In the stark volcanic steppe southwest of Zapala, alkaline Laguna Blanca is a shallow, plankton-rich interior drainage lake with breeding populations of the black-necked swan. Designated a major international wetland under the Ramsar convention, it’s also an ideal bird-watching site to spot coots, ducks, grebes, gulls, upland geese, and the occasional flamingo. Even the flightless choique (rhea) scurries along the barren shoreline for a drink. The park comprises 11,250 hectares of undulating terrain, 1,276 meters above sea level. Covering 1,700 hectares, the lake reaches a depth of 10 meters.

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.

Directly on RP 46, the steadily improving Centro de Visitantes (9am-7pm daily mid- Dec.-Mar., 9am-7pm Sat.-Sun. Apr.-mid-Dec.) has helpful rangers, informative exhibits, and clean toilets.

From the visitors center, a short nature trail leads across the steppe to the shoreline for glimpses of the swans, which are always here. Though birdlife is most abundant November- March, the unfortunate introduction of nonnative fish species, such as perca, decades ago has affected the birds’ diet and, hence, diminished its population. A fishing season in the colder months has been set up to try to reverse the situation.

Getting There

From a junction 10 kilometers south of Zapala via RN 40, paved RP 46 leads 20 kilometers southwest to the park. On the north side of RP 46, about two kilometers east of the visitors center, a free APN campground offers little shelter from the westerlies that gust across the steppe. Laguna Blanca really makes a better day trip than an overnight. There’s no food or water available—bring everything necessary.

Public transportation is limited, and the only two companies that pass Parque Nacional Laguna Blanca en route to Aluminé do so in the afternoon, after which there are no services back on the same day. Hiring a remise (fixed-rate taxi) for a quick visit and return costs about US$30.

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Patagonia.