With its tall peaks and crystalline waters, the Argentine Lake District is one of the world's most spectacular mountain playgrounds, yet it is remarkably unknown and unexplored by foreigners.

The region stretches from the rugged, Wild West town of Junín de los Andes in the north to the emerald waters of Cholila in the south. In between, cottage-lined towns are scattered about, affording plenty of options for overnight stops. A range of travelers will find something of interest here -- alpine adventures, aquatic sports, fabulous wine and cuisine, and cozy chalets and hotels.

Argentines flock here during their twice-annual holidays -- to ski in July and August, and to raft in the lakes and hike the mountains in January. The rest of the year, it's tranquilísimo. I suggest you schedule your visit when the locals are back at work, during the shoulder-season months of November (spring) and March (autumn) -- my favorite time to visit here.

For more information about the region, see www.interpatagonia.com.

Exploring the Region -- I have focused both on the Lake District's principal destinations -- San Carlos de Bariloche (known here simply as Bariloche), Villa La Angostura, and San Martín de los Andes -- as well as stops off the beaten path, such as El Bolsón and Junín de los Andes. This coverage includes numerous national parks, as well as driving tours and boat trips that take in the best of the stunning lakeside scenery. I recommend basing yourself in one of these towns and striking out from there to explore the surrounding wilderness. All the towns described offer enough outdoor and sightseeing excursions to fill 1 or even 2 weeks, but 4 to 5 days in one location is ample time for a visit. Based in Bariloche, you can take a day trip south to the crafts fair and lakes at El Bolsón, and then head out for daytime adventures in Nahuel Huapi National Park. Then, take 2 nights to visit San Martín de los Andes and Villa la Angostura. If you're up for it, don't miss the chance to sleep in the backcountry -- in either a rustic high-mountain hut, a fly-fishing lodge, or a simple tent, after you've taken in the scenery on horseback. Another interesting route is to make a detour into Chile via the lake crossing from Bariloche, or to organize a boat-bus combination that loops from Bariloche and Villa La Angostura in Argentina, then crosses the border into Chile, then stops in Puyehue, continuing south to Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt, and finally crosses back into Argentina and Bariloche via the Lake Crossing. Another option is to cross from San Martín de los Andes to Pucón, Chile.