Visiting the Resort Town of San Martín de los Andes

Map of San Martín de los Andes, Argentina

San Martín de los Andes

Barely a century since its founding as a frontier fortress, San Martín de los Andes has become one of the lakes district’s most fashionable resorts. Nestled in the hills near Lago Lácar, it owes its appeal to its surrounding scenery, the trout that thrash in Parque Nacional Lanín’s lakes and streams, and the ski boom that began at nearby Chapelco in the 1940s.

Like the resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and thanks to Lanín’s proximity, San Martín is a mecca for everything from hiking and climbing to mountain biking, whitewater rafting, trout fishing, and skiing.San Martín itself is picturesque enough, thanks to the legacy of architect Alejandro Bustillo, whose rustically styled Centro Cívico builds on his designs at Bariloche. Unlike Bariloche, San Martín has shunned the highrise horrors that have degraded Bustillo’s legacy there; its biggest blight is the increasingly aggressive marketing of timeshares. The height limit has its own downside in promoting San Martín’s perceived exclusivity—in a sense, it’s Argentina’s version of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where fashion often trumps nature.

At Lago Lácar’s east end, 642 meters above sea level, San Martín (pop. 22,269) is 189 kilometers north of Bariloche via RN 237, RN 231, and RN 234; it’s 109 kilometers north of Villa la Angostura via RN 234. It’s 259 kilometers from Bariloche via the roundabout route, but a faster alternative is via Junín.

Sights

Lavishly landscaped Plaza San Martín’s masterpiece is Bustillo’s former Intendencia Parque Nacional Lanín, which matches the style of its Bariloche counterpart and has influenced architects and designers throughout the region. The exterior consists of roughly hewn blocks, rustically carved beams, attic windows that jut out from the main structure, and wooden roof shingles. Now combining a museum on the park’s origins and natural history with its traditional information center, the Museo del Parque Nacional Lanín (Emilio Frey 749, tel. 02972/42-0664, free) is open 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Monday–Friday.

Across the plaza, the Museo Primeros Pobladores (Rosas 758, 02972/42-8676, ext. 2, museoprimerospobladores@yahoo.com.ar, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. and 4–6 p.m. Mon.–Tues. and Thurs.–Fri., 3–10 p.m. Sat.–Sun., US$0.35) is a modest effort at acknowledging all the area’s cultural influences, from pre-Columbian hunter-gatherers to settled Mapuche farmers and their struggles with the Spanish and Argentine invaders, and the European colonists who helped create the contemporary city. Exhibits include items such as arrowheads, spear points, and ceramics, and there’s also an account of Parque Nacional Lanín’s creation.

For four nights in 1952, Ernesto Guevara Lynch and his buddy Alberto Granados crashed on hay bales in the national park’s barn in San Martín. That, apparently, is reason enough to turn the barn into the interactive Museo La Pastera Che Guevara (Sarmiento and Rudecindo Roca, tel. 02972/41-1994), complete with video of Che’s career and a shop to market Che souvenirs, including his books and those of his admirers. In reality, it’s more a shrine than a museum.

Entertainment and Events

At February 4’s Día de la Fundación, the anniversary of San Martín’s 1898 founding, the military still marches down the avenues, followed by fire fighters and an equestrian array of foxhunters, gauchos, and polo players.

The main performing-arts outlet is the Centro Cultural Cotesma (Roca 1154, tel. 02972/42-8399), which offers recent movies at its Cine Amankay (tel. 02972/42-7274). The Teatro San José (Capitán Drury 743, tel. 02972/42-8676) hosts live theater.

This is also a bar-goer’s town, with places like the theme-oriented Austria Ski-Bar (San Martín and Moreno, tel. 02972/42-7071); across the street, Dublin Pub South (Avenida San Martín 599, tel. 02972/41-0141) offers beer, pub grub, sidewalk seating, and Wi-Fi. The hillside Downtown Matías (Coronel Díaz and Calderón, tel. 02972/42-1699) has live music.

Boquería (Capitán Drury 857, tel. 02972/42-5663) is a by-the-glass or by-the-bottle wine bar, with a food menu limited to sandwiches and tapas, plus nightly specials.

Shopping

San Martín’s souvenir outlets start with Mapuche weavings, silverwork, and carvings at Artesanías Neuquinas (Rosas 790, tel. 02972/42-8396), a provincially sponsored crafts cooperative. There’s also a good selection at Plaza Sarmiento’s Cooperativa de Artesanos (Avenida San Martín 1050, tel. 02972/42-9097).

For textiles, try La Oveja Negra (Avenida San Martín 1025, tel. 02972/42-8039) or Kosem (Capitán Drury 838, tel. 02972/42- 7269).

Fenoglio (Moreno 743, tel. 02972/42-7515) is popular for homemade-style chocolates.

The cramped Patalibro (Avenida San Martín 866, Local 11, tel. 02972/42-1532) carries books on Patagonia, including some in English. Librería Cinco Sentidos (Moreno 701, Local 5, tel. 02972/41-0160) is a gleaming and spacious bookstore that doubles as a Wi-Fi café.

