We passed through lakeside San Martin de los Andes twice and never stayed because, at first glance, it struck us as a baby version of Bariloche (the larger tourist city further south that we are not so fond of). However, we were recently persuaded to stay in San Martin for a while and we discovered some gems including unexpected art, boat adventures, pro tips for the famous Seven Lakes Drive, and much more. Use our San Martin de los Andes City Travel Guide to plan your time in and around this popular Patagonian town in southern Argentina.
What to do in San Martin de los Andes
As with all mountain tourist destinations, prices are on the high side in this bustling lakeside town, which everyone simply calls San Martin, especially during peak travel times like the month of February. You’d be forgiven for thinking that shopping is the number one activity in San Martin thanks to a main street and central area absolutely crammed with shops selling chocolate and souvenirs. There are also a lot of stores selling outdoor clothing and gear, so if you need something for your adventure kit (hiking boots, tent, raincoat, etc.), you have a good chance of finding it in San Martin.
Here are some non-shopping things to do in San Martin.
Enjoy the famous Seven Lakes Drive
The most famous thing to do in San Martin is to drive along Seven Lakes Drive which travels between San Martin to Villa La Angostura 66 miles (107 km) to the south. This curving paved mountain road links together (you guessed it) seven lakes.The lakes are lovely, the scenery is beautiful, and the route can be crowded with other travelers enjoying the natural bounty as well. PRO TIP: Use the viewpoint pullouts while driving in the southerly direction since pulling into the viewpoints while driving north requires crossing oncoming traffic.
Tour Lake Lacar by boat
San Martin is located on Lake Lacar and that’s the starting point for a full-day boat trip to the head of the Hua Hum River with Naviera Lacar & Nonthue.The lake which sits at the edge of town is part of Lanin National Park so to do this tour you must buy a tour boat ticket and a national park entry ticket from an office on the dock before boarding the boat. During this jam-packed full-day tour (12 pm to 7 pm), the clean, comfortable, and quiet 116-seat tour boat crosses Lake Lacar and Lake Nonthue with four stops along the way. An onboard national park guide (Spanish only, though printed information was available in English), explains flora, fauna, and Mapuche culture along the way. We feared spending so many hours on a boat would feel like a hostage crisis, but it was a varied trip that never felt mundane and we saw areas of the park that were much easier to reach by boat. As we moved away from San Martin across Lake Lacar we saw black neck swans and learned about a Mapuche legend that tells of a city at the end of the lake which is known as the City of Lights or the Crystal City. Soon we made our first stop at Quila Quina where there are a few artisan shops selling jewelry and jam, clean bathrooms, two restaurants (we brought along our own food), and a dining patio but the weather was too windy to use it when we were there. At Quila Quina, we stretched our legs with a short walk to Playa Pantilla beach which had lake views and sunny logs to sit on while we ate our lunch, then we got back on the boat as the tour carried on to Puerto Chanchin where there’s a well-marked sometimes steep 2.5 mile (4 km) roundtrip trail to a mirador over the Chanchin waterfall which was raging and beautiful. Chanchin means “exuberance of plants” in Mapuche and the wet conditions (this is one of the rainiest areas in the region) certainly support a lot of plant life.
Back on the boat, we were off to the headwaters of the Hua Hum River. Located just 1.5 miles (2.5 km) from the border with Chile, this area is home to torrent ducks (though we never saw them) and other waterbirds including ibis and geese as well as a tea house, restaurant, and simple hotel.Then it was back on the catamaran and on to our final stop of the tour. Isla Santa Teresita de Nino de Jesus is a small privately-owned island with a simple, white, wood chapel in the woods. It was built to honor Santa Teresita and a short undulation trail leads to its door on a bluff above the crystal clear water. PRO TIP: This lake trip routinely sells out in high season, so reservations are highly recommended.
