On December 14, 2020, a total solar eclipse will occur with full totality over parts of the Patagonia region of Argentina. The town of San Martin de los Andes is close to the action and makes a great basecamp for travelers who want to see this rare total eclipse. Use our total solar eclipse travel guide to San Martin de los Andes to plan your December 2020 total solar eclipse travel in Patagonia.
San Martin de los Andes
Think of this bustling lakeside town as a Vail circa 1981. Prices are on the high side for Argentina, but the town offers a wide range of places to stay and places to eat including a couple of craft brewpubs. Prepare to be a bit overwhelmed by the number of shops selling chocolate and souvenirs almost guaranteed to bring on buyer’s remorse once you get them home. If you need outdoor clothing or gear, there are many shops selling that stuff in San Martin.
Where to see the 2020 total solar eclipse near San Martin de los Andes
The December 2020 total solar eclipse centerline crosses the South American continent 40 miles (64 km) north of San Martin de los Andes and this area has a very, very high chance of clear skies during the mid-day event. The band of totality begins in the town of Junín de los Andes where people will be able to see a complete total solar eclipse lasting for 1 minute 7 seconds. However, at the centerline of the band of totality, the total solar eclipse will occur for nearly twice as long: 2 minutes 9 seconds. A total solar eclipse experience flies by and you want to savor every second, so it’s worth watching it from the centerline of the band of totality.
On the map above, we’ve marked the centerline of the eclipse in Argentina (in gray) and the places where it crosses a highway for easy access. Two prime locations near San Martin are marked with an orange moon. To reach the westernmost point, take Route 40 and turn onto Route 23 toward the village of Pilolil on the Aluminé River. This location is 58 miles (93 km) from San Martin, which normally takes about two hours to drive. However, there will be a LOT of traffic during the eclipse, so travel time will be much longer. The second location is on Route 40 in the Catán Lil department about 74 miles (119 km) northeast of San Martin and is also about two hours away under normal driving conditions.
Non-eclipse activities around San Martin de los Andes
A 65 mile (110 km) stretch of Ruta 40 between San Martin de los Andes and Villa la Angostura is known as the Route of the Seven Lakes. This winding, narrow, and sometimes dilapidated paved road wanders past more than just seven lakes, but the main lakes are: Lake Nahuel Huapi, Lake Correntoso, Lake Espejo, Lake Escondido, Lake Falkner, LakeVillarino, and Lake Machónico. All of them are lovely, large, and come in many shades of blue and green.
The Route of the Seven Lakes is a lovely drive, though it can get very crowded and we believe the drive south of Bariloche is even more gorgeous (and the road is in better condition). TIP: Use the viewpoint pullouts while driving in the southerly direction since pulling into the viewpoints while driving north requires crossing oncoming traffic.
San Martin de los Andes 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 (12 pm to 7 pm, 2,700 ARS/about US$42 per person plus 400 ARS/about $US7 per person for the national park entrance fee since this trip takes place inside Lanin National Park).
During this jam-packed full-day tour, the clean, comfortable, and quiet 116 seat catamaran 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 which 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 (one takes credit cards but prices are discounted if you pay in cash, but 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 supports 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.
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.
This lake trip routinely sells out, so reservations are highly recommended.
Where to sleep in San Martin de los Andes
San Martin de los Andes is full of hostels, hotels, and cabin rentals. Near the regional airport, and within the swanky Chapelco countryside development area, is Loi Suites Chapelco Hotel which is the area’s only true resort. 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 surrounded by mountains and volcanoes but is just 12 miles (20 km) from the heart of San Martin.
Eating in San Martin de los Andes
Like any resort town, food is generally overpriced in San Martin de los Andes. However, we did find some good reasonably priced options including Pulgarcitas Restaurante is in the center of town near the lake and offers high-quality Argentinean favorites (from meat to pasta and more) at very reasonable prices.
For good locally-made craft beer, head to Breway Cervezeria, on the road out of San Martin toward Junin. Here you can get very good beer (all three of the IPAs we tried were excellent) plus pub food like burgers and fries, pizzas, and more. And the best empanadas in town are said to be had at Nonino Empanadas which has a shop very close to Breway and another in the heart of San Martin.
How to get to Junin de los Andes
From Buenos Aires, domestic flights service a small airport 15 miles (23 km) from San Martin de los Andes. Another option is to fly into Bariloche and rent a car from there.
Eclipse lovers won’t want to miss our post about the 2019 total solar eclipse in northern Argentina.
Here’s more about travel in Argentina