Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Secret Valley of Parque Nacional Los Alerces

Last weekend was my fourth fin de semana in Northern Patagonia, but only the first time I managed to venture out of the little hamlet that is Esquel. I shouldn't have waited so long.

My destination was the surprisingly close Parque Nacional Los Alerces (alerce meaning "larch," a type of tree). Despite its proximity, I went with a rental car to get me there. This is the region's low season, and it shows. There's only one bus a day, five days a week, from Esquel to the park, and it drops you at the park headquarters, which is far removed from any of the real attractions.

Los Alerces is tucked away between two rows of snowy mountains, and entering it feels a bit like discovering your own secret valley--particularly in winter when you're the only car on the road. Adding to the mystique is a series of crystal glacial lakes, with water ranging from emerald to deep blue.

I did more driving than hiking, but the day, like the scenery, was gorgeous, and I finally felt like I was getting my "Patagonia experience." Here's a taste:

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The perfect mix of mountains, lakes, and forest

A glacier fills the gap between two peaks.

This waterfall was surprisingly active given the dry winter the region's been having.

Almost a perfect reflection

Big sky