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Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

California
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Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

We will be in Argentina in February 2012 and as part of the trip, we would like to see some of the Lake District - but we don't want to go through to Chile on this trip.

What is the best way to see some of the lakes and interesting sights near Bariloche? Are there day tours or overnight tours? Do we need a car? We do not speak Spanish very well. Also, is there a hotel or lodging that you might recommend to stay at, if we do not need a car to do the touring. I read that some hotels are convenient and some are out of town and have no local transport to get other places from their locations.

Thanks for all your help!!!!!!!!!!

Lunenburg, Canada
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1. Re: Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

Hi CA!

The best of the Argentine Lake Country is found around Bariloche! You can’t miss the sparkling views across Lake Nahuel Huapi to the mountains behind when you look out from the numerous hotels along the lakeshore. There are dozens, stretching from the city itself westward along the highway toward the famous Llao Llao resort. The vistas continue when you drive along the north shore of the lake around to Villa La Angostura.

The Argentine Lake Country is quite different from Chile. Chile is west of the Andes, and picks up the rain-bearing winds off the Pacific. It’s greener than Ireland, but even in high summer sunny days aren’t all that common. We didn’t get to the see the summit of Mount Osorno until our fourth visit, and I’ve read guide book authors who never have seen.

The Argentine side is arid. Instead of dense forests and frequent rain, you’ll see grasses and sagebrush scenery. We find it pleasing, perhaps because Nova Scotia where I come from has nothing like this.

You could see this region without a vehicle, but we rented a car so as to get to some of the sights outside the city. If you’re otherwise comfortable driving, you should know that traffic is very light in the rural country outside Bariloche.

A word about the down sides of car rental apart from the cost, which may be a little higher that you’re used to in the United States, and the fact that automatic transmission cars are less common, except in the luxury models:

Although some roads are well paved, a lot of the lake country has dirt roads or no roads at all. Mountains like Tronador are best visited in a tour vehicle.

If you’re hoping to visit Chile after all, be mindful that it’s not a simple procedure to cross in your own rental car, although we did it. You need special insurance valid in Chile, and letters of permission to go across. And you usually have to pay for these.

To help, I’m going to copy a few articles I’ve written for other travelers interested in renting a car at Bariloche. I've edited them for you, and I apologize in advance to those who may already have read them.

David

capetien10@gmail.com

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2. Re: Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

We love the scenic beauty around Bariloche and the great lake, Nahuel Huapi. You can see it by rental car (as we did) by boat tour over the lake or by taking tours up some of the nearby mountains.

You could visit Puerto Montt, Chile, if you wanted to (and even better, the island of Chiloe) but it's almost 200 miles (300 km) to Puerto Montt. We don't think the scenery at Puerto Montt is as nice as Bariloche, mainly because the chances of wet, dreary weather are much greater on the Chilean side. If you drive, you must also make special border-crossing arrangements with the car rental company and possibly find yourself in a long line at the border.

If you drive, here are a few of the things you may want to see:

- Downtown Bariloche, compact and charming, with its steep hills, chocolate shops and souvenirs. Parking is easy.

- Famous Llao Llao resort 15 miles west of Bariloche along the lake. It's location is stellar. We didn't overnight there (couldn't afford it) but we did drive the circuit. One way follows the lake and the other goes up over the mountains.

- Mount Tronador and some other mountains. Better to take a tour vehicle than your own rental car up to Tronador, but it's worth the views.

- Villa la Angostura. A charming, quaint but small, town at the opposite end of the lake from Bariloche, along the highway to Argentina. If you go to Chile, overnight in Villa la Angostura so you'll be positioned to go across the border in the morning, before the traffic builds at customs.

- Route 40 a couple driving hours north and south from Bariloche features fine foothills scenery. We think north is the better, following the Rio Negro valley, but south along Lakes Gutierrez and Mascardi toward Esquel is nice too.

