Things to do in San Martin de los Andes, Argentina

Bariloche gets all the hype but if you ask anyone who knows, they’ll tell you the truth: San Martin de los Andes is the best city in Northern Patagonia.

As a city it has everything you need with hotels for varying budgets, supermarkets, a variety of restaurants and shops.

It’s big enough to lack nothing but it’s small enough to retain its mountain village charm.

Like Bariloche, it’s home to its own lake and national park but with a more strategic location just north of the 7 Lakes Route.

So, now that you’ve been thoroughly convinced that San Martin is the town for you, let’s dive in to the best things to do there along with logistical tips to help you plan your trip.

A woman sits on a boulder over a lake with a pine tree and mountain in the background

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San Martin de los Andes: How to get There & Get Around

San Martin de los Andes has its own airport – Chapelco (CPC).

If you can’t find a flight there within your time frame or budget, you can fly into Bariloche and drive up to SMdlA from here. In Bariloche you’ll have a lot more flight options and rental cars to choose from.

Keep in mind that they’re not close, it’s a three hour drive from Bariloche to San Martin de los Andes.

But luckily that three hour drive is the scenic Ruta de los 7 Lagos.

My recommendation is that if you go this route, take more time and make it a road trip, spending some a couple of nights in Villa La Angostura first.

Though if you’re tight on time, definitely fly straight into Chapelco.

Play with flight options here and rental car availability here.

Now that you’re here, how do you get around?

When it comes to this region, I always recommend renting a car.

You’ll have a lot more freedom to get around without tours, especially if you plan on exploring the 7 Lakes Route or neighboring villages.

But if you can’t rent a car, you can still get around with remis’ (taxis) and organized excursions.

Tours offer boat excursions across the lake to reach popular sites like Hua-Hum and Quila Quina. If you have a lot of confidence in your lower body strength, you can even bike part of the 7 lakes route on your own or with a guide.

But, forgive the insistence, it’s much easier with your own car, check rental car rates here.

Things to do in San Martin de los Andes, Argentina

Similarly to most areas in Argentina, when I list the best things to do IN San Martin de los Andes, I really mean the best things to do AROUND San Martin de los Andes.

Most of the destinations and excursions listed below are best visited with a car, check rental rates, or book an excursion. I link to tours throughout, as well.

With the national park, the famed Ruta 40’s scenic views, a fabulous ski resort and charming neighboring villages, there is no shortage of things to do AROUND San Martin de los Andes.

Map of the Best Things to Do In San Martin de los Andes

Enjoy the Town

I rarely say that about cities in Argentina, but San Martin truly is beautiful. They have strict ordinances that keep structures low and even control the style of the facades.

Plaza San Martin is the main square. Here you’ll see his monument, the artisan market, and the visitor’s center.

A couple blocks down the road is Plaza Sarmiento, this is where the playground is (hot tip to you parents out there).

From here to the shores of the lake is all reachable on foot with plenty of dining options along the way.

Hikes & Viewpoints

When in the mountains you can always expect hiking to be on the agenda.

San Martin de los Andes is no exception with a number of trails to choose from. Here’s a helpful (yet not comprehensive) list to get started.

For more, check Alltrails or better yet, the visitor’s center as some difficult trails may require prior registration.

  • Mirador Bandurrias & La Islita – This moderate there and back trail takes you to a viewpoint of the town and lake and onwards to La Islita, little island. A beautiful beach along Lago Lacar. The total trail is 8 km and takes 2.5-3 hours. You can cut it short by just hiking to Mirador Bandurrias (about an hour and a half total).
  • Parque Nacional Lanin Trails – I’ll leave Alltrails for reference, but I recommend checking with the visitor’s center in town as well. The official website for the national park is really poor in regards to listing the trails and their requirements.
  • Ascent of Volcan Lanin – This is only for the professionals or those willing to hire a guide (a requirement), the hikes takes two days and you’ll camp on the volcano. This is a trek that requires registration, experience, and preparation. Read more here.
A woman sits on a boulder over a lake with a pine tree and mountain in the background
Playa Yuco was my favorite thing to do in San Martin de los Andes

Playa Yuco

Playa Yuco was my absolute favorite place we visited in the area.

From the parking lot, it’s a short walk down a dirt path to get to the beach. It’s in a bay that feels like a secret (at least during low season), hidden away from the rest of the lake.

We spent a while lounging, reading, and picnicking on a make-shift driftwood table and benches some unknown genius set up.

Right before you reach the beach, a path forks off to the right.

