We’d tried to drive to Laguna Diamante once before, but bad weather got in the way and forced the closure of the road. So we tried again. Here’s what happened when we finally got to do this epic drive into Reserva Nacional Laguna del Diamante in Argentina.
Epic drive to Laguna Diamante in Argentina
Reserva Nacional Laguna del Diamante protects a rugged area in the Andes in Argentina. The crown jewel of this national reserve is Laguna Diamante which sits at 10,825 feet (3,299 meters) in front of the 17,270 foot (5,263 meter) Maipo Volcano which straddles the border with Chile.The dirt road that accesses the lake is only open during a few summer months each year (usually December to March). Snow and extreme weather make the route impassable during the other months. Even during the summer months when the road is technically open, severe weather can still close things down.
Our plans to visit the lake had already been spoiled by weather once, but we tried again in December of 2021 and our timing turned out to be perfect: the national reserve had just opened for the season which meant mild weather and the dirt and gravel road to the lake had been freshly graded.This does not mean that the drive to Laguna Diamante was a piece of cake.
We headed to the lake from the Uco Valley in the pre-dawn hours, quickly covering 58 miles (93 km) south on the paved RN 40 before turning off into the mountains on a gravel road for another 43 miles (69 km) to the lake itself.This dirt road started out flat and in good shape as we traveled past herds of goats and black cattle grazing in fields (and occasionally meandering down the road). About an hour in, we reached a check-in point where all visitors must verify that the entrance fee has been paid and receive a detailed talk about the reserve, activities in the reserve, and rules and regulations. When we visited, it was required to reserve and pay for your visit to the reserve online ahead of time.
At this checkpoint, visitors are also given a plastic garbage bag with their reservation number on it. Visitors who don’t return that bag on the way out of the reserve are fined. There’s a bathroom at this checkpoint and another one at the lake.
After the first checkpoint, the road gets steeper and rockier but it’s wide and, when we were there, the road was in pretty good condition overall with few major potholes and little washboarding though the condition of the road goes downhill as the open season wears on.The scenery in the reserve includes grassy flat pampa, weather-eroded rock formations, volcanic debris and cones, plus snow and glaciers in the distance. We also saw dozens of guanacos and many small groups of plump black and white Andean geese. Pumas have been seen here as well, though we weren’t that lucky. The drive to the lake took about 3 hours each way from the RN 40 turnoff. The turn off is at 5,180 feet (1,580 meters), the check-in rangers station is at 7,750 feet (2,362 meters), and the dirt road ultimately reaches a high point of 12,075 feet (3,680 meters) before descending about 2,000 feet (600 meters) to Laguna Diamante. This picturesque lake gets its name from the fact that when the water is still (a rare occurrence in the windy high altitude conditions) Maipo volcano casts a diamond-shaped shadow in the water. The 350 pesos (about US$3.50 when we were there) entry fee per person includes a few nights of camping if you so desire. This is a good idea for those who want to see the volcano’s diamond-shaped reflection in the lake since that is most likely to happen early in the morning before the wind picks up. There are a lot of designated camping spots clustered in a camping area near the lakeshore. Be prepared for rocks, wind, and relentless sun. Nearby there’s a building with clean flushing toilets and a sink (byo soap and toilet paper). There’s also a ranger station at the lake and a military post because the border with Chile is so close.
We didn’t camp at Laguna Diamante, but we did walk along one of the trails to explore areas around the lake. Fishing is also allowed in Laguna Diamante and we saw quite a few anglers trying their luck in various spots around the lakeshore.Also on the lakeshore, you’ll find a striking modern sculpture and a plaque in honor of Henri Guillaumet, the French pilot, founder of Aeropostal, and general bon vivant. Guillaumet flew mail between Chile and Argentina, crossing the Andes more than 90 times. On one of those mail runs, however, he crashed at Laguna Diamante and walked out until he was finally rescued by a teenage boy. When we were at Laguna Diamante the water level was so low that the outflow that normally drains out of the lake was nonexistent. The entire region was in the midst of a serious drought and, the ranger explained, the glacier on the Maipo volcano is shrinking which has reduced runoff into the lake.
Leaving the lake means backtracking along the dirt road to RN40 the same way you came in. Don’t forget to give your garbage bag back to the folks at the checkpoint!
Epic drive to Laguna Diamante stats and details
Distance: 43 miles (69km) each way on the dirt road off RN40
High point: 12,075 feet (3,680 meters)
Drive time: 3 hours each way from the RN40 turnoff
Entry: There’s a 350 pesos (about US$3.50) per person to enter the Reserva Nacional Laguna del Diamante and we visited, it was required to reserve and pay for your visit to the reserve online ahead of time
Facilities and services: Bathrooms, campground, no fuel or ATMs
Season: This road is generally open from December to March
Pro tips: Drive to Laguna Diamante early in the season when the road has been freshly graded. And if you want to see Maipo volcano’s diamond-shaped reflection in the lake, plan to camp and get up at daybreak before the wind picks up.
See what we saw during our epic drive to Laguna Diamante in our drive-lapse video, shot with our Brinno dash-mounted camera, below.
Here’s more about travel in Argentina
See all of our Epic Drives in the Americas