We loved the 35 mile drive from downtown Bariloche, down the Limay River north to Confluencia. The river valley is scenic, both the water below and the rock formations along the way. You can walk across the pedestrian swing bridge to Villa Llanquin. Confluencia is where the Traful River joins the Limay. Stop for lunch at La Gruta de las Virgenes restaurant, atop the Confluencia bluff looking down to the river below and the mountains on the other side.

By the way, Bariloche, Esquel and Villa la Angostura between them must have over a hundred hotels, most of them moderately priced. Although summer and winter are the busy seasons, we had no trouble finding moderately when we visited in February..

David

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3. Re: Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

An asker wondered about driving Route 40 from Bariloche to Mendoza.

We drove this route in February, 2010. It's easily drivable and very scenic.

Except in Bariloche and the Mendoza urban region, expect very little traffic, perhaps a car a minute, There are also very few filling stations! We found ourselves getting uncomfortably low on gas driving between Bariloche and Zapala, in west-central Neuquen province. For peace of mind's sake, don't drive past a filling station if your gas gauge shows below 3/4 full, unless you're confident that you have more than enough fuel to reach Bariloche or Mendoza.

Route 40 is well paved over most, but not all of its length. There remain two major unpaved sections [in February 2010 -- does any writer have an update?], in southern Mendoza province: a 30 mile (49 km) stretch running northward from the Mendoza-Neuquen provincial boundary, and another 14 mile (22 km) part between Manqui-Malal and Bardas Blancas.

(Actually, there are other unpaved stretches on Route 40, but you can take paved alternatives around them. For example, about 60 miles south of Mendoza, there is a dirt section south of Pareditas to Cañada Amarilla, about 70 miles of dirt road on what officially is Route 40. You could avoid it by taking the paved road eastward to San Rafael, 113 miles long but at least well-paved.)

You don't need a 4-wheel drive to do Route 40, even the dirt road sections.

[Buenos Aires has finally announced plans to pave all of Route 40, a legendary and highly scenic tourist attraction. I don't have information more current than February 2010. It's possible that by now, or soon (or perhaps never) this stunning road will be completely paved.]

You'll see stunning Andean scenery all the way, including rushing rivers, some with dams, sagebrush country, and mountain peaks in the distance. We had to slam on our brakes for guanaco along the way, running across the highway. Fortunately, visibility is never a problem.

By the way, the scenery gets even better south from Bariloche, as the road gets closer in to the Andes. And starting from Esquel, 180 miles south of Bariloche, Route 25 runs across the continent to Trelew on the Atlantic coast, some of the most remarkable highway scenery in Argentina.

David

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4. Re: Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

If you’re visiting from overseas and planning your first driving trip in Argentina, here’s some idea of what to expect.

Roads in Argentina are good. Not as good as in Chile and southern Brazil, but still paved, with very few serious potholes.

Considering its size, Argentina possesses relatively few freeways, four-lane divided highways. There’s nothing like Chile’s Pan-American Highway Route 5 or the Dutra Expressway between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, but you still should have no difficulty maintaining 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) on two-lane straight stretches in rural areas. In densely populated metro Buenos Aires, a network of freeways does radiate out of the capital.

The speed limit in most rural areas is 70 mph (110 km/h). The majority of drivers observe it or drive perhaps a few miles over, much as in North America. Police speed law enforcement is sporadic, however, so do not be surprised to find a few who try to go much faster.

Road signs are all in Spanish, naturally. Many are internationally-recognized pictograms. For others, the meaning is obvious. The word “Pare” may not immediately jump out at you sitting at your desk at home, but put it inside a red octagon and you’ll get the idea.

Argentine driving is challenging. You must possess the ability to drive defensively, to anticipate what the other guy may do and always be prepared to take evasive action. And you’ll find that this means more than simply what the cops at home are always on about, as a sort of buzz-phrase. You’ll absolutely need this driving skill.

