When the going gets weird, the weird get going. Or something like that.
At any rate, after a few days in Bariloche, Ayaz and I realized that this town felt more than a little bit off to both of us. Don’t get me entirely wrong: it’s in a gorgeous setting, there’s loads to do in the vicinity, and the chocolate is totally la bomba, but there was just a strange vibe in the air. It was not a vibe I was keen to explore.
With 2 weeks to spend in Argentina’s Lake District, we had hoped to see more than just Bariloche and the surrounding area, and decided to book a weekend getaway to San Martin de Los Andes. A getaway from our getaway, as it were.
The mountain village of San Martin lies nestled among the Andes, on the coast of a wildly scenic lake just 4 hours north (by bus) from Bariloche. Where Bariloche’s sprawling architecture is a twisted mix of concrete, graffiti and a splash of retro-Alpine, San Martin’s landscape remains blissfully devoted to charming chalet-style homes, oodles of wood, brick and stone, and most buildings no higher than 2 stories. Oh, and there’s roses … SO MANY roses … and they’re the size of my FACE!
Though Bariloche has mountain views, they are in the distance, and mostly brown with scrub brush. And while the town’s waterfront location is appealing, the beach right in town is rocky and less than inviting.
It’s little surprise then that arriving in San Martin felt like a massive relief. I began to breathe easier as soon as I stepped off the bus, into sunlight twinkling on impossibly blue water, pale sandy shores and an absurd amount of Alpine village cuteness.
Thanks to a backdrop of rising mountains colored emerald with evergreen trees, and an inviting, sandy beachfront, San Martin is irresistible. Granted it’s a tiny town, and can be explored super fast, but it’s so damn cute you’ll want to take your time doing so.
After checking into our semi-creeptastic hotel, Hosteria Las Lengas (link not included here because frankly, I was just not impressed), we set off on a hike that led from the beach up into the mountains flanking the town, to reach the “Mirador,” or lookout.
After considering whether it was possible to burst a lung while hiking uphill (hey, despite my time trekking out West last summer, I’ve eaten a LOT of meat in Argentina this past month), we arrived at the mountaintop, and were greeted with staggering views of Lago Lácar, the shimmering lake below.
After snapping photos and gasping a bunch (in awe, not physical weariness), we hiked back down to the beach, where families relaxed in the sand, children splashed at the lake’s edge, lifeguards sat in chairs looking bored and sexy, and everyone seemed to be sipping their ever-present cups of mate.
In 2 short days in San Martin, we managed to also eat a LOT of food, though much of it was mediocre. Still, I’ve gotta give props to Corazon Contento, a cafe with a bustling to-go business that serves up piping hot, delicious empanadas — the caprese ones are a basil-filled must-eat. The other fab food experience came in the form of an appetizer at El Regional Cerveceria, a funky brew-pub. We made the mistake to only visit here for a snack, but were served an absolutely divine plate of venison carpaccio that was so tender it could be cut with a fork. Marinated in lemon and oil, the venison was topped with fresh shredded, salty parmesan, capers and crisp arugula.
We also hopped aboard the hour-and-a-half RedBus tour of the town. Which, to be fair, is a long time to tour — in a vehicle — a town that’s only slightly larger than a suburban neighborhood. Still, if your Spanish is good (there’s no translator on board the bus), or the weather is rainy (as it was the day I went), it’s a good way to while away a bit of time.
And with that little jaunt, our time in the Lake District is wrapping up. Next stop? Iguazu Falls, baby!