Parque Nacional Laguna Blanca in Northern Patagonia

Two swans with black necks and bright red beaks swim through the water.

Black necked swans. Photo © Sergio R. Nuñez C., licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

In the stark volcanic steppe southwest of Zapala, alkaline Laguna Blanca is a shallow, plankton-rich interior drainage lake with breeding populations of the striking black-necked swan. Designated a major international wetland under the Ramsar convention, it’s also the place to spot coots, ducks, grebes, gulls, upland geese, and the occasional flamingo. Even the flightless choike (rhea) scurries along the barren shoreline for a drink.

From a junction 10 kilometers south of Zapala via RN 40, paved RP 46 leads 20 kilometers southwest to the park, which comprises 11,250 hectares of undulating terrain 1,276 meters above sea level; the lake itself covers 1,700 hectares to a depth of 10 meters.


From the roadside visitors center, a short nature trail leads across the steppe to the shoreline for glimpses of the swans, which are always here, but birdlife is most abundant November–March. A roofed shelter, open on the leeward side, holds a 1915 Zeiss telescope that still awaits repair, so carry lightweight binoculars.


On the north side of RP 46, about one kilometer east of the visitors center, a free APN campground offers shade and shelter from the westerlies that gust across the steppe, but Laguna Blanca really makes a better day trip than an overnight. There’s no food available—bring everything you’ll need.

Directly on RP 46, the steadily improving Centro de Visitantes has helpful rangers, informative exhibits, clean toilets, and a crafts outlet. It’s open 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily mid-December–March; the rest of the year it’s open weekends and holidays only.

Public transportation is limited; from Zapala (1 hour, US$2.50), several bus companies now pass the park en route to Aluminé. If schedules are inconvenient, considering hiring a remise.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Argentina.

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