We left a bit late because we were so exhausted from so much traveling. After a comfortable night’s sleep in our tent with a stray “guard” dog protecting us, we were ready for the day.
Side note: I don’t know how or why but stray dogs are attracted to us; every place we camp they find us and protect our tent.
The drive to Junin de los Andes was very interesting because in our immediate surroundings there was desert-like terrain (low bushes, not a lot of trees or grass) but in the distance we could see tall mountains with some snow cover and it was absolutely stunning. We then started to pass some lakes and you wouldn’t believe how incredibly gorgeous they are! So clear and blue you would think they were fake! You could also see Volcano Lanin in the distance looking like the Lonely Mountain from the Hobbit, it was so pretty.
We were stopped at the beginning of Junin for our documents but, once again, the cops were so nice and sent us on our way within a couple of minutes. We arrived at Junin de los Andes at noon and stopped by the tourist information office for some advice on how to get to the volcano. The people were very nice and gave us some great tips for the park and even recommended us a great (and cheap) lunch place. The entrance to Parque Nacional Lanin (which is where the volcano is located) is about 70 kilometers (about an hour) from Junin so we decided to carbo-load before our volcano adventure.
I am very glad that we asked about a lunch place at the info center because we were directed to an extremely authentic Argentinian place which we never would have found without asking. We really wanted empanadas and we hit the jackpot! It’s not so much a restaurant as it is more a row of kiosks run by Argentinian women who make fresh and amazing empanadas. It is AR$50 for a dozen and you can choose from chicken, meat, and ham and cheese, or all of them (like we did)! They were so, so good and very traditional from the area. We were very pleased and headed to the volcano right after lunch.
Now the entrance to the volcano and Lago Tromen is free, other parts of the park (where there are more touristy things to do) is AR$50/person. Since we only cared about the volcano we didn’t pay a cent! We went to Lago Tromen first to relax a bit after our big lunch. This was our first lake experience in Patagonia and we were so excited! The landscape was breathtaking, mountains in the background and blue, blue water washing over our feet. I couldn’t believe that this place existed. A warning though, because the lakes are created from mountain snows and waters, the water is extremely cold, but it’s still worth sticking your feet in a for bit!
Fun fact: you can drink straight from the lake, so we did! You just need to find a running stream and fill up your bottles, then just wait a few minutes for the particles to settle to the bottom and you can enjoy cold, fresh, delicious water for free instead of 3 bucks a bottle at the market.
The only thing that ruined our experience were the massive horse flies that were swarming the area. So we took our pictures and headed back towards the volcano to trek to the base. However, when we got there we discovered that the trail was infested with the massive horse flies and we gave up on the idea of trekking to the base, also giving up the great photo ops. The trek takes about 2 hours roundtrip and is said to be fairly easy and very, very beautiful. Oh well, that just means we have to come back again!
So we decided to head to our next destination, San Martin de los Andes, which was less than 2 hours from Junin with even more beautiful scenery along the way!
TIP: There is a big supermarket called La Anonima a few kilometers outside of the San Martin and it a good place to stop and restock on supplies
San Martin is an adorable city with a very European feel containing many expensive sports and clothing stores and many artisan stores with Patagonian products, all with wooden storefronts and resembling small ski cabins. It’s truly a cute city and you can tell it is very touristic and expensive during high season. We went to Havanna for delicious, but very overpriced, frappes with alfajors on top.
After our coffee break we decided to head to our campsite, Quila Quina, 14 kms from San Martin. We were very excited because it was supposed to be on the lake but it turns out that it was near the lake and on a stream that connects to the lake. The road to the campsite is unpaved so practice caution when driving because it is downhill. The price was AR$55 per person and AR$10 to park your car (our total = AR$120). The facility was nice but fairly overpriced due to the miscommunication in location. But we had no problems and had a whole row of sites to ourselves so we were happy.
After leaving San Martin we found out that there were many free campsites with great views just outside the city. You can camp right on the lake with no problems. Follow the signs after leaving San Martin, it is past the Quila Quina campsite.
- Left El Chocón @ 7:30AM
- Arrived at Junin de los Andes @ 12PM
- AR$350 = Gas [AR$8.98/L]
- AR$50 = 12 Empanadas
- FREE = Parque Nacional Lanin
- Arrived at San Martin de los Andes @ 6PM
- AR$73 = Market
- AR$62 = Havanna Frappe
- AR$25 = Artesan mustard
- AR$120 = Camping [AR$55/person + AR$10 parking]
- Total = AR$682