bring a packed lunch. Some of the quieter beaches just beg you to linger and have a picnic. Restaurant choices (and gas stations) along the route are very limited.
The roads are very good, and the traffic, at least in the shoulder season (April) when Bunny went, was very light.