San Martin de los Andes City Travel Tips, Attractions & More
A little over 1000 miles southwest of Buenos Aires is the quiet mountain retreat of San Martin de los Andes, a picturesque town nestled in a valley at the foot of Andes next to Lago Lácar impeccably preserved to maintain its small-town charm. It used to be a safe refuge for the Puelches, an indigenous tribe that raised horses. Today it has blossomed into a serenely beautiful little town frequented by those who are drawn to the mountains; this town may be small but it has more than its share of great restaurants, Alpine-style accommodations, and shops that sell local artisanal products.
San Martin de los Andes is the perfect destination for those who love outdoor activities but prefer a more peaceful, more quiet setting; but with its stunning views and its lovely atmosphere, it’s also the perfect place for those who just want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life and are looking for some healing or relaxation.
City Logistics – Getting Around San Martin
The town is served by the Aviador Carlos Campos Airport, an airport 14 miles away and serviced by flights from Buenos Aires. From there, you can get a taxi to town, which will cost about $22 or on a transfer service for about $18 a person. You can also rent a car from one of the several car rental places (Avis, Mich Rent-A-Car) there, which will be convenient for you if you’re planning on exploring the sights and attractions outside of town.
San Martin can also be accessed by bus from the Argentine capital via Bariloche and from the neighboring Chile or by car through the Siete Lagos route, the Paso Cordoba route or the Huahum International pass if you’re coming in from Chile.
Once there, you can explore by foot as long as you’re staying in the town. To see the outside attractions, you’re going to need a car – there are rent-a-car places in the downtown area (Hertz, El Sol Rent-A-Car, Nieves Rent-A-Car), take the public buses, or rent bikes for less than $10 a day from places like HG Rodados Mountain biking, Andes Bikes, and Mountain Snow Shop.
San Martin is an excellent winter and summer destination, especially if you’re into adventure sports or outdoor activities, so these are the best seasons to visit the area.
Weather and Backpack Essentials for San Martin
Because the town is protected by the Andes, it doesn’t get too cold nor too hot there. It’s got a nice cool climate coming in from the lake.
In the summertime, it’s sunny but with temperatures from the high 30s (°F) to 70°F, so bring anything light sweaters and thicker wool jackets to be safe. The lake might prove too cold to swim in for most people but the beaches are nice to have a picnic in or sunbathe. If you’re interested in doing that on an especially warm day, bring your swimwear and sunscreen with you.
In the winter, the temperatures are usually between low 20s to 50°F, so make sure you’re prepared with a thick jacket or a coat, a warm beanie, gloves, and scarves. Bring your ski apparel with you if you’re planning on hitting the slopes. The area is very prone to heavy storms during this time too so consider bringing protection against the rain and snow.
Where to Stay in San Martin?
One of the best things about San Martin is its charming architecture. Most of the hostels and hotels here are built with stone and wood and are nicely decorated on the inside, making you feel right at home.
Le Village, La Cheminee, Las Golondrinas Apart Hotel, Hosteria Las Lucarnas,Antares Patagonia Suites & Eventos, and Hotel Caupolican are the best and most luxurious hotels in the area if you’re willing to splurge but they will set you back $100 or more a night!
There are a good number of best value hotels and hostels as well, including Hotel Rosa de los Viajes, Hosteria Hueney Ruca, Apart Hotel Rose Garden, and Hostel Ladera Norte. These offer rooms for $45 or more a night.
For cheap hostels that offer beds for less than $20, Rukalhue Hostel, El Andaluz, Alta Vista Hostel, and Hostel Rosales are the most recommended of the bunch.
For more accommodation options, check out the extensive list on the InterPatagonia website.
Top Things to Do
There are plenty things to do in San Martin. Around town, the top things to do are exploring the local shops, strolling down to the lake, enjoying its charming architecture, touring the town on the Red Bus (for $12 per person), or checking out the Museo Primeros Pobladores Regional, where they have display or archaeological artifacts from the area.
Outside of town is where the adventure really begins. San Martin is a quiet hub for nature and outdoor sports lovers and it delivers quite well on this regard. The area around town is perfect for outdoor activities like biking, skiing, bird-watching, boating, trekking, hiking, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, sightseeing, and even golfing. Here are the best places to go for these activities:
- The spectacular Parque Nacional Lanín, which is the third largest national park in Argentina, has everything from blue lakes (35 of them), local wildlife, Mapuche communities, green forests, and even an extinct volcano. It is truly impressive and guaranteed you will lose yourself in its beauty. It draws most of the tourist population in San Martin and is a definite must-stop during your visit.
- The main outdoor activity in the area is skiing and the best slopes for that is in Cerro Chapelco, a famous and excellent ski resort 12 miles from the town center. Not only does it have terrains for all skill levels, it also has fantastic amenities. And besides skiing and snowboarding, it also offers dog sledding opportunities. The best part? It’s not as crowded as many popular ski resorts in Patagonia.
- Bird enthusiasts visit San Martin to bird-watch and there are plenty of places that offer bird-watching tours for tourists, including Aves Patagonia.
- The blue waters of Lago Lácar is also worth exploring by boat or by kayak. Companies like Naviera Lácar & Nonthué, Tiempo Tours, Lanin Turismo, Paralelo 40 Expediciones, and Pucará offer boat tours as well as raft and kayak rentals. Some of these tours will take you to the border at Hua Hum where you can spend a day exploring. Naviera also offers 40-minute ferry rides to the lovely beaches of Quila Quina and the Chachin Waterfalls.