Here’s a list of some of the driving issues you’ll face in Argentina:

1) In all built-up areas, including Bariloche, there are no traffic control signals at any but the main intersections. No lights, stop signs or yield signs at most corners.

How do you know who is supposed to go? At some, the big road is expected to have priority, although it’s not always obvious which road is bigger, nor is this rule universal. At others, the car to your right has the right of way, at least in principle. In practice, the car that gets there first keeps going, and if the other guy sees you hesitate, he’ll probably go too. It often happens that the most aggressive or the stupidest motorist goes first.

We found all this easier in the doing than in the writing. Approach every urban intersection fully prepared to stop. If I got there first, and the other car was driving in a way that it appeared he could safely and easily yield to me, I’d go. Sometimes, when I yielded, the fellow behind let me know with his horn that he thought it should have been my turn.

2) Argentine motorists are the most aggressive in the world. Although kind and hospitable when you take their keys away from them, they relentlessly claw their way to the head of the line on the road.

Argentines love to tailgate. And not just impatient types and young bobos, but even middle aged drivers with passengers on board. They seem to lack any conception of how dangerous this behavior is.

We frequently picked up tailgaters. When you do, don’t freak out. Do not speed up to shake the guy. Don’t tap your brakes or slow abruptly – he won’t understand what you’re trying to say and you may cause an accident.

Almost all Argentine tailgaters are telling you that they’d like to pass. (This differs from the “baby-elephant” often found on North American roads, the driver who is only comfortable when following close behind someone else.) In fact, this is the way Argentines ready themselves for overtaking.

First, open up a huge gap between you and the car in front. In case emergency braking should be required, try to leave yourself the maximum reaction time. As soon as there’s sufficient visibility,ease toward the right while staying on the pavement, take your foot off the gas, signal right, and watch what happens. Be sure you’ve left yourself a clear path so that you retain a free trajectory on the pavement in case a swarm of others behind decides to pass too. Be careful of obstructions like bridge abutments ahead – chances are, the passing cars won’t show any gratitude in case you need to get back in. Don’t pull onto the gravel shoulder unless you’re stopping. You don't want to lose control of your steering.

Why would we ever dare drive in such conditions? Because if I’m behind the wheel, I can drive defensively and take evasive action, rather than being a passenger in some death-defying maneuver. I’ve read the story of tourists who died then the chauffeur of their vehicle tail-gated a truck carrying large rocks. One of the rocks fell off when the truck hit a bump, landing on their vehicle. I vow that this accident will never happen to me.

3) Argentine roads are not in bad shape, but some could use a bit of work. There are numerous stretches when the big trucks have depressed serious ruts into the asphalt. They aren’t always obvious, but the time will come on such a stretch when you try to steer one way, but your steering wheel protests vigorously. Keep a steady hand on the wheel.

As well, the number of potholes isn’t zero (neither is it in North America). You’ll occasionally have to dodge some. On mountain roads, be alert for freshly-fallen pierres that the authorities haven’t moved yet.

On the other hand, South America poses very few hazards from animals in the road. The North American deer and the Australian kangaroos that grace front bumpers overseas will not be a problem in Argentina.

4) Argentine authorities behave irresponsibly in the posting of speed signs. You’ll frequently be driving along a 70 mph section of rural road when, out of nowhere, someone has erected a 25 mph (40 km/h) sign. No other driver even slows down. What will you do?

Most commonly, these signs pop up where a farmer’s road meets the highway. There’s never any cars on his dirt track. If you tried to obey the sign, you’d be courting a rear-ender.

“Forty” signs often denote school zones. Never drive fast around school children, but most of the time there are no school kids, especially in the summer months like February when there’s no school anyway. In any case most rural students are bused and do not walk along the road.

The third category is police checkpoints, of which you’ll see many. Orange traffic cones along the center line usually mark these, and of course you should slow down and be ready to stop for the police. Everyone else certainly will.

