Bicycling WOW Rides
ARGENTINA’S LAKE DISTRICT
out of the 16 000km i rode from Oregon, US to Patagonia in 2013 and 2014, my favourite stretch was the 480km from San Martín de los Andes to Esquel, on Argentina’s famous Highway 40. The route through northern Patagonia is almost all paved, with some climbing and long descents, but nothing too strenuous. You start in the northernmost lake town of San Martín de los Andes, which sits on Lago Lácar, and bike from lake to mountain pass to lake. Each town along the way resembles a postcard: Mountains and rocky cliffs tower over aquamarine finger lakes. You’ll find Germaninspired architecture, and log cabins, as well as pubs and hotels and shops selling outdoor gear. The towns are developed, but still feel wild – surrounded by pine forests and green meadows and Andean condors.
When you reach the town of Villa La Angostura about 110km from San Martín de los Andes, you’ll find doughnuts and cream-filled pastries and cozy cafés. Wild camping opportunities abound, or you can stay at a campground right on the shore. One night I slept inches from a glass-still lake, and woke up to find the sun rising over a snow-covered mountain and the wind rippling the clearest water I’d ever seen.
In another 75 or so kays is the city of Bariloche, the brewery capital of Patagonia (15 microbreweries and counting). With a population of more than 100 000, it’s the largest town on the lakes. On its outskirts, where civilisation ends at the foot of the Andes, you can visit the Llao Llao Hotel, located on the edge of a peninsula on Lago Nahuel Huapi. Its red roof and sprawling wings and hundreds of rooms reminded me of The Shining.
From Bariloche, the road winds through valleys where horses greet you from behind fences as you approach El Bolsón. The town sits at the base of a massive mountain, Cerro Piltriquitron: a wall of sharp stones, like spears, stacked tight together. Continue south and you’ll hit Esquel, the final stop on the Old Patagonia Express route. You won’t be the only rider on the road, as Highway 40 has become popular with adventure seekers; but I can promise you it won’t be crowded, and you’ll be warmly received in each town by the locals – a mix of retired city folks, farm workers, indigenous people, and expats. Difficulty 6
jedidiah jenkins is the founder and the executive editor of wilderness magazine.