One of the world's great alpine playgrounds, the Argentina Lake District has plenty to discover. Visitors can combine adventure activities with scenic drives and other more chilled-out explorations. In the evenings, enjoy great food and wine, and stay in lovely local inns. You'll need a rental car to get from San Carlos de Bariloche to San Martín de los Andes and back. Pick one up at the Bariloche airport, but be ready for dirt roads and some of the most aggressive drivers in Bariloche.
The trip starts with some orientation in Bariloche, the area's main city. After exploring there for a few days, you'll continue on to two nearby towns: Villa la Angostura and San Martín de los Andes. The entire driving route is spectacular, with tall forests, expansive mountain lakes, and photo opportunities at every turn.
Day 1: Bariloche
Fly into San Carlos de Bariloche from Buenos Aires. Pick up a rental car at the airport and drive into town along the shores of the spectacular Lago Nahuel Huapi. Check into an inn with a lake view such as Villa Huinid or Hotel Sol del Nahuel. If you can afford it, head along Avenida Bustillo for 25km (16 miles) to the incredible Llao Llao Hotel & Resort. After relaxing by the pool, make reservations for dinner at Yuco ★★, near the Llao Llao, or at the hidden Naan in town.
Day 2: Bariloche
After a lovely breakfast at your hotel, make a reservation for your next day's activities . Then hop into your car and explore the Circuito Chico, a leisurely loop that takes you past the many bays of Nahuel Huapi Lake. Take the beautiful sightseeing chairlift to the top of Cerro Campanario, to get a stunning view of the area before heading west past the Llao Llao Resort. Stop in Colonia Suiza for lunch -- a traditional curanto if it's a Wednesday or Sunday. After a siesta at your hotel room, head out for dinner, Argentine-style, sometime after 9pm. Tonight, choose a traditional Argentine asado at either Tarquino or Rincon Patagonico.
Day 3: Bariloche Rafting
There are many active adventures to choose from in Bariloche: sea kayaking, hiking, or fishing, to name a few. My absolute favorite is white-water rafting on the emerald Manso River, south of Bariloche, with Huala Adventure Tourism. They'll pick you up at your hotel at 9am and drive south through the lush valleys past lakes Gutiérrez, Mascardi, and Guillelmo, before turning west toward the height of the Andes. The rafting is intense and adrenaline-packed, for good swimmers only! After lunch, a big barbecue will recharge you before you head back to town. You may be up for a lighter dinner tonight after that big lunch. Try Kandahar or Vegetariano.
Day 4: Villa La Angostura
Eat breakfast, check out, and give yourself some time to explore the shops and markets of Bariloche. The drive continues along RN 231 along the north shore of Nahuel Huapi Lake to the swish town of Villa la Angostura, which is definitely an upscale joint. Check into Las Balsas or into the more economical Hostería Puerto Sur, in the lakeside suburb of Bahia Manzano. Lunch on the water at the Correntoso Hotel's Puerto restaurant, then hike out the Arrayan peninsula, taking a boat back to the port. Enjoy an afternoon of fishing or hiking, then head to the excellent Tinto Bistro for dinner or La Delfina.
Day 5: Ruta de los Siete Lagos
Eat breakfast, check out, and stop at a supermarket for picnic supplies. Then head north on RN 234, the spectacular Ruta de los Siete Lagos. It's 110km (68 miles) to San Martín de los Andes, but give yourself most of the day to get there. Plan to stop frequently to explore the lakeshores at Lago Correntoso and Lago Falkner. The Vuliñaco waterfall is a great picnic spot. You'll arrive in San Martín de los Andes, Bariloche's tidier and smaller sister, in time for an afternoon tea at the historic Arrayán Tea House. Make your plans for the following day's activities. Check into your inn at La Casa de Eugenia or the cozy La Raclette. San Martín has many good restaurants; try La Tasca or La Reserva ★.
Day 6: San Martín de los Andes
Eat breakfast and leave the car behind. Your hiking guide is here to drive you to the lovely trails of Lanín National Park. In the evening, head to La Fondue de Betty for the San Martín classic -- a bubbling and scrumptious fondue dinner, with vino tinto of course!
Day 7: Bariloche & Home
Check out, fill up the tank, and take the "other" way back to Bariloche. You can either go via the lovely mountain village of Villa Trafúl, or via the marvelous raw canyons of the Paso Córdoba. You'll be back in Bariloche in time to catch a midafternoon flight to Buenos Aires.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.