Sports and Recreation

Like the resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and thanks to Lanín’s proximity, San Martín is a mecca for everything from hiking and climbing to mountain biking, whitewater rafting, trout fishing, and skiing.

HG Rodados (Avenida San Martín 1061, tel. 02972/42-7345) rents mountain bikes, which are ideal for the secondary roads around Lago Lácar and the park.

Argentine rivers generally have lower flows and fewer rapids than their Chilean counterparts, but the Class III–plus Río Aluminé flows through spectacular scenery a couple of hours north of San Martín. It’s best with the spring runoff in November and December; contact Lanín Turismo (Avenida San Martín 437, Local 7, tel. 02972/42-5808).

Closer to San Martín, the Class II Río Hua Hum provides a gentler experience. Contact El Claro Turismo (Coronel Díaz 751, tel. 02972/42-8786); Net Sur (Coronel Pérez 1124, tel. 02972/42- 7929); or Yuco (Belgrano 845, Local 12, tel. 02972/42-3150).

For fishing gear and advice, visit the Jorge Cardillo Fly Shop (Villegas 1061, tel. 02972/42-8372).

Information

At Plaza San Martín’s east end, the Secretaría Municipal de Turismo (Avenida San Martín and Rosas, tel. 02972/42-7347, informes.turismo@ mandes.gov.ar, 8 a.m.–10 p.m. daily summer, 8 a.m.–9 p.m. daily the rest of the year) provides advice, maps, and brochures plus an up-to-the-minute database of accommodations and rates; in peak season, though, high demand can test its resources.

The APN’s Centro de Visitantes de Parque Nacional Lanín (Emilio Frey 749, tel. 02972/42-0664, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri.) provides park information and has a selection of maps and brochures.

Services

Banco de la Nación (Avenida San Martín 687) and several others have ATMs. Andina Internacional (Capitán Drury 876) is the only currency-exchange house.

Correo Argentino (General Roca and Coronel Pérez) is the post office. Cotesma (Capitán Drury 761) has telephone, fax, and Internet services.

Chapelco Turismo (Avenida San Martín 876, tel. 02972/42-7550) offers conventional excursions to Parque Nacional Lanín, Villa la Angostura, and other destinations.

For laundry, Laverap (tel. 02972/42-8820) has two locations: Capitán Drury 880 and Villegas 972.

Hospital Zonal Ramón Carrillo (Avenida San Martín and Coronel Rohde, tel. 02972/42-7211) is central.

Getting There

Air and bus schedules change frequently, especially in ski season. Aerolíneas Argentinas (Belgrano 949, tel. 02972/41-0588) flies regularly to Buenos Aires, usually to Aeroparque but sometimes to Ezeiza. Occupying a booth in the bus terminal, LADE (Villegas 231, tel. 02972/42-7672) flies occasionally to Aeroparque and to other Patagonian destinations. American Jet (tel. 0810/345-9876) has just begun weekday flights to Neuquén.

San Martín’s Terminal de Ómnibus (Villegas 231, tel. 02972/42-7044) has regional, long-distance, and Chilean connections.

Transportes Ko Ko (tel. 02972/42-7422) goes to Villa la Angostura (3 hours, US$9) via the scenic Siete Lagos route, sometimes continuing to Bariloche, but most services to Bariloche (4.5 hours, US$13) use the longer but smoother Rinconada route. Albús (tel. 02972/42-8100) also goes to Villa la Angostura three times daily via the Siete Lagos route and twice to Bariloche, while La Araucana Viajes (tel. 02972/42-1330) goes twice daily via the Siete Lagos route.

In summer, Ko Ko goes to the Chilean border at Paso Hua Hum (US$3) at 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. daily. Monday–Saturday, Igi-Llaima (tel. 02972/42-8100) and Empresa San Martín (tel. 02972/42-7294) alternate service to Pucón (6.5 hours, US$17) and Temuco, Chile (8 hours, US$20); Empresa San Martín continues to Valdivia. In summer, Buses Lafit (tel. 02972/42-7422) goes Wednesday and Sunday to the Chilean border post of Pirehueico (2 hours, US$8) and on to Panguipulli (4.5 hours, US$20).

Other typical destinations include Junín de los Andes (45 minutes, US$2), Neuquén (5.5 hours, US$14–26), and Buenos Aires (21 hours, US$65–96).

Getting Around

Aeropuerto Aviador Carlos Campos–Chapelco (RN 234 Km 24, tel. 02972/42-8388) lies midway between San Martín and Junín de los Andes. Patanor (tel. 02944/42-5688) provides airport transfers.

In summer only, Transportes Ko Ko (tel. 02972/42-7422) runs several buses daily (US$1) to Lago Lolog.

At the foot of Obeid, Naviera Lacar y Nonthue (Avenida Costanera s/n, tel. 02972/42-7380) sails six to eight times daily to Quila Quina (US$10 round-trip) on Lago Lácar’s south shore, and daily to Hua Hum (US$37 round-trip).

For rental cars, try Alamo/National (Avenida San Martín 836, 1st floor, tel. 02972/41-0811) or Hertz (Avenida San Martín 831, 1st floor, tel. 02972/42-0280).


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Argentina.

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