Last updated: October 31, 2021
Argentina is built for road trips.
The distances are long and the landscapes breathtaking with no shortage of scenic drives, like the Quebrada de las Conchas in the north.
The Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Argentina (in northern Patagonia) is one of these iconic routes.
It joins the two mountain towns of Villa la Angostura (bordering Bariloche) and San Martín de los Andes.
This post is a comprehensive guide to exploring Argentina’s 7 Lakes Route including the itinerary we followed, tour options, and logistical tips.
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The Ultimate Guide Guide to Argentina’s Ruta de 7 Lagos
This region of Northern Patagonia is much different than what you may imagine when you think of Patagonia.
The largest towns in Patagonia’s Lake District, all on the start/finish lines of this scenic route are: Bariloche, Villa La Angostura, and San Martin de los Andes.
Bariloche is the largest city of the three with the most daily flights. Villa La Angostura is particularly charming, just 80 kilometers north.
On the northern end of the route is San Martin de los Andes and a local favorite (truly, ask any Argentine and they will rave about SMdlA). It is smaller and with a national park of its own, gorgeous and overflowing with activities.
Use any of these three towns as your base, or move your way through the region on an epic road trip. You can’t go wrong.
How Long Does it Take?
Just 110 kilometers of paved highway wind through this district from San Martin de los Andes to Villa La Angostura.
If you were going to drive straight through it would take you around an hour, but why would you ever?
With photo and snack stops budget for a minimum of 2 and a half hours, and I mean bare minimum.
We took a few long detours, had a relaxed lunch, and even a couple rest stops with chocolate at beautiful lakes. It took us the entire day. We tend to move slow and ooh and ahh along the way.
We were staying in San Martin de los Andes so we did our drive from there to Villa La Angostura. You don’t need to continue on to Bariloche as you have excellent views of the final lake (Nahuel Huapi) at the entrance to VLA.
But, are you staying in Bariloche? Being the largest city in the region, it’s very, very common to do the 7 Lakes Route drive from Bariloche. It’s only a marginally longer drive. In fact, if you’re wanting a guided tour, you’ll have more options leaving from Bariloche, like this one.
Round Trip or One Way? We did the route round trip, driving to VLA and enjoy plenty of stops along the way. On the way back we drove straight through. The drive back was quick and easy and we enjoying seeing the views from both directions (it felt like a new drive!).
If you’re on a road trip, though, it would be easier to use this drive as your travel day from one city to the next.
Truth: There are more than 7 Lakes on the 7 Lakes Route
While there is an official list of 7 lakes that you can tick off as you see them, there are far more to explore.
In fact, the unofficial lakes we visited were my favorites on the entire 7 Lakes Route.
Here’s a breakdown of lakes, official and beautiful add-ons.
Official 7 Lakes, Argentina:
The “official” list of the lakes that make up the Ruta de los Siete Lagos differs depending on the source.
This is the list I saw the most and it’s the one I’ll use in this post as the official seven lakes.
They are listed here from north to south, starting in San Martin de los Andes and ending in Villa la Angostura.
- Lago Machónico
- Lago Falkner
- Lago Villarino
- Lago Escondido
- Lago Espejo
- Lago Correntoso
- Lago Nahuel Huapi
There are even more lakes than this, but these are the ones we visited and that are mentioned in this post.
These four lakes are also coincidentally my favorites!
- Lago Lácar
- Lago Hermoso
- Lago Traful
- Lago Espejo Chico
Tips For A Successful 7 Lakes Route Day Trip
Argentina’s Seven Lakes Route is on the famous Ruta 40 highway.
This highway runs the entire length of the country from north to south.
This short section is paved and in excellent condition.
The roads leading to other lakes (like Lago Traful and Lago Hermoso) are dirt roads but are in good condition as well.
You can rent a car and drive yourself, bike the route and camp along the way, or even go on guided tours. Whether you bike or drive, there are free camp sites along the way you can take advantage of.
Self-Drive the 7 Lakes Route
We rented a car for our time in San Martin de los Andes and I highly recommend it.
I highly recommend renting a car, even if just for this day trip. We found the most beautiful spots to be slightly off the beaten path or unexpected, and being able to stop when we wanted was priceless.
While car rentals in Patagonia are far from cheap, having the freedom to move is worth every penny.
This stretch of Ruta 40 is paved and very easy to drive.
All photo ops are marked on the highway, usually 500 meters before so you can’t miss them. I also marked them on my Google Map embedded in this article.
You can rent your car in any of the cities near the 7 lakes: Bariloche, Villa la Angostura, or San Martin de los Andes.
