LOS ALERCES NATIONAL PARK
Los Alerces is one of the most attractive tourist centers of Central Patagonia as its spectacular natural beauty alternates virgin woods with lakes, falls and rapids, mountain ranges and majestic glaciers, which is northhwest of Chubut, the city of Esquel being the main entrance point, located about 300 kilometres south of Bariloche, a part of the Andean region and bordering Chile. It covers an extension of 263000 hectares.
It is called Los Alerces ("the larches") because it has the most densely populated larch wood in the country. It was created in 1937 with the aim of protecting this tree, one of the largest and longest-living in the world, since it had become an endangered species due to overexploitation at the beginning of the century.
The larch or lahuán (Fitzroya cupressoides) is a 30 meter high tree, on average, however, some of them can reach 50 meters height. In some cases, the trunk is 3 to 4 meters in diameter. Trees that are 2,000 to 3,000 years old show the prehistoric origin of the forest.
Even when its larches characterize the Park, there are some species that are more abundant than the larch itself. For example: cinnamon, mountain range cypress, coihues, mañiúes, mutisias with orange flowers, chilcos with red flowers, virreinas with purplish flowers and liutos with yellow flowers.
As regards the native fauna of the Park, there are pumas, "comadrejitas enanas" (small weasels), gray foxes, pudúes, huemules (a variety of deer), ratones-topos, and among the birds, hualas, grebes, black-crowned night-herons, peuquitos, patos espejo, chimango caracaras, Magellanic woodpeckers, Chilean flickers and Austral thrushes.
There is also an interesting collection of native fish, such as the Patagonian pejerrey, the puyén, the peladilla and the Creole trout, and other foreign species, such as some salmonids and trouts.
You get to Los Alerces National Park along Route Nº259 (or 258) and Nº 71 (partially paved). The average temperature in summer is 20ºCelsius and the season extends from November 15 to April 15; average temperature in winter time, -2ºCelsius. Altitude: 520 meters above sea level. It snows from May to September.
LAKES AT LOS ALERCES
There is a beautiful and complex system of lakes at the Park where many rivers and streams flow and have their source. The clear lakes are surrounded by mountain ranges covered with thick woods of coihues, cypresses and lengas, and inhabited by a varied fauna.
One of the most beautiful lakes in the area is Lake Futalaufquen, with silver-blue waters, reaching Lake Verde through the fast-flowing Arrayanes river. From this spot you can follow a short path that takes you to Menéndez lake, with bluish green waters.
At the point where the three branches of Menéndez lake meet, the tourist can admire Torrecillas icefield, a glacial block 2,200 meters high. The landscape is completed with some more lakes, mountains, some of which are over 2,000 meters high, and falls and torrents that come down from the heights.
On the other hand, due to the construction of the Futaleufú hydroelectric power station, the lakes Quiñé, Epú, Culá and Situación lakes merged into a single lake called Amutuy Quimey,.
From Puerto Limonao you board for the start of the most attractive excursion in the region, sailing across the waters of Futalaufquen lake, Arrayanes river, Menéndez and Verde lakes.
When Arrayanes river is very low, and it is not possible for the boat to leave Puerto Limonao, the excursion is done by land to the Arrayanes river, taking the motorboat at Puerto Chucao on Menéndez lake.
On the right side of Futalaufquen lake there are hostels, bungalows, cottages, camping grounds and small stores for tourists.
At the "Centro de Interpretación" (Interpretation Center) in Villa Futalaufquen, you can get a briefing on the natural history of the Park as well as the information needed to enjoy your tour along the different "interpretation trails": cave painting, native flora, Mt. Alto El Dedal, Los Pumas, Cinco Saltos, Tío Mindo fall and others.
The following are some of the trails:
Cinco Saltos Trail: The ascent takes two hours and a half and you depart from Puerto Limonao to get to the vantage point of Los Pumas stream waterfalls. It is an intermediate difficulty ascent.
Mt Alto El Dedal Trail: The ascent takes five to six hours. You depart from Puerto Bustillo and arrive at a vantage point located at the top of the hill, from which you can admire part of Futalaufquen lake, Situación range and Desaguadero river valley. High, difficulty ascent.
Trail to Kruger lake: A twelve-hour walk that starts at Puerto Limonao and ends at Kruger lake, where camping is allowed. Intermediate-low difficulty ascent.
Trail to the Cascada stream: This is a trail starting at Villa Futalaufquen and going along the eastern slopes of Situación range. There are several lookout points and the trip takes four to five hours, ending at Villa Futalaufquen. Intermediate-low difficulty ascent.
Trail to Escondida Lagoon: this ascent takes four hours, starting at Arrayanes river and ending in Escondida Lagoon. Intermediate difficulty ascent.
Trail to Mt Alto el Petiso: this ascent takes six to seven hours. It starts at Puerto Mermoud, on the shore of Lake Verde and ends at the top of the hill. A high, difficulty ascent.
The prehistoric colonization of this region is represented at the Park by the remains from two settlements by hunter-collector groups. They are on the banks of Desaguadero river: The "Alero del Shamán" and the "Sendero de Interpretación". They are 2,200 and 1,500 years old respectively.
The areas most frequently used for these paintings were the cave overhangs, with the main motifs being concentric circles, cruciform designs, squares, rectangles, mazes, and stylized human figures.
The visitor can appreciate this evidence of cultural activity at the "Sendero de Interpretación", which has been expressly created for this purpose.