5) Police checkpoints – What do you tell the cops at checkpoints when you don’t speak Spanish? When I’m stopped, I always start by offering my Nova Scotia Drivers’ License. This is what the cops most often want to see anyway. Even if not, it tells them that I’m a tourist and not likely a person of interest to them, and that I probably don’t understand much Spanish. They’ll frequently show it around to their colleagues, enlivening an otherwise dull shift with something exotic like a Nova Scotia Drivers’ License. In some cases, they'll even take the opportunity to practice their English!

Listen carefully for these words:

“Seguro” - he wants your proof of auto insurance. This should be in a little folder left in the glove box when you picked up the rental car

“Donde” or perhaps “Adonde” – he’d like you to tell him where you’re coming from or where you’re going. Have something prepared for him, something like “de Bariloche a Villa la Angostura,” where you spent last night and where you expect to be tonight.

By the way, never once did anyone ever ask me for an International Driving Permit, anywhere in South America, and I’ve now logged nearly a hundred days behind the wheel in Argentina, Chile and southern Brazil. And no cop has ever sought a bribe from me, despite my encountering several hundreds of opportunities. Others say that in Argentina it happens, but based on my experience it seems uncommon.

6) Daytime headlights. In Argentina and other South American countries, the law requires you to have your headlights on all the time. Unlike in North America, Argentine car headlights do not come on automatically whenever you start the ignition. You have to remember to turn them on.

I got one ticket (US$35) I had to pay. Other cops held out their arms, rapidly opening and closing their hands, the signal to turn my lights on.

Here’s what we did. We found we had a loose sock with no mate. We hung the sock from one of the arms on the steering wheel, partly covering the ignition. Whoever removed that sock to insert the ignition key was responsible to immediately turn on the headlights, even before starting the car. On switching off the ignition, a chime sounds to let you know your lights are on. That’s also our signal to put the sock back on the steering wheel arm. It works for us.

7) The 1960s and 1970s live on in the Argentine automobile. Antique car buffs will be delighted to know that lots of people drive cars that are as much as 45 years old. Original Ford Mustangs and 1970 Chevy Novas still grace the streets.

These cars were not that well built even when they were new. They are mostly driven very slowly, and may be in danger of losing a part now and them. Give them a wide berth, and bring your camera!

8) Border crossings. We’ve driven across the border between Chile and Argentina six times now. It’s complicated and you must prepare in advance. You need letters of permission from the car rental company and insurance valid in the other country. Naturally, this must be arranged well in advance, and it will likely cost you around US$200.

If you’ll be crossing, be mindful that the late afternoon is usually the busiest time. We had one wait lasting three hours. You’ll save a lot of time if you can arrange to reach the border during the morning hours.

Driving in Argentina, and the rest of the southern cone of South America, is challenging. We’d never consider any other way of getting around, though.

David

Lunenburg, Canada
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5. Re: Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

What about the language barrier? What do you do when you don't know much Spanish and you don't have an interpreter or guide?

We're two monoglot Anglos who survived quite well over several three- week trips in Argentina, Chile and Brazil.. We've rented a car and driven ourselves in every one.

In Chile, and in much of Argentina outside the Buenos Aires region, few people are fluent in English. Road signs are in Spanish, naturally, but a surprising number of restaurants offered English menus and a lot of bigger hotels often had bi-lingual correspondence. Not the hotel where stayed, though, on Peru Street in Mendoza, where no one knew a single word of English. (But we still got by.)

Here's what we do:

- Get a Spanish grammar and learn a 100-word basic Spanish vocabulary. We were amazed at how much we could get across with 100 Spanish words. Don't worry about getting the pronouns to agree in number, gender and case. Argentina is filled with Spanish-speaking experts who will be happy to correct your mistakes for you. Just learn the raw words.

For example, the word for "key" is "llave" pronounced "yahveh" in western Argentina and in Chile. In Buenos Aires, the word is pronounced "Zhaveh."