There is no need to rent a large truck or 4×4. We had no issues with the tiniest and cheapest rental car category.
I recommend reserving your car well in advance, especially for December through February (peak summer season). They will sell out in high season but may very well run out of cars in shoulder season as well.
Ruta 7 Lagos Guided Tours
If you’d really prefer not drive, there are guided tours that will take you along the entire Camino de los Siete Lagos route.
Here are the two highest-rated tours departing from each end of the route:
- Departing from Bariloche: Full-day trip with photo stops and time for lunch and exploring in San Martin de los Andes
- Departing from San Martin de los Andes: Full-day trip with photo stops and time for lunch in Villa La Angostura
Map of the Ruta de los Siete Lagos
Below is a map of all of the lakes we stopped at, 11 in total.
The other pin points mark the viewpoints but don’t stress too much about missing them.
They are very well marked on the road. You’ll see them all!
North to South: Our Seven Lakes Route Itinerary
We had based ourselves in San Martin de los Andes, which lies at the northern end of the Seven Lakes Route.
So we drove this route from north to south.
We drove to Villa la Angostura and back, with long stops at a few of the lakes and a lunch break in Villa Traful.
We had a leisurely start to our day, leaving at 10 am and got back to San Martin de los Andes just in time for sunset at 7 pm.
If you have time constraints, it can be done in a lot less time if you don’t detour off the main highway.
Take our itinerary with a grain of salt because there are countless scenic stops. Surely you’ll discover your own
Read Next: A Complete Guide to San Martin de los Andes
1. Lago Lácar & San Martin de los Andes
Lago Lácar isn’t an official lake, but its beauty and accessibility should qualify it for the unofficial 8th lake.
San Martin de los Andes is built right on the lake, so you can access the beach and pier right from downtown.
There is a parking lot behind the park that borders the beach.
These first few kilometers of the 7 lakes road have great views of the lake and San Martin below.
The photo spots aren’t marked or set up as official view points, but the shoulder is wider at a few points making it safe to pull over.
As you drive towards Lago Machónico, you’ll pass the Mirador Pil Pil and Arroyo Partido viewpoints.
Like all the official viewpoints and photo stops, they are well marked 500 meters beforehand, giving you time to slow down.
2. lago Machónico
Before reaching the first official lake of the drive, Lago Machónico, you’ll pass the small Laguna Fria.
The road then curves to the left before revealing a panoramic view of Lago Machónico.
There’s only a viewpoint here, looking down at the lake below.
After stopping to stretch your legs and take in the view, continue south to Lago Hermoso.
3. Lago Hermoso
All of my favorite lakes, like Lago Hermoso, weren’t part of the official seven.
They all required a short detour off the main highway, which meant more space and less people.
The turn off to Lago Hermoso (coming from the north) is on the right, by the El Viejo Almacen restaurant. It’s only 2 kilometers so there’s no excuse not to make the effort.
There is another restaurant overlooking the beach that had killer views. It was closed when we were there.
I’m not sure if it was due to low season or because we were there too early in the day.
There are campgrounds and a shop for handicrafts sold by the indigenous Mapuche people.
4. Lago Falkner
Back on the main road, head south to Lago Falkner. This was my favorite lake of the official 7 that line the main highway.
The road borders Lago Falkner at water level just meters from the beach.
There was a food truck and artisan beer stand right next to the water here.
Both were closed, I suspect it’s only open in peak summer months (December to the beginning of March), but we were also there pretty early in the day.
There are toilets and changing rooms here as well. Further down from the facilities is a huge beach, right next to the shoulder of the highway.
5. Lago Villarino
The next lake, Lago Villarino, neighbors Lago Falkner.
The road passes right between the two, leading you up to the main viewpoint that looks down on the lake from above.
However, there’s a dirt road that leads to the Villarino Campgrounds right on the beach.
It’s easily missed so keep an eye for it on your left just as you leave Lago Falkner.
6. Lago Escondido
Lago Escondido is exactly as the name indicates, hidden.
There’s a viewpoint right next to the lake, but you can only see glimpses of it between the trees (above).
Despite this, I still thought it was beautiful with its teal green water.
7. Lago Traful
This was the biggest detour of our day. The turn off to the town of Villa Traful (above) and the lake of the same name is just before Lago Correntoso.
Provincial Road 65 is a dirt road through the forest and it’s a 26 kilometer drive. The road was in good condition but we did have to drive pretty slow.
In total we spent a few hours in Villa Traful, having lunch and relaxing on the beach.
