Not nearly as popular or crowded as the nearby tourist town of Bariloche, quiet San Martín de los Andes is a beautiful village where you can relax and take in the spectacular scenery of Lake Lacár. Set right on the edge of the Parque Nacional Lanín, outdoor sports and adventure abound. Visitors have their pick of watersports, hiking, boating, biking, skiing, kayaking, bird-watching, horseback riding, and fishing.
With tons of lakes, trails, and even hot springs and a snow-capped volcano within your reach, you’ll be overwhelmed with ways to enjoy this pristine wilderness. Take in the charming small-town vibe, wander its cafes and artisan shops, and then get to planning your outdoor activities in this peaceful Andean oasis.
Let’s explore the best things to do in San Martín de los Andes:
1. Take a Boat Ride Out On Lago Lacár
This clear blue lake is the focal point of San Martín de los Andes, so after you’ve had your fill of strolling its shoreline, book a cruise from the docks in town to Hua Hum, located across the lake.
You can go by sailboat, guided boat tour, or basic ferry, depending on your style and the stops you want to make along the way.
You could even paddle around in a kayak if you prefer to DIY it.
Some cruises will drop you at the docks at Chachín so you can hike to the waterfall there, while others will stop on beaches you couldn’t visit by car or visit the village of Quila Quina.
The dock at Hua Hum is close to the Chilean border, and you can grab something to eat here and explore the nearby Lake Nonthué before heading back to your boat.
2. Spend the Day at La Islita
Combine a little hiking with a day at the beach by making the trip out to La Islita, a lovely spot that’s popular with young locals.
About three miles (5 kilometers) from the center of town, it’s not a difficult walk provided you’ve packed some mosquito repellant, sunscreen, and a couple of drinks.
You’ll pass through parts of Parque Nacional Lanín, around Lago Lacár, and over Cerro Bandurrias, checking out fern-filled forests and viewpoints of the lake and town below.
Pay a small entrance fee to enter Mapuche territory where you can buy snacks and drinks from locals, and venture to Trompul Beach.
When the weather is nice, the sandy shores here are a great spot for a picnic or camping, and some folks swim the ten meters to the rocky and serene La Islita.
3. Plaza San Martín and the Feria de Artesanos
This little tourist town is a great place to shop for locally made products like Patagonian handicrafts, artwork, and even smoked meats and cheeses.
Browse the outdoor craft market in the central Plaza San Martín which is filled with stands of artisans selling pottery, silver jewelry, mate gourds, knives, leather goods, weavings, and knitted wools.
Be sure to linger as you’ll also find food carts, street performers, and live bands, especially on late summer afternoons.
If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, head to the shops along Avenida San Martín and General Villegas for souvenirs and other regional goodies like chocolate.
4. Drive the Route of the Seven Lakes
One of the area’s biggest and most scenic attractions is the Ruta de los Siete Lagos from San Martín de los Andes to Bariloche (along Rutas 40 and 63). You can drive it yourself or take an all-day bus tour that stops along the way for you to sightsee and take photos.
You’ll see each of the seven lakes – Lácar, Machónico, Escondido, Correntoso, Espejo, Falkner, and Villarino – set amidst the snow-capped Andes before arriving in the touristy town of Bariloche.
There, you’ll be able to stroll the city’s Alpine downtown streets and the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi.
You can easily throw in a trip to the picturesque Villa La Angostura while doing this route as well.
5. Go White Water Rafting
Book a rafting trip for some excitement along the Río Chimehuín.
Drive out through the Patagonian steppe, past Lake Huechulafquen and the Volcano Lanín to reach the river and its class II and III rapids.
Tour companies will provide you with guides, transportation, and all the gear and instruction you need to set off downstream.
During the summer, look out for wildlife along the way like kingfishers, wild boar, and deer.
Relax on a beach afterwards with drinks and sweets provided by the company.
If you like, you can also arrange to raft down the Río Aluminé or Río Hua Hum and cross into Chile on multi-day excursions that can be combined with kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking.
6. Parque Nacional Lanín
Created to preserve and protect this part of the Andean-Patagonian forests, this national park is filled with more than 20 lakes, including Lake Lacár near town and Lake Huechulafquen farther north.
You’ll find mountains, rivers, and the extinct Lanín Volcano – the conical, snowcapped peak bordering Chile.
While some folks take the two-day journey up the volcano, there are relatively easy treks in the park too.
Try the trails to the Malleo River and Tromen Lake or the walk to El Saltillo Falls.
In the summer, you might just want to relax on the shores of Lake Lacár at Quila Quina or Catritre Beach, and there are several free campsites available if you’d like to spend the night.
Other activities within the park include mountain biking, kayaking, birdwatching, horseback riding, and fishing.
7. Cerro Chapelco Ski Resort
One of the draws of this area in the wintertime is the solid skiing and snowboarding that can be done on the nearby mountains.
You can try your hand at a range of winter sports at Cerro Chapelco, an excellent ski resort just 12 miles (19 kilometers) from town.
The slopes are great for all skill levels, plus they offer dog sledding and snowshoeing.
The resort’s amenities are fantastic, with plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and bars to chill inside even if you don’t ski.