- Using internet radio, tune to the Voice of America, and listen to a few programs in what VOA calls Special English. Pay close attention, because this is how you'll be speaking to your Argentine hosts: slowly, clearly, enunciating all consonants, using no slang, employing international words where possible. It astonished me to find that when I did this, people who learned English only in high school could understand enough basic things for us to rent a car, order meals, and even book hotel rooms over the telephone.

- Booking rooms over the phone!? Before leaving home, I write a script in Castilian to read over the telephone:" Good afternoon. We need one room for two persons with one bed (matrimonial) for one night. Is it possible?"

Listen for "si" or "no" to determine whether the room is available. If you don't understand, repeat the script until the person on the other end of the line realizes that you don't know enough Spanish for conversation.

If I get a "si," I conclude the conversation with "Mi nombre es David! Llegar las dieciocho (6 p.m.)" If you're adventurous, you can try asking the price and giving a credit card number to guarantee the reservation. My purpose in calling, though, is solely to establish that rooms are available and to give a password ("David") to exchange when I arrive. Other details can wait until I can explain with visual aids at the front desk.

In airports, you won't have the slightest trouble. Airports are always multi-lingual, and have plenty of English speakers on hand.

David

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6. Re: Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

David - we cannot thank you enough for all your help and useful information.

We look forward to seeing Bariloche and the surrounding area, and we will probably rent a car for a few days. We appreciate the time you took to answer our questions. I love the tripadvisor community. We have always gotten good advice which has helped make our trips a success.

Again, our thanks.

Victoria, Canada
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7. Re: Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

David, those are great reports.

Does anybody have up to date news on conditions around Bariloche? I think I read somewhere that the area continues to be affected by ash from the volcano, and that some roads are closed part of every day.

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8. Re: Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

Bariloche airport is still closed. Aerolineas announced last week they would resume their flights as of tomorrow, but yesterday afternoon conditions were worsening. This I learned by Aerolineas' employees yesterday evening at Cordoba airport - where flights going south were delayed.

Visibility has been a problem for driving when the wind blows strongly and scatters the ashes.

As I live in Argentina (and truly love this forum!) I have promised myself to post the news here as soon as things go back to normal in the Bariloche area.

Victoria, Canada
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9. Re: Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

Thanks for the info. Verobaires.

This confirms the news that I received earlier, so my visits to the Lake District will have to be in Chile. I was looking forward to visiting Bariloche and Villa La Angostura with an excursion over the Andes from Osorno. Looks like that will have to wait for another time.

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10. Re: Best way to see Lake District without going to Chile

Hi Tooblue:

Though flights to Bariloche may be suspended due to ash fall, the airlines (LAN and Aerolineas) offer a combined service: you can fly to Neuquen city, and take a bus for the remaining 450 km to Bariloche.

Alternatively you can fly to Esquel (300 km south of Bariloche), anyway, the airport at Bariloche is closed until 24.Dec.2011 for upkeep. The volcanic ash output of Puyehue volcano is much less now.

Roads are open and safe. But you do not need to rent a car. You can visit Villa la Angostura, San Martín de los Andes, Bariloche and go south down "Ruta 40" to El Bolsón and Esquel. The Puelo and Alerces National Parks are worth visiting.

There are day tours in Bariloche lake district: CIRCUITO GRANDE is a circuit through Bariloche, Villa La Angostura and Lakes Correntoso, Espejo, Traful and then back to Bariloche along the Valle Encantado.

The CAMINO DE LOS SIETE LAGOS (7 lakes circuit) takes you to and from San Martín de los Andes.

Bariloche hotels located out of the downtown area, along the Bustillo Road (from Bariloche to Llao Llao - 25 km in all) can be reached using the local bus service with a 20 minute frequency between buses.

You can go to Bolsón, Mount Tronador or Esquel with local tour operators.

Also the lake tours (Isla Victoria or Puerto Blest - Laguna Frias or Arrayanes / Quetrihue) are worth taking.

Have a good and safe trip!

Austin Whittall