This trail winds along the shoreline. You can reach the large boulders and rocks that jet out over the water from here.

The views are great and change from every angle.

If it’s summer, you can brave the cold water and go for a dip. But beware, the water is cold and deep.

Lago Nonthue & Hua Hum

Continuing west from Playa Yuco, find the Lago Nonthue exit. We missed it but heard it’s beautiful (so many regrets)!

We did, however, stop at Hua Hum. There is a restaurant, beach, and pier here. If you’re counting on eating here, check the hours before going.

While we were there they were only open from 4-6 pm (when a tour was scheduled to dock at the pier).

The beach was beautiful and very different than the scenery at Playa Yuco.

It was grassier and easier to access. If disabilities or an injury makes descending the trail to Playa Yuco impossible, you’ll be more comfortable here.

Itinerary Tip & Tour Alternative | With our rental car, we spent an entire day at Playa Yuco, Hua Hum, and the Chachin Waterfall. If you don’t have a car then book this Lago Lacar boat tour instead. It visits Hua Hum, Cascada, Chachin, and Quila Quina, knocking out four things on this list in one single excursion.

Cascada Chachin

Cascada Chachín

Hua Hum marks the northwestern edge of the route, but we kept driving to loop around to the southern portion of the lake to see the Chachín Waterfall.

There’s a short thirty-minute hike to a viewpoint of the waterfall.

The waterfall was beautiful, but let’s be honest, all of these waterfalls in the mountains look the same after a while.

The beauty of walking through the forest was my favorite part of the hike.

It’s an easy hike, more of a walk through the forest.

The incline on the ascent left me out of the breath a couple times but this is a family-friendly, easy trek (I did it in sandals).

There’s a picnic site at the base of the Cascada Chachín trailhead with clean bathrooms and a small cafe selling snacks, drinks, and hot torta frita (fried dough).

Guided tours like this one arrive by boat (crossing Lago Lacar) and visit Hua Hum, Quila Quina, and Cascada Chachin.

The quiet beach at Quila Quina

Visit the Village & Beach at Quila Quina

Quila Quina is on the southern shore of Lácar Lake.

Access to it is down a 14-kilometer dirt road off the Ruta 40, just outside of San Martin de los Andes at the beginning of the 7 Lakes Route.

If you don’t have a car, this boat tour includes Quila Quina.

Quila Quina Village is home to the indigenous Mapuche Curruhuinca people.

The main road leads to the most popular beach, a small handicrafts market and restaurant with a deck that overlooks the lake.

In summer, it can get crowded here with locals and tourists swimming and sunbathing.

I tried to have lunch at the restaurant to take advantage of their deck’s view. But due to the yellow jackets that swarmed my plate (they even stole chunks of meat!). I had to grab my food and stash it in the car.

While the area around the pier and restaurant is nice, if you stay on this road and drive to the left you’ll find a huge, quieter beach.

I far preferred it, and the hoards that took the ferry from town to Quila Quina congregated near the restaurant. Avoid those crowds by going a little further down the shore (and getting there early before lunch).

Drive the 7 Lakes Route

In San Martin de los Andes you are sitting at the northern end of one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the country.

Argentina’s 7 Lakes Route begins here and ends in Villa la Angostura.

This stretch of the iconic Ruta 40 highway weaves through the the mountains and lakes, offering beautiful vistas along the way.

Most lakes offer only a panoramic viewpoint but some have great beaches, campsites and restaurants to fill your day.

Read my complete guide of the Ruta de los 7 Lagos to plan your day or book this guided tour if you don’t have your own car.

A man holds a large rainbow trout fishing in Bariloche
Fishing is one of the best things to do in San Martin de los Andes

Go Fly Fishing

Fishing season opens at the beginning of November each year and lasts through May.

You can go fly fishing in a number of the rivers and lakes for salmon and trout.

A permit is required to fish here, so don’t go without one. Neuquen is the first province to switch to an online process for acquiring permits, get yours here.

Volcan Lanin in Parque Nacional Lanin

Volcan Lanin & Lago Huechulafquen

For a full day excursion into the national park to the border with Chile, this excursion takes you to Volcan Lanin, the namesake of the park and the symbol of the Neuquen province.

This massive volcano lies on the border of Chile and Argentina and with that unique location it is in two national parks. Argentina’s Parque Nacional Lanin (where you will go on this tour) and Parque Nacional Villarrica in Chile.

The excursion keeps groups small (under 12 people) and takes the whole day.