Book a visit to Coleccion Georg
Coleccion Georg (pronounced gay-org) is a charming mash-up of a museum, a gallery, and a fascinating local art lesson. Opened in 2010, after years spent looking for an architect who could design a viable 6-level tulip-shaped structure on a hillside, this modern architectural gallery space showcases the work of Konstantino Miciu Nicolaevici and his two prolific and talented sons Demetrio and Georg for whom the space is named.After leaving Romania to escape the world war, Konstantino settled in Argentina with his family and never stopped painting. Creativity ran in the family and, with the support of his parents, a young Georg set out to explore Argentina in search of his vision and his style. Georg found it in the Patagonia region where he made San Martin his home, producing acclaimed paintings inspired by Patagonian landscapes including iconic symbols like the Andes, the steppe, and rugged cowboys called gauchos. This work, and the work of Georg’s father, brother, and his offspring (including the epic black and white photos of Eliseo Miciu) fills the space along with the work of a few other artists inspired by Patagonia (including the organic, sculptural silver work of artist Emiliano Celiz). It’s powerful work with a very strong sense of place and most pieces are for sale.
Visitors to San Martin should also make time to visit other areas of Lanin National Park. Find out how to explore the volcano, waterfalls, trails, and lakes in this expansive park in our guide to exploring Lanin National Park.
Eating in San Martin de los Andes
Like any tourist town, food is generally overpriced in San Martin. However, we did find some good reasonably priced options including Pulgarcito Restaurante. It’s in the center of town near the lake and offers high-quality Argentinean favorites (meat, pasta, and more) at very reasonable prices. As one of the best budget restaurant options in San Martin, it’s often packed so you may have to wait for a table.Oz Food and Wine Bar may look like yet another indoor/outdoor restaurant on the main drag through San Martin, but the quality of the food and the diversity of the wine selection set it apart. Our shrimp appetizer presented succulent whole shrimp brushed with a rich oyster sauce and served on thin lemon slices on a black plate. The enormous “elephant ear” milanesa (a pounded and breaded bone-in t-bone picture top right) was a tender, juicy, crispy luscious treat topped with arugula and served with fries. Local trout came in a nutty crust served with perfectly-cooked risotto (picture bottom right). The menu changes every few months and the restaurant, which is open for lunch and dinner (the lunch menu is more casual including delicious burgers on pillowy homemade buns pictured top middle), also offers special events including occasional tasting menus.
Some of the best empanadas in town are to be had at Nonino Empanadas which has a shop in the heart of San Martin. Just don’t be in a rush. They’re baked to order.
The local craft beer scene in San Martin is booming so beer lovers will have many options to choose from on menus in restaurants around town. A good spot for a cold craft beer on a warm day is in Parador Slonjha a food court/cluster of food trucks set up across from the lakefront.Surprisingly formal La Bernardita delivers well-done ambitious dishes like homemade squid ink ravioli stuffed with trout in a light cream and shrimp sauce (pictured above. Portions are not huge and prices are on the high side compared to other restaurants in San Martin. Head to Torino Bar y Bistro if you’re looking for a lively nighttime scene with plenty of locals who are loyal to this large corner hot spot. The sushi bar (be prepared for lots of cream cheese – that’s how sushi is often made in Latin America) and a long bar turning out cocktails are popular places to eat and hang out when the tables are full. The overall menu offers solid, if not outstanding, versions of beloved local favorites including tender deer goulash on dense gnocchi (pictured top right) and crispy fried trout in a crust of seeds with a side of julienned carrots and sweet peppers (pictured bottom middle).
