Our journey cycling Argentina's lakes began at Esquel, in the north western area of Argentinian Patagonia. We went through the beautiful Los Alceres national park, up the Rio Azul valley to the tourist magnet that is El Bolson and then north into Nahuel Huapi National Park and it's capital, Bariloche.
Our ride descriptions give an account of the ride that we completed. As part of the description we also provide links to Wikiloc or Google maps and elevation profiles based on mapping data available through the internet. The ride profiles are smoothed to give what in our opinion is a more beneficial view of the profile. We use paper maps, GPS and on line data to plan and conduct our rides. We are happy for you to use our descriptions, but be aware that we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided as situations surrounding any ride change over time.
Cycling Argentina's Lakes - Day 1
From Esquel's airport into Esquel town a distance of about 22km and nice tarmac downhill all the way.
After an overnight stay in Buenos Airies we caught an internal flight from George Newbury airport to Esquel with Argentine Airlines. This is a budget airline, but they have 8 club class seats at the front of the plane. You can take part in an online auction to upgrade if there are any unsold club seats. These seats also have a larger baggage allowance. So we bid the amount that we would have paid for our excess baggage plus a little more and got upgraded! All it meant in reality was a bigger seat at the front of the plane. There were no special meals and no alcohol served on flights.
Because we were upgraded, our luggage arrived first on the carousel. Assembling the bikes and organising the panniers took over two hours, by which time the tiny airport was deserted.
All of the packing materials were carefully collected and put onto Karen's back rack for the 20km ride down to Esquel. At the Post Office it was then crammed into a box and posted to the accommodation at our final destination, El Calafate, ready for the return flight.
Esquel airport is built on a high plateau, so the ride to town was mostly down hill. This was on the famous route 40 with surprisingly little traffic. To reach Esquel we turned west onto route 259.
Our pre-booked accommodation, Hotel Tierra Mapuche was not easy to find and approached by an uphill, un-surfaced road. Not easy on weak, wobbly, first day legs, but the rooms were comfortable and it was away from the noise of the main road.
Cycling Argentina's Lakes - Day 2
Took us 44km from the town of Esquel. It began on tramac with a goodly 200m climb, and ended on "ripio" through the national park.
After breakfast we rode back into the town center to stock up with food and buy petrol for the stove. Once these were purchased it was time for a coffee and cake fix before setting off.
Riding south out of the town there was a gentle downhill, which was a
good start and before long we stopped to swap information with
another cyclist heading north.
Next came the first climb with the loaded bikes, 300m of easy smooth hairpins. Stopping at the top to admire the view we met an Argentinian family on holiday from Buenos Aires, who took photos for us.
There was more downhill into the Los Alceres National Park and a small shock at having to pay £15 each for the pleasure of riding through it. An even bigger shock was that this was where the smooth tarmac stopped and the 'ripio' (gravel) road started, rough loose and very dusty.
The road follows the eastern shore of Lake Futalaufquen which was packed with weekend campers in big four-wheel drive vehicles. We found a campsite with a shop selling bottles of wine and had a swim in the lake before supper
Cycling Argentina's Lakes - Day 3
From Lake Futalaufquen to Lake Rivadavia, a distance of some 39km,all ripio It had a couple of short but cruel climbs, only 140m and 170mbut on very rough, loose surfaces.
Saturday nights are never peaceful on Argentinian campsites and everyone partied till gone 1am. Packing the gear after the first night of camping always takes a long time so we didn't set off until 10am.The gravel road began a steep climb over the ridge between two lakes. Rough, loose and narrow, it wasn't long before we were off the bikes and pushing. The views of the mountains with their snow filled valleys and thick green forests inspired us. Swarms of vicious saw-flies and mosquitoes ensured we didn't go too slowly!
Lunch was a two day old pizza we had carried from Esquel, eaten in a shady forest glade, followed by more rough but less steep ripio. By 2.30pm we were at the campsite, but had to wait until the day visitors left at 6pm to pitch the tent. With the site generator on one side and a partying group of campers on the other, the noise cancelling earphones were truly tested.
Cycling Argentina's Lakes - Day 4
Saw us leave the lovely Lake Rivadavia for 34 km of more, gruelling ripio and an equally challenging climb of 150 meters. the last part of the ride, about 3km, was on tarmac before we arrived in the town of Cholila.
It was very cold in the valley until the sun rose above the top of the mountains, so we ate breakfast in our down jackets. Packing was quicker today and the road was much the same as yesterday with loosegrit, ups and downs then a long flat wash-boarded section into the small, fairly uninspiring town of Cholila.
About 3km from town the road reverted to smooth, easy to ride tarmac. It was a struggle to find the hostel we had pre-booked as it was marked in the wrong position on the Google map (now corrected). Eventually we found the Hostel Piuke Mapu and settled into a very comfortable dedicated lodge with its own kitchen and bathroom. In the evening we watched horse riders galloping along the field at the side of the hostel.
Cycling Argentina's Lakes - Day 5
79km of easy tarmac road and just a gradual climb of about 180 meters. Not really very challenging.
Steve asked the hostel owner if the road to El Bolson was as rough as the one through the national park. He must have misunderstood because he assured us it was. In fact it was smooth slick tarmac all the way. It was such a delight to make fast, easy progress that we went further than we had planned.
After 30km we re-joined Route 40, It has a reputation for fast traffic and unforgiving drivers
but we had no problems on this section. Having reached our planned
overnight stop by lunchtime, we carried on up the Rio Azul valley to El Bolson.
