One of the best detours we’ve ever taken was in Northwest Patagonia. Instead of choosing the highway, we opted for one of Argentina’s most scenic drives, the Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes Road), for the trip from San Martín de los Andes to Bariloche.
The snows had melted, splashing down mountains and disappearing into the turquoise lakes below. Purple spikes of lupine and the bright yellow petals of invasive-yet-beautiful Scotch Broom line the 110-kilometer route as it meanders through two national parks and past its namesake lakes. Miradors (viewpoints) provide opportunities to stop and admire the scenery, but it’s even more fun to pull off on a random road and explore. We discover a dilapidated trestle bridge, its submerged limbs visible in the clear river waters. We skip stones across a deserted lake, our laughter small against the wall of mountains. At a lakeside campground, we spread out a picnic lunch and toast the glorious spring day with locally made Malbec.
The route makes a last, slow curve around Lake Nahuel Huapi before depositing us in San Carlos de Bariloche. Known as the “Switzerland of the South,” Bariloche is a charming alpine-style town in the shadow of the snow-capped Andes mountain range. There are shops selling decadent chocolates at nearly every corner. And, while parillas offer thick slabs of grass-fed beef, lamb, pork and spicy chorizo, it’s only part of the story. The area’s clear lakes and cool rivers offer up delicious brown, rainbow and brook trout.
We book an afternoon fishing trip to enjoy the beauty of the lake from a different perspective. With a surface area of more than 200 square miles, Nahuel Huapi is the largest and deepest clear water lake in Argentina’s lake district. Victor Katz, a fishing guide in the summer and ski instructor in winter, is our amiable host. We speed along in search of the best fishing spots, the sun bouncing off the tops of the waves. Gulls coast overhead and shriek. On the rocky shoreline, kids splash and fish, waving as we race past.
We get our first bite, and reel it in. It’s a small brown trout. “I didn’t think we had fish that small in the lake,” Victor jokes as he tosses it back in the water. Shortly after, there’s a strong tug on one of the lines. It’s another brown, feisty and flashing in the clear water. Victor scoops it up in the net, impressed. We pull in our lines and head to a small restaurant on the lake where the chef will prepare our catch for dinner.
An hour or so later, we’re sitting at a picnic table on the beach as the fish is grilled simply over a wood fire and Victor entertains us with funny stories. Our al fresco feast includes local vegetables, cold beer, Argentina’s herby chimichurri sauce…plus more laughter among friends. We dig in as the sun sets over the lake, thankful for the detour that brought us to this magical place and time.