Parque Nacional Lago Puelo
Fed by four rivers and numerous arroyos, nearly surrounded by forested peaks, Lago Puelo is the turquoise showpiece of its namesake national park. In addition to its scenery, it’s popular for camping, swimming, boating, and hiking, and it offers a little-used option for crossing into Chile (unlike most Argentine lakes, Lago Puelo drains toward the Pacific).
Just 15 kilometers south of El Bolsón, Lago Puelo lies across the Chubut provincial line. It encompasses 27,675 hectares of mostly mountainous forested land, except for the Río Azul’s lakeshore deltas in the north, and the Río Turbio, across the lake to the south. The lake lies only 200 meters above sea level, but the summits rise above 1,500 meters.
Flora and Fauna
Lago Puelo’s flora and fauna closely resemble those of Nahuel Huapi to the north and Los Alerces to the south. Its relatively low elevations and exposure to Pacific storms, though, create a mild lakeshore microclimate that permits the growth of tree species like the ulmo, with its showy white flowers, and the lingue. The huemul (Andean deer) and pudú (miniature deer) are present but rarely seen.
Several trailheads start near the Centro de Informes. The most popular is the Sendero al Mirador del Lago, to the east, which climbs 130 meters to an overlook.
To the west, the Senda Los Hitos fords the Río Azul and leads five kilometers to Arroyo Las Lágrimas, where Chile-bound hikers can complete Argentine border formalities. Five kilometers farther west, Chilean Carabineros finish the paperwork; from there, continue to the Chilean town of Puelo, with onward connections to Puerto Montt.
For most visitors, though, sailing the lake is the main attraction. The Juana de Arco (tel. 02944/49-8946 in El Bolsón) and Popeye 2000 carry passengers on half-hour excursions (US$8 pp) after 2:30 p.m.; they also offer 11 a.m. departures to the Chilean frontier (US$25 pp), stopping for paperwork at the Argentine border post.
Immediately east of the visitors center, Camping Lago Puelo (tel. 02944/49918615-31-4020, US$58 pp) has a small confitería, and limited supplies are available.
In addition, there’s a free site at Arroyo Las Lágrimas, about five kilometers west on the footpath to the border, and other free sites at Río Turbio, at the lake’s south end.
Near the park entrance, where rangers collect US$1 pp for Argentine residents, US$2.50 pp for foreigners, the helpful Oficina de Informes (tel. 02944/49-9232, lagopuelo [at] apn [dot] gov [dot] ar, 9 a.m.–7 p.m. daily in summer only) provides practical information on attractions and activities.
From El Bolsón, Transporte La Golondrina buses shuttle down Avenida San Martín to the park and back 16 times between 6:45 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. Monday–Friday, but they start a little later, at 7 a.m., on weekends. Return times are 30–45 minutes later.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition