Geography and Climate
About 45 kilometers west of Esquel via RN 259 and RP 71, Los Alerces is a 263,000-hectare unit on the eastern Andean slope. Its highest point is 2,253-meter Cerro Torrecillas, but Pacific storms that penetrate the lower cordillera here make it wetter than most of Argentine Patagonia.
Past glaciations have left navigable finger lakes that provide access to some of the park’s finest sights. Summers are mild, with temperatures reaching 24°C with cool nights, but winters average barely 2°C and see ample snowfall.
Most destinations within the park are described with reference to La Villa, the villagelike cluster of services at Lago Futalaufquen’s south end.
Flora and Fauna
Besides the alerce, the park’s other conifers include the Chilean incense cedar and the Guaiteca cypress, both with limited geographical distribution. Most of the rest of the forest consists of the broadleaf southern beeches coihue, lenga, and ñire. The arrayán nears the southern limit of its range here.
For hikers, one of the worst plagues is the colihue, a solid bamboo that forms impassable thickets. The aggressive exotic Rosa moschata, a European introduction, is displacing native plants.
In this dense forest, Los Alerces’s fauna is less conspicuous, but the huemul (Andean deer) is present, along with its miniature distant relative the pudú. Birds include the chucao (a common songbird), the austral parakeet, and the Patagonian woodpecker.
Additional Area Information
Sights and Recreation
On the Río Desaguadero, east of RP 71 at the south end of Lago Futalaufquen, the Sendero del Poblamiento Prehistórico is an easy 500-meter nature trail that passes a natural overhang with fading pre-Columbian rock art, some of it clearly geometrical; it then climbs through forest to an overlook with expansive panoramas to the north.
Register with rangers to hike the steep route to the 1,916-meter summit of Cerro Alto El Dedal, reached by a trailhead from Puerto Bustillo, two kilometers north of La Villa; figure about six hours round-trip to complete the hike. From the same trailhead, Cinco Saltos is a shorter and easier hike to a series of waterfalls.
From Puerto Limonao, four kilometers north of La Villa, the 25-kilometer Sendero Lago Krüger follows Lago Futalaufquen’s south shore to the smaller Lago Krüger, which has a campground and a lodge; register with rangers before beginning the hike, which has only one authorized campsite, at Playa Blanca, between the trailhead and the lodge. Daily boat service to Lago Krüger costs about US$20 pp.
Los Alerces’ traditional excursion is the “lake circuit” from Puerto Limonao, at Lago Futalaufquen’s south end, to the Río Arrayanes outlet of Lago Verde; at Puerto Mermoud, a catwalk crosses to Lago Menéndez’s Puerto Chucao, where another boat continues to Puerto Sagrario.
From Puerto Sagrario, passing blue-green Lago Cisne, a looping nature trail goes to the El Alerzal grove and the landmark El Abuelo, the oldest and most impressive alerce specimen. While there are guides on the hike to and from El Abuelo, it’s possible to separate from the group; it’s not possible, though, to hike elsewhere in an area that’s mostly limited-access zona intangible.
It’s possible to start the excursion at either Puerto Limonao (US$42 pp) or Puerto Chucao (US$29 pp), though low water often eliminates the Limonao–Chucao segment. Scheduled departures are at 9:30 a.m. from Limonao, returning by 6 p.m., and 11:30 a.m. from Chucao, returning by 4:15 p.m. Any Esquel travel agency can make reservations, but it’s possible to purchase tickets here on a space-available basis.
Accommodations and Food
Los Alerces has numerous campgrounds and other accommodations, mostly near Lago Futalaufquen. In addition to organized campgrounds, formerly free agreste (“wild”) campgrounds now charge for limited services but are much cleaner than in the past.
Accessible by road, organized campgrounds all have picnic tables, fire pits, toilets, hot showers, and access to groceries and restaurants; some have electrical outlets. Among them are Camping Los Maitenes (tel. 02945/45-1003, US$5 pp), only 200 meters from the Intendencia at Futalaufquen’s south end; Camping Bahía Rosales (tel. 02945/47-1004, US$6 pp), 14 kilometers from La Villa on the eastern lakeshore; Camping Lago Verde (tel. 02945/45-4421, US$7 pp), 36 kilometers north of La Villa on the eponymous lake; and Camping Lago Rivadavia (tel. 02945/45- 4381, US$5 pp), 42 kilometers north of La Villa at the south end of its namesake lake.
Reached only by a 25-kilometer footpath or launch from Puerto Limonao, Camping & Hostería Lago Krüger (tel. 02945/45-3718 in Esquel) is the only backcountry campsite and hotel. Having undergone a major renovation, it charges about US$6 pp for camping, US$87 pp with full board in the hostería.
For groups of any size, the cheapest noncamping options are places like Cabañas Tejas Negras (RP 71, tel. 02945/47-1046, email@example.com, US$79 d), about 12 kilometers north of La Villa.
About six kilometers north of La Villa, Hostería Quimé-Quipán (RP 71 s/n, tel./fax 02945/47-1021, US$61–66 s, US$68–100 d, with half board) has simple but comfortable rooms, some with lake views; the restaurant is adequate.
Four kilometers north of La Villa, the park’s prestige accommodation is the Bustillo-built Hostería Futalaufquen (tel. 02945/15- 46-5941, US$159–242 s or d with half board, depending on view, in high season). With only nine rooms, it enjoys a privileged end-of-the-road location on Lago Futalaufquen’s western shore; distinctive features include beamed Tudor-style ceilings, a walk-in granite fireplace, copper chandeliers, and a polished wooden bar. The restaurant is open to nonguests (reservations required for dinner).
Colloquially known as La Villa, Villa Futalaufquen is the park headquarters. The APN’s Museo y Centro de Informes (tel. 02945/47-1015, ext. 14, firstname.lastname@example.org, 8 a.m.–9 p.m. daily mid-Dec.–Apr., 9 a.m.–8 p.m. daily the rest of the year) is both a museum, with history and natural history exhibits, and a helpful ranger information center.
At both the northern Lago Rivadavia and eastern La Portada entrances, rangers collect a US$7 pp admission charge, which is valid for a week and includes other area parks. After 9 p.m., when the tollbooths close, there’s no one to collect the charge, but they check on the way out.
In addition to the APN headquarters, La Villa also has a grocery, public telephones, and a first-aid station.
Transportes Esquel buses between Esquel and Lago Puelo pick up and drop off passengers along RP 71 within the park; some northbound buses go only to Lago Rivadavia before returning to Esquel. Puelo-bound passengers can disembark and reboard another day as long as they do not reverse direction.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Argentina.