Along with the volcano you’ll see Huechulafquen Lake and Volcan Lanin, the tour visits Mapuche chapels, allowing you to discover the culture of the Mapuche people.

Book your Volcan Lanin excursion here.

Go White Water Rafting on Rio Chimehuin

Adventure seekers can go white water rafting on class II and class III rapids on the Chimehuin River.

The tour includes allotted time at Lago Huechulafquen (the largest lake inside Lanin National Park).

With that in mind, I wouldn’t do the aforementioned excursion to Volcan Lanin and this one, as they cover a lot of the same ground. Choose the one that fits your interest and the season.

Book your white rafting excursion here.

No prior experience is necessary as the tour provides full instructions.

Due to the nature of the tour groups are kept small, so this is always a great option for those looking to get away from the crowds.

Read Next: The Best Hikes in Argentina

Villa & Lago Meliquina

Villa Meliquina is a 45 minute drive south of San Martin de los Andes, with 14 kilometers of the drive being on a dirt road that is fairly well maintained.

This tiny village (registering only 30 families in the 2010 census) focuses on sustainability. There is no electricity: homes and businesses use wind powered generators and solar panels.

And like many small villages in the area, there is no cell signal (download anything you need in advance) but there is Wi-Fi.

I was blown away by the views as the road began to wind along the shores of Lago Meliquina. The town itself is very, very tiny but you’re not here for the town.

For lunch, go to El Refugio, you’ll see it as you enter town. This mountain hut style restaurant is cozy, with homemade dishes that will warm your bones.

And as a bonus, they brought out a large supply of toys for my kids to play with, which was priceless for this tired mom.

While there, don’t miss the Pozones De Caleufú, a short drive past Villa Meliquina.

Eat Chocolate at Mamusia

I am a self-confessed chocoholic. If you’re like me, you’ll love this region of Argentina.

Bariloche, Villa la Angostura and San Martin de los Andes are all home to some excellent chocolate.

These towns were settled heavily by Europeans and they brought their A-Game with them.

\Along with tea houses and fondue restaurants, you’ll find the country’s best chocolate.

Many of the big-wigs in the Patagonia chocolate industry hail from Bariloche and have even become local chains. Rapa Nui and Mamushka are the heavy hitters with locations even in Buenos Aires.

However, there are two shops that are original to San Martin de los Andes.

Shop local and buy from Mamusia (my favorite) and La Vieja Aldea to try something you won’t find anywhere else.

Read Next | A Guide to the Best Patagonia Wineries

Where to eat in San Martin de los Andes

My favorite dinner in San Martin de los Andes was a nice night out at Ulises. Their specialty is fresh pasta. Martin ordered the deer ravioli. I had pumpkin ravioli topped with almond, parmesan, and olive oil, both were incredible.

For a quick meal or snack, always look for empanadas. Our favorite empanadas in San Martin de los Andes were Nonino thanks to their Patagonian flavors.

Mentioned once but it bears repeating, don’t miss the chocolate and/or ice cream at Mamusia.

If you don’t stay at the Arrayan Hostería de Montaña, then definitely book tea time there. For the tea, the views, and the history. You can’t miss it.

La Tasca serves Spanish food and tapas with cozy ambience. Doña Quela is a good go to with a classic Argentine menu.

For lunch on a beautiful day, hit up one of the restaurants on the front line of the Lago Lacar beach for the best views, Costanera Lácar Cafe or La Nueva Barra are a couple of options here.

Arrayan Hosteria, this is the tea house as seen from the hotel rooms.

Where to Stay in San Martin de los Andes

Here’s a quick list of the best places to stay in San Martin de los Andes:

  • Paihuen Resort | $$$$ | Beautiful cabins in a stunning forest setting outside of town. Great for families. A bit outside of town but if you don’t rent a car they have regular shuttles into town.
  • Arrayan Hostería de Montaña | $$$ | Beautiful lodge with tea house, great for couples, excellent views set apart from downtown
  • Modern Cabin | $$$ | This modern cabin is ideal for families or a group of friends.
  • Rukalhue Hostel | $ | This hostel is the bare bones but popular due to its location 2 blocks from the bus station, easy price point and helpful staff.

We stayed at Arrayan Hostería de Montaña on our first visit as a couple. It was fantastic but going as a family of 4 in the future I’d either rent a cabin like this or splurge on the Paihuen Resort if my budget allowed.

Arrayan Hosteria is small property with just four rooms and epic lake views from the cabin decks.

