A Tour around Two Patagonian Lakes
We went on a lake excursion on board the modern José Julián Catamaran and visited Lakes Huechulafquen, Epulafquen and a solidified lava river with the best views of the Lanín Volcano. A tour to enjoy with the family, in full contact with nature.
While we were in San Martín de los Andes, we heard about the possibility of going on a lake excursion in the heart of the Lanín National Park, available at all seasons and crossing Lakes Huechulafquen and Epulafquen up to a river of solidified lava known as the Escorial. For such purpose, we had to travel a total distance of 95 km. up to Puerto Canoa and get on board the modern José Julián Catamaran.
The natural environment surrounding the mountain village acquires in summer more intense colors, the sky is cloudless and the wind calmer, which encouraged us to go on the ride. Besides, we had been advised to go on this tour, as we would get an unforgettable panoramic view of the entire Andean Patagonian forest, with the impressive silhouette of the Lanín Volcano in the background.
Where There is a Will, There is a Way
We abandoned the city towards the North along National Route 234. After 42 km., we passed by the District of Junín de los Andes. We continued along the road up to the area where the mountain regiment military area lies and, before crossing the bridge over the Chimehuín River, we turned left into take Provincial Route 61 towards the West. We slowed down because the road is made of rubble in that area, and we traveled 22 more kilometers up to the mouth of Lake Huechulafquen.
By then, we left the steppe or Patagonian desert behind and began to enter the Andean forest itself. An impressive view of the Huechulafquen announced that, as from then on, everything would be reduced to beholding.
The southern side of the Lanín Volcano
A feeling of smallness invaded us
Captivated by the scenery
Silent witnesses to the untouched nature
The protected area we were entering was created in 1937 with the purpose of preserving the forest, the water basins and the local fauna. The majestic waters of the Huechulafquen –“the lake in the end” in the Mapuche tongue– seemed to multiply on the horizon. This is the largest lake in the Province of Neuquén, with 46 km. of length and 4 km. of width and it is over 500 meters deep. According to season, its temperature ranges between 5º and 15º C, and it is of glacial origin. This environment is highly coveted by fly-fishermen for the great sport value of the rainbow and the brown trout that dwell these waters.
We continued marching. We bordered the lake along the winding road as we watched the various tree species in the area. After the final 31 km., we got to the northern shore of the lake, where Puerto Canoa is located and where the modern José Julián Catamaran was awaiting.
We got our tickets ready and asked for permission to get on board. Thus, we met the captain, Raúl Dagnino -the shipowner-, the sailor and the excursion guide.
The catamaran is named after a local dweller who introduced sport fishing in the lake. It is 14.50 m long and can accommodate 60 people. Decorated in fair colors, it has a snack bar and large windows to watch the surrounding attractions in any direction. It has two outdoor decks and the captain cabin may be visited. It is spotlessly clean.
As we found our seats, we comfortably waited for the 145-hp engines to start. An entire adventure was expecting us. Eagerly and expectantly, we watched how the craft would slowly move away from the Puerto Canoa deck towards the South.
Above the lake, we watched Mount Cantala to the right and Mount Los Ángeles to the left. These mountains have an average height of 2,000 meters. Silent and omnipresent, the southern side of the Lanín Volcano (3,376 masl) stood behind us. Its conical shape is the result of the glaciers on its crater. A feeling of smallness invaded us as we stood in front of the impressive massif.
On the catamaran, the movement of the water could hardly be perceived. Various geographic features, such as Chivos Island and the Azul Bay, followed one another before our very eyes. The scenery seemed to fall abruptly on the crystal-clear waters of the lake. On its shores, we could watch the various layers of the forest, made up by lengas, coihues, ñires, notros and raulíes.
The area we were crossing presents the highest amount of rainfall during the entire year. Therefore, the vegetation is exuberant and leafy and turns this into an ideal site for steamer ducks, black-necked swans and kelp gulls to make their nests.
The Escorial: A Lava River
The José Julián Catamaran slowly began to cross the narrowest area, where the Huechulafquen waters mingle with the Epulafquen. This area has an average depth of 1.50 to 2 meters. We stood in the bow and looked at the various shapes on the lake bed in astonishment.
Lake Epulafquen –which in the Mapuche tongue means “two lakes”– is 16 km long and 1.5 km wide. In the Escorial area, it is 180 meters deep.
We were invited to taste a delicious cup of coffee accompanied by regional chocolates. By then, we were more than satisfied to have dared into this experience.
In the distance, we began to see the solidified lava river and that was precisely our next destination. This natural attraction was the result of the Achén Niyeu Volcano eruption, over 500 years ago. The lava stream is over 8 km long and 2 km wide up to the volcano crater. Its dark color is due to the basalt, which is the most common mineral in the area.
The guide told us that the lava temperature was over 1,000º C when it entered the lake. It clashed against the 3º C of the water and covered 2 km. of the lake surface and gained more than 100 meters of depth.
We learnt that, as time went by, the vegetation began to grow on the volcanic soil, where small coihues and cypresses are predominant.
The catamaran got into a natural bay and stopped for a couple of minutes so that we could appreciate the solidified lava with the silhouette of the Achén Niyeu Volcano crater in the background. A moment of beholding was enough to get an idea of the formation of this landscape.
José Julián turned around and started its way back. Captivated by the scenery, we chose to keep quiet. We were silent witnesses to the untouched nature. Once more, the shape of the Lanín took hold of our sight and, keeping it locked safe in our retina, we began to say our goodbyes to this beautiful nook until we could visit it once more.
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Marcelo Sola / Eduardo Epifanio
See more points of interest in San Martín de los Andes