In the summer you can visit the resort’s grounds to ride the cable car up to the summit or check out the artisan shops selling smoked meats and chocolates.
8. Go Horseback Riding
Explore the countryside near San Martín de los Andes and Parque Nacional Lanín on horseback with gaucho guides by your side.
Take a half day to visit the Mapuche settlement of Quila Quina and ride through Andean landscapes that feature the Volcano Lanín and Lago Lácar.
You’ll see the traditional homes, livestock, and orchards of the local families who live around here.
Cross streams and ride through lenga forests as you visit valleys that aren’t reachable by car and learn about the landscapes and cultures of this region.
You’ll be paired with a horse that’s suitable for your skills (no experience is necessary) so you can comfortably ride through the Patagonian terrain.
9. Cascada Chachín
Drive or take a boat across the lake to the starting point of this hike that’ll take you to a gorgeous and powerful waterfall.
The hour-long trek through the dense rainforest will lead you to a fantastic viewpoint of the falls.
There are places to sit by the rushing waters but there’s no swimming allowed.
Watch for birds and ancient trees along your walk, and spend some time relaxing and taking photos when you arrive.
It’s great for kids and adults, and there’s a small cafe nearby where you can buy hot drinks and snacks.
10. Go Fly Fishing
This area of Argentina is famed for its fly fishing, so hire a local guide to take you out to the best spots for catching trout.
Venture to rivers like the Limay, Malleo, Chimehuin, and Collón Curá in search of brown and rainbow trout, and learn the best techniques for casting, selecting flies, reading the waters, and landing these fish.
From day trips to multi-day trips with transport, gear, lodging, and meals included, these professional guides and tour companies can tailor fishing journeys to your every request.
Pablo Zaleski gets rave reviews for his trip planning services, fishing knowledge, and results.
11. Explore the Town and Hit the Beaches
Though it’s not as big as the nearby Bariloche, San Martín de los Andes and its lakeside beaches are great for a day of wandering and relaxing.
Have a coffee and medialuna at one of the many streetside cafes and then stroll the charming waterfront area of Lake Lacár.
Then grab your towel and walk or bike to the rocky Catrite Beach or Quila Quina a little further away.
There are watersports and a couple of restaurants available at these beaches if you want to do more than just lounge.
Head back into town to catch late afternoon street performers in Plaza San Martín, and then hit the First Settlers Museum or go taste test chocolates of the town’s artisan shops.
In the evening, have dinner outside at one of the many restaurants with a patio so you can soak in the Andean scenery while dining on regional fare, Argentine steaks, or local trout and salmon.
12. Ziplining and Canopy Tours
Go ziplining along the Chapelco mountain range and through the lenga forests surrounding the town.
The whole family can join in on this activity with the guides at Miramás Canopy.
The half-day tour takes you out to Miramás where you’ll be fitted with helmets, harnesses, and gloves and then shown the proper techniques to help you zip through the trees.
Stepping off the first platform is exciting and adrenaline-packed, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.
The views from high up are incredible, and you’ll get to do seven ziplines, with a little hike through the forest included to reach the last two.
After your canopy tour, hit the bar here for pizza, beers, and a spectacular sunset.
13. Climb Volcano Lanín
If you’re up for this adventurous two-day hike, take on one of the most incredible treks in the area and climb an actual extinct stratovolcano in Lanín National Park.
It’s a demanding mountain hike that requires advanced planning, but if you’re fit and have good weather, you can make it to the rewarding summit.
Make sure you have all of the appropriate gear – crampons, boots, poles, proper winter clothing, etc.
– because the guard station will check it before you begin.
You’ll be in awe of the volcanic rocks and landscapes as well as ancient “Monkey Puzzle” trees on your first day of trekking.
Stay at one of the refugios for the night before attempting the summit on day two for breathtaking views. (If you want to do something easier around here, check out the trails at the base of the volcano.)
14. Visit the Thermal Hot Springs
After you’ve finished hiking, soothe your sore muscles by heading out of town and into the rainforest of Parque Nacional Lanín to the oasis of the Lahuen Co thermal hot springs (also known as the Termas de Epulafquen). Surrounded by lakes and mountains, you can choose from several different thermally heated pools.
These are natural hot springs that were once part of an eco-resort which has now been abandoned, so you can enjoy the tranquility and relaxing qualities of the waters for free.
There are also hot springs located near Lago Queñi where you can hang out at the lake and then hike through forests or take a 4×4 vehicle to soak in the termas and visit a waterfall.
15. Visit the Village and Beach of Quila Quina
A popular hangout spot in the warmer months, this little beach village located in the national park has hiking trails, sandy lakefront shores, campsites, and restaurants.
Arrive by car, bike, or ferry, but either way be sure to check out the settlements of the native Mapuche community on the outskirts of town – you can see their homes and the traditional fences made of sticks.
The town is full of grand houses built in the 1940s as well as markets where handcarved wooden crafts are sold.
Take the walk to the Arroyo Grande waterfall via a well-signposted trail or visit the cave paintings and mineral springs.
Relax on the beach and check out the huge cypresses that line the sheltered cove, or have a coffee at on the terrace of a cafe that overlooks the lake.