- Lago Lácar is also popular for diving. Check out its beauty underwater with a little help from Buceo de los Andes.
- If fishing is your thing, San Martin has something for you as well. You can either go out on your own with help from the local fishing guide that you can pick up at Oficina Guardafauna or you can join a fishing expedition with local fishing experts Jorge Trucco and Alberto Cordero.
- Go on a mountaineering expedition of the beautiful Patagonia with Lanin Expedition, an outfitter that will guide you through the landscape around the national park. They have different itineraries that you can choose from and they offer lessons for non-experts.
- As an easier alternative, explore the land with local gauchos (Argentine cowboys) on horseback at Estancia Chapelco. For as low as $60, you can live like a real gaucho for 2 hours.
- Even golfers accommodated here. The Chapelco Golf and Resort is only a few miles away from the town center and it claims to be the best golf course in the country. Or you can head up to El Desafio Mountain Resort for a golfing experience up in the mountains.
- Go on a hike at Mirador Bandurrias where you will be rewarded with fantastic sweeping view of the lake and the Patagonian landscape. From there, if you keep walking, you will get to La Islita and Playa Bonita, a nice beach, only 1-hour walk from the city.
- If you want to spend a day to just relax and soothe your aches and pains, there are a few great thermal springs options in the area: Inside the Lanin National Park are the thermal hot springs. Another great place is in Lago Queñi, which is a,2-hour drive (4wd needed) from Chachin Waterfalls.
- Beach lovers will enjoy the rocky beach of Playa Catrite. It’s pretty close to the town so you can walk or bike there. At the end of your short journey is a restaurant with a deck so you can have lunch while enjoying a nice view of the landscape.
- Downtown, you will see local tour companies that offer guided excursions of places like Quila Quina (around $14), Chapelco and Arrayán (around $18), and Volcán Lanín and Lago Huechulafquén (around $45). It’s worth it to at least check out their packages.
San Martin is heavy on locally and regionally made products – handcrafted art and commodities as well as gastronomic goodies like cheeses, chocolates, and smoked meats. Take advantage of your visit there by not only sampling the locals’ fine specialties but also shopping for Patagonian arts and crafts to take home with you as souvenirs or to bring home to friends and family. The best places to check out for these are: the open afternoon craft market in the Center Plaza, the shops on Avenida San Martin and General Villegas, like Ahumadero El Ciervo (chocolates and other food specialties), Mamusia, Cooperativa De Artesano, and La Oveja Negra, Artesanias Neuquinas (for weavings and woodcrafts), El Carpincho Gaucho Regalia, and last but not least, Patalibro (for Patagonian books and park trail maps).
Foodies – Where to Eat and Drink
You can find Italian, Japanese, Mexican, and American as well as Argentine cuisine in San Martin and the town has a good collection of great restaurants. Rest assured that after a day of exploring and being active, you will find a nice hearty meal to top your amazing day off. Some of the highly recommended restaurants in town are Torino Bar & Bistro, which serve excellent pizza and salads, El Regional Cerveceria y Restaurant, which serve traditional Argentine cuisine, El Meson de la Patagonia, where they serve amazing fresh seafood dishes, Corazon Contento, where they serve great tortas and empanadas, and Nobuko Restoran & Sushi Bar, which serves Asian fusion dishes.
For coffee, tea, and desserts, Unser Traum, Abuela Goye, and the Arrayán Tea House are the top favorites!
*Close to Arrayan Tea House there is the Mirador Arrayan with an interesting and beautiful viewpoint.
As with most cities and towns in the area, everything here is romantic because of the naturally picturesque Patagonian landscape so whether you are boating in LagoLácar, horseback riding across the land, or simply having an intimate Argentine dinner, guaranteed you will have an amazing time with your partner.
Nightlife and Special Events
The Dublin South Pub on San Martin Avenue not only has a nice cozy interior and an outdoor patio, it also has an extensive selection of microbrews and great cocktails.
Bird watching is a huge deal in San Martin. So comes to no surprise that an event for birdwatchers is held here every year. The town hosts the annual South American Birdwatching Fair every November, when bird aficionados from all over the world gather for an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals as well as share their common interest. Suppliers of bird watching equipment and books also come and there are several workshops being offered for enthusiasts of all skill levels.
Best Day Trips Outside the City
For a day trip outside San Martin, none will top a slow and scenic drive on Ruta de los Sieta Lagos (the Seven Lakes road) to the famous tourist city of Bariloche. This road not only offers stunning views of the beautiful landscapes in the area, but including sights of the Seven Lakes – Espejo, Correntoso, Escondido, Villarino, Falkner, Machonico, and Lácar, it’ll also take you Villa La Angostura and through the Los Arrayanes National Park. This drive will give you a chance to really see the gorgeous Patagonian scenery and breathe some fresh air up in the mountains without breaking the bank.
Unlike many tourist destinations, the beauty and draw of San Martin is not in its energy or impressive towering architecture. It’s a simple quiet town that has tried its best to retain its charming, small-town vibe despite its persistent progress due to tourism. Its appeal is in its undeniably beautiful and majestic landscapes that entice outdoor sports enthusiasts and travellers alike, in its fresh mountain air and serene atmosphere, and in the countless outdoor adventures it offers. It’s quite simply, as it has always been, a peaceful refuge in the Andes.
If you have insider’s tips on San Martin de los Andes, we’d love to hear from you!