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 resorts at nearby Chapelco.
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.San Martín itself is picturesque, thanks to the legacy of architect Alejandro Bustillo. His rustically styled Centro Cívico builds on his designs at Bariloche. San Martín has shunned the high-rise horrors that have degraded Bustillo’s legacy there. The height limit has its own downside in promoting San Martín’s perceived exclusivity. However, its biggest blight is the increasingly aggressive marketing of timeshares.
At Lago Lácar’s east end, 642 meters above sea level, San Martín (pop. 28,599) is 189 kilometers north of Bariloche via recently rerouted RN 40; it’s 109 kilometers north of Villa La Angostura by the same route. Via Junín and La Rinconada, it’s 259 kilometers and a faster alternative from Bariloche, at least until the entire Siete Lagos route is paved.
The masterpiece of lavishly landscaped Plaza San Martín is Bustillo’s former Intendencia del 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, dormers that jut out from the main structure, and wooden roof shingles. The Museo del Parque Nacional Lanín (Emilio Frey 749, tel. 02972/420664, 8am-7pm daily in summer, 8am-7pm Mon.-Fri. the rest of the year, free) combines a small museum on the park’s origins and natural history with a traditional information center.
Across the plaza, the Museo Primeros Pobladores (Rosas 758, 02972/428676, ext. 2, 4pm-8pm Tues.-Sat. in summer, 2pm-6pm Tues.-Sat. the rest of the year, free) 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. 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, was reason enough to turn the barn into the interactive La Pastera Museo del Che (Sarmiento and Rudecindo Roca, tel. 02972/411994, 9am-1pm and 6pm-9pm Wed.-Mon., US$3), 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.
Getting To San Martín de los Andes
Air and bus schedules change frequently, especially in ski season.
Aeropuerto Aviador Carlos Campos-Chapelco (RN 234 Km 24, tel. 02972/428388) lies midway between San Martín and Junín de los Andes. A taxi into town costs around US$18. Aerolíneas Argentinas (Mariano Moreno 859, tel. 02972/410588) flies regularly from Buenos Aires.
San Martín’s Terminal de Ómnibus (Villegas 231, tel. 02972/427044) has regional, long-distance, and Chilean bus connections. Castelli (tel. 02972/491557) goes hourly to Junín de los Andes (US$2, 50 min.), except on Sunday when it goes less often. Most services to Bariloche (US$16-18, four hours) use the longer but smoother Rinconada route with Vía Bariloche (tel. 02972/422800). Ko Ko (tel. 02972/427422) goes to Villa La Angostura (US$11, 2.5 hours) in summer via the scenic Siete Lagos route, continuing to Bariloche. It also goes to the Chilean border at Paso Hua Hum and to nearby lakes. Albus (tel. 02972/428100) also goes to Villa La Angostura, 3-4 times daily by the Siete Lagos route. Igi-Llaima (tel. 02972/428100) and Empresa San Martín (tel. 02972/427294) alternate service to Pucón (US$25, five hours) and Temuco, Chile (US$27, seven hours), Monday-Saturday. Empresa San Martín continues to Valdivia. Other typical destinations include Neuquén (US$27-50, 7 hours) and Buenos Aires (US$133-176, 19-22 hours).
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Patagonia.