ROAD TRIPS

North Patagonia & South Mendoza

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LENGTH
10 days
SEASON
October to March
START
San Martin de los Andes
END
San Martin de los Andes

ITINERARY

The tours start and end in San Martín de los Andes, please ask for other options.

DAY 1. SAN MARTÍN DE LOS ANDES - VILLA PEHUENIA

We leave San Martín de los Andes towards Junín de los Andes and from there to the Malleo River. After crossing it we take a dirt road going up to 1.100 m and then down to Aluminé River. There we will detour to Pilolil, a Mapuche native community surrounded by impressive basaltic rock formations. On the highest part there are cave paintings that can be visited upon request. Then we continue to Aluminé where we will stop for lunch. In the afternoon we will go west to visit Ruca Choroy Lake and then follow the amazing Aluminé River to Villa Pehuenia.

Ashy-headed Geese on Alumine River
Ashy-headed Geese on Alumine River

DAY 2. PEHUENIA LOOP

We leave Villa Pehuenia to Batea Mahuida Peak, on an area managed by the native Mapuche community Puel. We will reach with the vehicle a lake over and old glacial cirque. From there we can walk up for 45 minutes to the top of the peak, with amazing views over the Aluminé and Moquehue Lakes and the volcanoes on the Chilean side. After this we will start our tour around the “Pehuenia Circuit”, across dense Araucaria forests by lakes Aluminé, Moquehue, Nompehuen, Ñorquinco and Pulmarí. Along the way we will enjoy great views of the Impodi peak and basaltic rock cliffs over the road, topped by Araucaria trees. Following the course of Aluminé River we will close the circuit and return back to Villa Pehuenia. Distance: 150 km, pavement and gravel road.

Batea Mahuida
Batea Mahuida

The Pehuenia Loop, goes through a dense Monkey-puzzle Trees (Araucaria araucana) forest, by lakes Aluminé, Moquehue, Nompehuen, Ñorquinco and Pulmarí. Along the way we will enjoy great views of the Impodi peak and basaltic rock cliffs over the road, topped by Araucaria trees.

DAY 3. VILLA PEHUENIA – CHOS MALAL

From Villa Pehuenia we will take route23 to Picho Hachado, following the course of Litrán River, always surrounded by Araucaria forest. Then we continue to Caviahue, a mountain village over Agrio Lake and at the foot of Copahue volcano. There we will take a short hike to several waterfalls on the Agrio River. Then we will go with the vehicle to Copauhe, on the volcano base, where there is a thermal resort. After Copahue we continue to the spectacular Agrio Fall, on a wide canyon made of lava flows from the volcanic activity. The orange and green colours of the river bed are just amazing. After this we will continue to Chos Malal, the first capital of Neuquén province, where we will spend the night.

DAY 4. LAGUNA EL TROMEN

In the morning we will set forth to El Tromen Natural Protected Area, 40 km northwest of Chos Malal. The Tromen massif displays a typically volcanic landscape, with Tromen volcano (4,114 m, one of the highest mountains in Patagonia) dominating the whole area. Tromen lagoon and Los Barros wetlands are catalogued as “Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas” by BirdLife International, as both are a nesting site for waterfowls like black-necked swan, Chilean flamingo, coscoroba swan, white-tufted grebe, silvery grebe, upland goose, Andean ruddy duck, southern wigeon, red shoveler, South American stilt and Andean gull. The lagoon is also a migratory stopover of birds that nest in the north hemisphere and spend the winter (southern summer) in South America, such us Baird’s sandpiper, greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs and Wilson’s phalarope. El Tromen was declared in 2006 a “Ramsar site” by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an international treaty for the cooperation on conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Laguna Tromen
Laguna Tromen

DAY 5. DOMUYO AREA

We leave Huinganco by route 43 to cover 95 km on a gravel road to the north, following Cordillera del Viento. After Las Ovejas we will continue to Atreuco Canyon, an impressive gorge carved by the water before entering the Domuyo Natural Protected Area. Then we will stop in Aguas Calientes, on the foot of Domuyo Peak, 4,709 m and the highest mountain in Patagonia. The volcano displays impressive glaciers, contrasting with vapor vents and geothermal creeks at 40º C. We will walk by several thermal springs where we will have the chance to take a relaxing bath on natural pools. After this, we will take our back to Huinganco, where we will spend the night.

Domuyo Peak displays impressive glaciers, contrasting with vapor vents and geothermal creeks at 40º C

DAY 6. LAGUNAS EPU LAUQUEN

From Huinganco we will drive 70 km west to Epu Lauquen Lagoons Protected Area, on a privilege hideout of the Andes made by a glacial circus surrounded by U-shaped valleys. The reserve protects the northernmost area of Andean-Patagonian forest, with a unique stronghold of roble pellín, as well as lengas, ñires, colihue cane, radal, mutisia and the scarce roseate amancay. Epu Lauquen is another Important Bird & Biodiversity Area, with presence of white-throated caracara, mountain caracara, Andean condor, Chilean pigeon and spectacled duck. Moreover the site is the only in Argentina where the chesnut- throated huet-huet (Pteroptochos castaneus) is listed. On the Nahueve River the torrent duck can also be found. We will reach the first two lagoons with the vehicle and then we can continue on foot to the Chaquira fall and the Black lagoon, near the Chilean border. After the visit we go back to Chos Malal to spend the night.

Torrent Duck
Torrent Duck

DAY 7. CHOS MALAL – MALARGÜE

From Chos Malal we take Route 40 again to the north. After crossing Barrancas River we enter Mendoza province and continue to Las Brujas Cave. There, provided with headlamps and helmets we will take a 2-hour guided visit to enjoy the different rooms and galleries of the cave, full of stalactites, stalagmites and flower-shaped crystals. After the visit we will continue to Malargüe, where we will spend the night.

DAY 8. LA PAYUNIA

We leave early in the morning to La Payunia, 130 km from Malargüe, the site with the highest concentration of volcanoes on Earth. There we will find a strange desert landscape, where the strength of the volcanoes flooded large territories with huge mantles of lava, producing basaltic formations that make up a lunar landscape. The most prominent volcanoes are Payún Matru (3,680 m and an 8 km wide crater) and Payún Liso (3,715 m). We will also go through the bed of lava of Santa Maria volcano and the Black Pampas, two places of stunning landscapes. In La Payunia We will have the chance to see some of the Patagonian steppe fauna, such us guanacos, rheas, armadillos and mountain viscachas. After the visit we will go back to Malargüe.

There we will find a strange desert landscape, where the strength of the volcanoes flooded large territories with huge mantles of lava, producing basaltic formations that make up a lunar landscape.
La Payunia
La Payunia

DAY 9. LLANCANELO LAGOON

Beside La Payunia there is a huge lagoon, Llancanelo, where up to 175 bird species have been listed. The most representative and charismatic is the Chilean Flamingo, with an estimated resident population of 50.000 individuals and an average of 10.000 breeding pairs. Both the Andean Flamingo and the Puna Flamingo have been listed too, together with Black-necked Swans, Coscoroba Swans and 15 species of ducks. The lagoon is also used as a stopover for shorebirds on their migrations through the Americas. The water level has significant seasonal variations, so on dry years, it can even dry up completely. The lagoon is an Important Bird Area (IBA) and a Ramsar site. We will spend the full day at the lagoons and its surroundings, a splendid area for birdwatching and nature photography. Night in Malargüe.

DAY 10. MALARGÜE – SAN MARTÍN DE LOS ANDES

We go back by Route 40 to San Martín de los Andes, where we will end our tour.

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