This was, without a doubt, my favorite part of the day. Lago Traful is gorgeous and the tiny town was sleepy in all the right ways.
There were a lot of adorable cabins, campgrounds, and restaurants along the water.
If you have the time, consider spending a night or two here. I definitely want to on future trips.
While in Villa Traful, you cannot miss the Mirador del Viento.
It’s a few kilometers past the town, perched on a cliff looking down on the immensity of Lago Traful below.
It’s aptly named as the Windy Viewpoint so hold on to your hat as you step up to the edge of the boardwalk.
The photos above are from the viewpoint (on the left) and of the viewpoint from below (on the right).
After you’ve had your fill of Lago Traful, wind your way back down RN26 to the pavement of Ruta 40.
Pavement you never knew you loved so much until you spent 30 kilometers bouncing around on the dirt road to Villa Traful.
8. Lago Correntoso
Shortly after the turn off to Villa Traful, the highway bends sharply to the right. Just after this bend there’s a turn off to a campground on the shore of Lago Correntoso.
If you’re looking for a picnic spot, this is an excellent choice. Otherwise, keep driving to the two panoramic viewpoints further down.
9. Lago Espejo Chico
Another unofficial lake and of course, another favorite of mine. You’ll see the exit for Lago Espejo Chico just after the first mirador/view point for Lago Correntoso.
The drive is short, bordering the Ruca Malen River.
The river here is just as beautiful as the lake, if not more so.
People were laying on the shoreline and even fly fishing (note: do not fish here without a permit).
You can’t miss the beach at Espejo Chico as the road leads you straight to it. There are facilities here include a restaurant and campgrounds.
We sat on the beach for a while, listening to the water wash up against the rocks. I loved Espejo Chico, don’t miss it!
10. Lago Espejo Grande
Right after you pull back onto the highway from Espejo Chico, you’ll see another viewpoint for Lago Correntoso.
From there, the road continues south, passing the small Lago Bailey Willis to the right before reaching Lago Espejo Grande. There’s a viewpoint looking down on the lake from above.
11. Lago Nahuel Huapi & Villa la Angostura
Shortly after Espejo Grande, the large Lago Nahuel Huapi comes into view, marking the end of the Seven Lakes Route.
There’s one last panoramic viewpoint right as you’re entering Villa la Angostura. It’s worth stopping, even if you’re tired of all these stops.
Nahuel Huapi is enormous and the largest lake in the region.
Congratulations, you’ve conquered the Ruta de los 7 Lagos!
If time allows, relax with a coffee or drink in Villa la Angostura before continuing on with your day, you deserve it.
From here we turned back to drive home to our hotel in San Martin de los Andes. If you’re also driving the seven lakes road “there and back” as we did, don’t worry about being bored on the return journey.
The drive was very quick without all of the stops. The best part was seeing everything from a new angle. It honestly felt like a completely different drive.
Bonus: Sunset Over Lago Lácar
We pulled off the road before reaching San Martin de los Andes to watch the sun dip behind the mountains.
The town itself is tucked away behind a hill in a way that puts it in darkness well before sunset.
To get the best sunset view, stop a few kilometers outside of town. The shoulder widens here and it’s safe.
Plenty of people had the same idea, but we were the only ones drinking wine instead of mate.
I’ll take wine over that much caffeine at night any day (but maybe that’s how Argentines are awake for such late dinners?).
Cheers to an excellent day on the Ruta de los 7 Lagos.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Best Time to Visit the 7 Lakes Route
Spring through Fall are the best months to drive this route (and anywhere in Patagonia for that matter).
Summer is high season with January in particular being the busiest month. Locals take their holidays in January and crowds will be at their most hectic and prices at their highest. If traveling in summer reserve your accommodation and rental car as far in advance as possible.
Winter can be tough with snow and ice making driving conditions more hazardous (especially if you grew up in Texas like me). Ski season is from July through September, read more about winter in Bariloche.
Wondering what is the best time of day to drive the 7 lagos? If driving from the north leave early in the morning to have the sun at your back. If driving from Bariloche or Villa La Angostura, leave later in the day to avoid the sun being directly in your eyes.
Where to Stay on the 7 Lakes Route
In San Martin de los Andes we stayed at Arrayan Hostería de Montaña y Casa de Té. It’s a 5 minute drive out of the city center so it’s more comfortable with a car but so, so worth it.
The view of Lago Lacar was wonderful to wake up to each morning! The breakfast is in a tower with that same view and a cozy fireplace. The on-site tea house is worth visiting even if you don’t stay here.