Domingo Restaurante was temporarily closed when we were in San Martin, but it has a strong reputation for homemade pasta and other Italian dishes. Also sadly closed was La Paz Cocina which makes what’s said to be the best sourdough bread (and other baked treats) in town. But at least this bakery was closed for a good reason: the baker was in Spain learning from Jordi Morera of L’Espiga, one of the best bakers in the world.It’s worth the drive from San Martin to nearby Lake Meliquina to enjoy the 6-course lunch served at Avataras. Here, Susana Fernández Langlois and a team of talented women (including her daughter) turn out course after course of delicious preparations featuring produce from their large and varied organic garden and orchard. With more than 20 years of experience in the kitchen, Susana is an easy and relaxed host overseeing an elegant table, pouring wine (included), and sharing stories about her life and the genesis of this unexpected dining experience. Our lunch included an organic greens salad with morsels of brie, spiced walnuts (made in-house), and the last asparagus of the season (pictured top right). A medallion of juicy and tender venison was rare inside but crispy outside with a bracing blackcurrant sauce (pictured bottom middle). Dessert featured fragrant and light ice cream made by infusing milk from their own cows with fig tree leaves (pictured bottom right). Reservations are a must at least 24 hours in advance (Monday through Friday only). And be aware that Atavaras now offers a handful of chic and fully equipped standalone shipping containers converted into bungalows for those who want to savor the peaceful country atmosphere in close proximity to scenic Lake Meliquina.
Where to sleep in San Martin de los Andes
San Martin is full of hostels, hotels, cabins, apartments, and full houses for tourists.We stayed at NAUM Apart Boutique & Spa. Located just a block from Lake Lacar and just a few blocks from central San Martin, this serene full-service operation, named for the father of the men who built it, offers 11 remodeled apartments and cabins along with a spa, an outdoor hot tub, and a large barbecue area. Our duplex had a fully equipped kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a jetted tub), comfortable and stylish furnishings, two TVs, Wi-Fi, and lots of sunlight. At breakfast, croissants, sliced bread, butter, jam, and fresh orange juice are provided (tea and coffee can be made in your kitchen). This is a great option for families and travelers who need or want to self-cater. The current owners, a couple from Buenos Aires who bought the place in 2016 and then escaped corporate city life for good during the pandemic, also rent vehicles.
Centrally-located Hosteria Hueney Ruca is clean and homey and offers economical rooms and cabins. Guests have access to a weird sauna, a basic outdoor barbecue area, and a very basic enclosed shared kitchen.Accommodation options slightly outside of San Martin include the area’s only true resort. Loi Suites Chapelco Hotel is located near the regional airport and within the swanky Chapelco development area. The 85-room hotel has a spa, a gym, a pool, kids’ programs, and the first Jack Nicklaus golf course in South America (made even more challenging by the famous Patagonian winds here). The hotel is 12 miles (20 km) from the heart of San Martin. A bit further afield is Spring Creek Lodge. Run by SET Fly Fishing, which operates lodges in many of the best fishing destinations in Argentina, Spring Creek Lodge is a dream destination for fly fishers dreaming of big trout. However, Spring Creek also has a lot to offer non-fishing guests (like us) including guided bird watching on their property, off-site adventures like kayaking and horseback riding, and the chance to learn to make traditional Argentinean empanadas from their super-talented chef Federico Castro during one-on-one cooking classes. Accommodations are in stand-alone 2-bedroom bungalows with fireplaces. For one of the worthiest splurges in Argentina, head to the all-inclusive Tipiliuke Lodge about 22 miles (35 km) from San Martin. Technically speaking, this is another fishing lodge. In reality, it’s one of the best-run, most hospitable lodges for travelers of all sorts. Fly fishing trout seekers will be more than satisfied but we were kept busy as well including horseback riding on the lodge’s property guided by gauchos and a photo safari to capture images of some of the majestic (and enormous) red deer that thrive on the land. There’s also a small spa, a yoga room, tango classes, an outdoor Jacuzzi, a wood-fired dry sauna, and talented bodywork technicians. All guests enjoy well-appointed and stylish accommodations (don’t miss the poncho bathrobes) and terrific meals served family style.
How to get to San Martin de los Andes
From Buenos Aires, domestic flights service a small airport 15 miles (23 km) from San Martin. Another option is to fly into Bariloche and rent a car from there. You can also rent a vehicle in San Martin.
Here’s more about travel in Argentina
See all of our City Travel Guides
Here’s more about Patagonia Travel