San Martín de los Andes's heritage is in agriculture, cattle, and logging, all of which are carefully displayed at the Museo de los Primero Pobladores, J. M. Rosas 750 (no phone), open on Tuesday and Friday afternoons only. Now San Martín is heavily geared toward tourism; accordingly, its streets are lined with shops selling arts and crafts, wonderful regional specialties such as smoked meats and cheeses, outdoor gear, books, and more. There is a lovely crafts market open most afternoons in the central plaza. Visitors will find most shops on Avenida San Martín and General Villegas. For regional specialties and/or chocolates, try Ahumadero El Ciervo, General Villegas 724 (tel. 02972/427361); Mamusia, San Martín 601 (tel. 02972/427560); or Su Chocolate Casero, Villegas 453 (tel. 02972/427924). For arts and crafts, try Cooperativa De Artesano, Av. San Martín 1050 (tel. 02972/429097), or La Oveja Negra, Av. San Martín 1025 (tel. 02972/428039).
San Martín is a mountain town geared toward outdoor activities. If you're not up to a lot of physical exertion, take a stroll down to the lake and kick back on the beach. Alternatively, rent a bike and take a slow pedal around town. Pack a picnic lunch and head to Hua Hum.
The vast Parque Nacional Lanín, founded in 1937, is the third-largest national park in the country. It has 35 lakes, as well as thick forests, abundant wildlife, and an extinct volcano. The park is still home to more than 50 native Mapuche communities.
Just up the hill above town, the quaint and cozy Arrayán Tea House, Circuito Arrayán, Km 4 (tel. 02972/425570), has the area's best view. Built at a clearing in a cypress forest in 1938 by Renee Dickenson, a spirited young British woman, the house today maintains the same style that first charmed local residents. During the '40s and '50s, this was the hot spot in San Martín, on the old road to Bariloche. Today it's open afternoons for exquisite teas, coffees, and pastries, and for lunch and dinner with a reservation only. Take a taxi up for $5 (£3.40) and walk down.
The Red Bus (tel. 02972/421185) runs city tours on a double-decker bus that helps orient visitors and gives a glimpse into the town's history. Tours depart daily at 10:30am and 4:30pm from the Plaza San Martín. The tour costs $12 (£8.20).
Lahuen Co: Hot Springs Deep in the Andes
Turn west halfway between San Martín de los Andes and Junín de los Andes, head deep into the temperate rainforest of Lanín National Park, over petrified lava flow, past glistening lakes and snowcapped peaks, and you'll end up at this spectacular oasis. The Lahuen Co thermal hot springs is a natural thermal spa with boutique services and amenities. There are seven thermally heated pools, four indoors and three out. A typical day here begins with a stunning boat trip across Lago Huechulafquén, beneath the Lanín Volcano, then a hike to a waterfall followed by an hour or so to soak and drift and relax in an Asian-inspired building with Vichy showers and a sunny deck. A lovely lunch is served to guests in robes. Afternoons involve a shiatsu massage, some fishing, or more soaking. The landscape is divine, and the new building delicately blends modernity, ancient practices, and nature. They are also open in winter, and have a hotel that'll open in early 2009. Booking in advance is mandatory. Contact their office in San Martín at tel. 02972/424709 or online at www.lahuenco.com.
Tour Operators & Travel Agencies
Both Huemul Turismo, Av. San Martín 881 (tel. 02972/422903; www.huemulturismo.com.ar), and Pucará, Av. San Martín 941 (tel. 02972/427218; firstname.lastname@example.org), offer similar tours and prices, and also operate as travel agencies for booking plane tickets.
Excursions to the village Quila Quina, via a sinuous road that offers dramatic views of Lago Lácar, cost $14 (£9.45); a longer excursion including Chapelco and Arrayán is $18 (£12). Scenic drives through the Siete Lagos route are $32 (£22) to Villa La Angostura and $45 (£30) to Bariloche. A gorgeous circuit trip to Volcán Lanín and Lago Huechulafquén goes for $45 (£30). Tours do not include lunch, which must be brought along or arranged ahead of time.
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.