SAN MARTIN DE LOS ANDES
San Martín de los Andes is on the borderline between two completely different worlds:
The Andean-Patagonian Cordillera (on the west), a chain of snowy peaks interrupted by great lakes with heavily forested mountain slopes changing color from season to season; and the Patagonian Steppe (on the east) an arid and inhospitable area swept by strong winds that tells its well-kept secrets to the attentive visitor.
San Martín de los Andes is located in the broad valley that was once formed by the action of glaciers and rivers. The mighty glaciers that blanketed the area some 18,000 years ago originated in the high mountains and, advancing as rivers of ice (along previously existing valleys), scooped out the basins that today contain the melt-water lakes.
In some cases, the glacier's strength diminished in proportion to the distance it traveled, leading to the formation of successively shallower "terraces". Such was the power of one of the glaciers that it carved out lake Lácar, almost 300 meters in depth.
Patagonia always offers the possibility of active volcanoes. These volcanoes stand out from the surrounding Cordillera due to their height, which can reach 4,000 m above sea level, compared with the average height of this section, around 2,000 meters above sea level Blanketed with eternal snow, they dominate their surroundings and are visible from a great distance.
Such is the case of Lanín volcano, that gives its name to the surrounding National Park. The Achen Niyeu volcano can be seen from the lake Curruhué circuit. Its activity some 400 years ago produced the lava flows that still prevent the surrounding forests from growing back on the devastated area.
Lanin is one of the biggest (3,776 m) and nearest volcanoes in this area. It is a clearly visible landmark from many of the surrounding spots, such as Mt Chapelco or the access routes to San Martín de los Andes. This is a "dormant" volcano, meaning that it is not extinct and some day may resume its activity.
The great volcanic activity in this area caused the formation of thermal groundwater, bodies of water that are heated and pressurized when in contact with magma, emerging subsequently at ground level.
Those who enjoy walking can visit the Termas de Queñi, that remain in their pristine state due to being only accessible to pedestrian traffic. There they may bathe in a clear stream fed by a thermal spring spouting from a crack in a mossy rock covered by lush vegetation and ferns. On the road to Paso Carirriñe may be found the Termas de Epulafquen or Termas de Lahuen Co, a cluster of sixteen wells and springs that can be enjoyed in their natural state or with the aid of the rudimentary facilities that will serve as the basis for the modern spa complex planned for this spot.
From the summit of Lanín and from the other major peaks in the area, other volcanoes can be clearly seen at a distance, such as the active Villarrica volcano (in Chile), and the dormant Tronador (in the neighboring Nahuel Huapi National Park), Puntiagudo, Puyehue, etc. There are also a great number of small volcanoes that are not so clearly distinguishable from the surrounding mountains. Different ascent routes can be taken on Lanín volcano, always subject to the rules issued by the Park authorities.
Then of course we have the Patagonian Forest, a narrow band of wooded vegetation following the eastern slope of the Southern Andes for 2,200 kilometers. It starts in northern Neuquén, and snakes down to the tip of the continent, reappearing in Tierra del Fuego and Isla de los Estados.
This formation, being part of the sub-Antarctic flora is characterized by temperate to cold forests that densely cover the mountain slopes and some of the valleys. Thanks to its great range of climate, relief and soil, it forms an ideal habitat for almost all the Andean forestry species, ranging from pure araucaria (monkey-puzzle) forests to a mixture including lenga ñire, raulí, roble pellín (one of the oak family) and coihue, and in some cases even including cypress forests.
This variety of climates leads also to a great variety of fauna, enabling bird lovers to indulge in their favorite pastime. Fishing and hunting enthusiasts can also feel at home in the many game preserves in the area.