As it was a weekend, this tourist hot-spot was heaving with visitors, mostly teenagers. Tourist information directed us to a 'quieter' campsite away from the more popular riverside ones, but once again there was little interest in sleeping from the rest of the campers. This place was the noisiest campsite we have ever stayed on; multiple parties, shouting, singing, cars moving around, scavenging birds screeching and dogs barking all night.
Cycling Argentina's Lakes - Day 7
Continuing on tarmac, climbing over 500m, then dropping 150m before climbing again to a peak of 870m. Ending with a great down hill to Rio Villegas.
It was two bad tempered, sleep deprived cyclists that set off the next morning continuing north on route 40 up a slow steady 500m climb along the Rio Las Repellos valley. After 12km there was a small roadside restaurant where we had coffee and toast and chatted in our rudimentary Spanish with the owners which put us in a better mood.
It got hot while we climbed and there was little shade. We sought respite from the hot sun under one of the few roadside trees to eat our packed lunch, but didn't realise how many vicious sharp grass seeds would embed themselves in our socks and shoes which we spent the rest of the day trying to remove.
After lunch it was was mostly downhill to the small village of Rio Villegas, where we missed the turning for the village and climbed a couple of kilometers up the next hill before realising our mistake and turning back.
The campsite here was the complete opposite of last night, on the banks of a beautiful river, well away from any houses and we were the only campers. There was even a little general store up the road that sold beer! Steve spent the evening fishing but didn't get a single bite.
Cycling Argentina's Lakes - Day 6
A 17km climb to just over 1000m. Not far short of 500m climb on smooth tarmac, followed by another 30km of downhill and flat, with a bit of uppy downy.
At 7.30 am the temperature in the valley was still below freezing so we stayed in bed for another half hour to give the sun time to rise over the mountain. As we loaded the bikes with the gear Steve found horrible strings of a mucous substance hanging on his handlebars.
What was missing on this road was any habitation or shops, with only one small kiosk at a petrol station. The road skirted Lake Guillelmo and Lake Mascardi but still nowhere with food. Our supplies were running low so we needed a campsite for the night with either a cafe or a shop.
Still following route 40 we started a
slow steady climb which kept us busy all morning, gradual and gentle. This took us into the Nahuel Huapi National Park surrounding the lake of the same name, which is the largest in the Argentine Lake district. There was a lot of traffic but only the buses caused any angst, with
their fast, close overtaking.
At the north end of Lake Mascardi was a signpost to a campsite which promised a shop, so we cycled 4 km along a dirt road to get to it. There was no shop so we had to make do with one of our emergency dehydrated meals, but the site was peaceful, overlooking the turquoise lake and surrounded by ancient forest and towering mountains. On the down-side the bathroom facilities were **** in both senses of the word.
Cycling Argentina's Lakes - Day 8
An easy day on tarmac of only 26km with a steady modest climb of about 130m before dropping down to Bariloche.
Breakfast was a meager bowl of porridge and a mug of tea, not even hearty enough to fuel us for the 4km dirt road ride back to tarmac.
Once there we cycled the gently rolling road to the outskirts of Bariloche. The city suburbs are industrial and ugly but slowly improved as the road dropped towards Lake Nahuel Huapi, with hotels, shops and plenty of tourists. Just opposite the cathedral was a much needed cafe where we managed to offset all the deprivations of the previous 24 hours with a calorie loaded lunch.
We had pre booked 3 nights at the Hotel Kilton but arrived a day earlier than expected so checked in for one night at the Hotel Flamingo for rest and re-fueling.
There was a shopping list of 'essentials' to buy as this city is full of outdoor shops; a bike bottle for Karen, sandals and swimmers for Steve. Our shopping was fueled by the many ice cream, chocolate and craft beer outlets that lined the main road. There is also an impressive cathedral and just a few of the original wooden houses of the old settlement.
Cycling Argentina's Lakes - Day9
Still on tarmac we only had a modest climb of some 150m, but into a cruel head wind. At 66km rather than press on to Vila La Angostura, we dediced to stay put and camp by the side of Lake.
Patagonia is famous for its winds, and boy was there a blast blowing from the north today. The waters of the lake were folded into foam crested waves as we headed out of the city along the lake shore.
For the first 28km kilometers the road headed south so the wind was behind, but as we gradually turned west it became a testing side blast for the next 10km, eventually hitting full in our faces on the east shore. The noise of the wind was so intense that it was difficult to think, let alone ride.
A slow ascent felt more like a 33% hill, and the few down-hills still needed pedal power to move forwards.. This lake is enormous and is surrounded by beautiful ancient forests but the whole day was spent head down, concentrating on the bike computer slowly ticking off the kilometers to the campsite and shelter from the wind.
Cycling Argentina's Lakes - Day 10
An easy ride, on tarmac all day, stopping off in Villa de Angostura before a gentle ride to our camp site just short of the Argentine Border Control.
We woke to stillness, the wind had dropped and the dawn was beautiful. By 9.00h we were on the road and gradually thawing as the sun rose. In contrast to yesterday, the lake was like a mirror, reflecting the mountains and the many small, anchored boats.
The big town today was Villa de Angostura, packed with tourists. We had lunch there at a cafe with a couple of cyclist who were cycling from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, our journey pales into insignificance in comparison!
It was a strange place, lots of scruffy caravans pitched along the lake shore, most with big petrol generators which gave it a fairground feel when they were all switched on as it got dark.
After wishing them luck we continued a few kilometers further north, where we turned onto the 231 which would take us to the border and Chile. The busy traffic was left behind as the road climbed through tall pine forests. Then came the downhill, back to the north shore of Lake Nahual Huappi and the last campsite before the Argentina Chile border.
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