If you can’t stay there, at least visit the tea house (make a reservation) because the space is really incredible.

Discover San Martin de los Andes

I hope you love San Martin de los Andes as much s we did. Northern Patagonia truly is something special.

If you have any questions at all please let me know in the comments!

Read more about the area:

Argentina Travel Resources

  • TRAVEL INSURANCE | It is always a good idea to travel insured. It protects you in so many cases, like lost luggage and trip cancellations, medical emergencies and evacuations. It’s very affordable with the potential to save you thousands in the case of an emergency. I recommend SafetyWing.
  • PHONE PLAN | These days, traveling with data is essential. Especially in Argentina where everything is managed on Instagram and WhatsApp. I recommend this E-SIM card. It’s hassle-free and affordable, for more read how to get an Argentina sim card.
  • ACCOMMODATION IN ARGENTINA booking.com is the most common hotel site used in Argentina and it’s where you’ll find the most options.
  • RENTAL CARS | I love to travel Argentina via road trip, I’ve always used rentalcars.com, now they are operating under the umbrella of Booking.com’s car rental system.
  • BUS TICKETS | Check Busbud for long distance bus routes and tickets.
  • VPN | If you’ll be using a public WiFi connection and want to secure your data, I highly recommend using a VPN, I personally use and have had a good experience with ExpressVPN. I also use it to access Hulu and American Netflix from Argentina.
  • FLIGHTS | Always check Google Flights and Skyscanner for flights to and within Argentina. Aerolineas Argentina is the local airline with the most routes. FlyBondi and Jetsmart are two budget airlines with dirt-cheap prices (but expect to pay for every add-on like luggage).
  • BOOK A CONSULTATION | I offer one-on-one travel consultations to help you plan your trip to Argentina. Pick my brain to get a local’s insight. Click here for more information.

9 thoughts on “Things to do in San Martin de los Andes, Argentina”

  1. That chocolate was SO good! And I had no idea until just now that sauco is elderberry!! Thanks for that hahah

  2. I LOVED San Martin de los Andes and love this guide equally as much! I unfortunately didn’t have enough time to complete all the awesome activities that you’ve listed, but I know I’ll be back one day. Awesome photos and recommendations!

  3. Thanks! I hope you can make it back someday, it’s such a gorgeous little town

  4. Thanks for the tips! I am loving your blog. You are giving me a hard time choosing my next trip. Can´t decide between a road trip in Salta or relaxing time in San Martin + Bariloche.

    About the prices. What can you say about this region? Is San Martin more expensive then Bariloche? Or are they in the same range? I heard Bariloche is far more expensive than Buenos Aires. Is it true?

  5. What champagne problems! haha I wish I could help you decide, but I love both destinations so much!

    I would say that San Martin & Bariloche are similar in price range. Bariloche may have more variety in lodgings which means more budget options to choose from. On our most recent trip in August to Bariloche, we found the prices to be comparable to Buenos Aires, and sometimes even cheaper. We ate dinner at our 5 star hotel and while the room rates were very high, the restaurant prices were cheaper than a restaurant in Buenos Aires! I think it can depend a lot on the economic situation at the time and I’d say this year you’ll be fine on a budget in Bariloche/San Martin de los Andes. If you’re on a very very tight budget, know that the Northwest (Salta/Jujuy) are significantly cheaper than Patagonia.

  6. Thanks for these tips on San Martin de los Andes! I have a small question and a big question. The small first: How was the Internet speed and was it reliable? We’ve heard it’s faster than Bariloche. Now here’s the big question… would you live there long-term? Pros and cons? We’re living in Buenos Aires now and looking to move our family someplace with nature.

  7. Hi Katie!
    We loved SMdlA and it would be an amazing place to raise a family. I personally wouldn’t live there long term but that is just because I personally couldn’t handle a Patagonia winter, I’m not into snow haha but I know a lot of expats live in Bariloche and that’s just a stone’s throw away.
    I can’t help much regarding the WiFI, it was fine for us at the hotel but we weren’t doing anything besides social media and email. Find the "Expats in Bariloche & Friends" group on facebook, someone there will have more specific help for sure!
    Good luck, I also consider moving with the family somewhere more rural all the time!

  8. There’s an interesting museum in San Martin de los Andes: ‘La Pastera Museo del Che’ (Google it!), based on Che Guevara’s visit there in 1952 (described in some detail in his ‘Motorcycle Diaries’). It’s located at Rudecindo Roca y Sarmiento and is closed on Tuesday.

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