Esquel: a small mountain paradise

Hiking Laguna La Zeta in Esquel, Argentina

After having a great time in Puerto Madryn, we hopped on a bus in the direction of the Andes, finally! But, you might ask, why Esquel? Well, we found out about this little town by accident, as one of the bus routes to Bariloche would require a change here. We started thinking it might be nice to break up the bus trip somewhere on the way, so we looked into Esquel a bit. Little did we know it was the gateway to a beautiful national park in the Andes: Parque Nacional Los Alerces.

Getting to Esquel

We took another bus with Via Bariloche, which departed from Puerto Madryn around 20:00, and would arrive in Esquel early in the morning, around 7:00. Our second night bus in Argentina, this time not in a cama ejecutivo but a regular semi cama. Slept like a baby in this one, unlike the first night bus we took. Must have something to do with cycling 32 kilometers on the day of departure…

Laguna La Zeta

As we arrived early in the morning, we had the whole day ahead of us to do something fun. After getting some breakfast (a delicious vegan cinnamon bun!), doing groceries (we would be cooking during our whole stay!), and checking in to our Airbnb (cute little house on calle Perito Moreno!), we prepared to do some walking.

Laguna La Zeta lies just northwest of the town, it takes about an hour by foot because there is a little bit of climbing involved. What we didn’t know, is that there is no trail. You simply walk on the road where the cars go, so unfortunately it wasn’t a super scenic walk.

The ‘worst’ part of it was all the dust that would blow up in to the air when a car passed. My eyes and nose (and, not unimaginable, probably some ended up in my lungs, lol) were filled with it when we made it up to the lake. Luis vowed not to make this walk back, he’d figure out a way, he said.

Walking to Laguna La Zeta in Esquel, Argentina

It was pretty tiring indeed, but at least we had some good views on the town. With every curve in the road we’d be treated with this view that kept getting better as we got higher up. I mean, not too shabby, right?

View on Esquel, Argentina
Our view on the town of Esquel

The lake

Laguna La Zeta is quite a popular place to relax for the locals, especially on these hot summer days. The temperature would almost reach 30 degrees today, so people were swimming, enjoying the sun on the beach, preparing a BBQ, or, like us, going on a hike. Although, I have to say the ‘going-on-a-hike’-people were the minority, haha.

Around Laguna La Zeta there are several day hikes to choose from, but as we already climbed all the way up to the lake, we decided to do a relatively easy one (none of them were very difficult, though). So, off we went, to find the view point that would be at the end of our chosen trail.

Laguna La Zeta in Esquel, Argentina

The start of the walk was out in an open field, so no cover from the sun at all. We were already covered in sunscreen, so there wasn’t much we could do about this until we got to the tree line. Which came soon enough, and the shade was a welcome sight. From here on, most of the walk was almost completely covered by trees. I already mentioned the dust from the road, but this dust was basically everywhere on this hike. Clearly they hadn’t had any significant rain for a long time.

After about an hour and just over 2.5 kilometers, we made it to Mirador del Cipresal and were rewarded with another amazing view! And, a nice, cold beer once we made it down to the lake again :).

Laguna La Zeta in Esquel
View from Mirador del Cipresal

Parque Nacional Los Alerces

The main attraction of Esquel, is not really in Esquel. It’s about an hour drive away, but trust me when I say it is SO worth the drive. That being said, it is also very possible to get to this national park by public transport from Esquel. However. The drive is a bit longer, as the bus will stop along the way. Also, there is only one bus in the morning, and one bus back from the park in the afternoon. But, this bus is very cheap, at the time (January 2023) it’s $700 per person one way, which converts to less than €1*. Because of these ‘restrictions’ we decided to rent a car instead, meaning we could come and go whenever we wanted, and we wouldn’t have to rush when we’d be in the park. More expensive, for sure, but also a lot more free!

This park has a fee to enter, which was $3500 per person (just under €10*, using the Blue Dollar rate, January 2023). If you’ll be going multiple days, the other days will be 50% off.

Mirdor Lago Verde

On our first day in the Parque Nacional we drove straight from Esquel to the parking for visitors going to Lago Verde. Most of the road was gravel, so it took us longer than expected, but we weren’t in a rush (the surroundings were gor-geous!).

Getting up to the mirador was only a short walk, but the view was insane. Blue/green water, blue skies and green mountains around… I could have stayed there for a lot longer than we did.

Because the walk up was so short, we decided to walk a bit more to the beach at the lake itself. Also not a crazy walk or anything, but good enough to get some steps in. And, another great view as a reward.

Mirador Lago Verde
The beach of Lago Verde

Pasarela Rio Arrayanes

On the way to the Lago Verde we had passed an already very full parking lot, and once we decided to take a look, it became clear why it was so busy. The lakes in this national park are almost all connected to each other by rivers… A river over which, in this case, they have built a (I think) suspension bridge! You can cross it and from there continue walking the trail. Eventually, it will bring you back to the bridge and the parking lot.

Cascada Irigoyen

Last but not least, we made a quick stop at the Irigoyen waterfall. You literally park your car and climb up a few some stairs to the top of the waterfall. It wasn’t the most impressive waterfall I’ve ever seen, but it has easy access so you can just make a quick stop for it to check it out.

Irigoyen waterfall
Driving through NP Los Alerces

The ice tunnels of Los Alerces

On our last full day in Esquel we did a tour that is only available in the months of January and February. And, those months are technically not even guaranteed: the year before they couldn’t offer it at all due to the weather!

But, the ice tunnels were in full swing this year, so we signed ourselves up! We had to be back in Los Alerces NP at 8:00 the next day. The first step was hopping in a 4×4, which would take us an hour up the mountain. Our guide (and driver) told us some things about the mountain, and the plants that grew there. He was also making comments about the people that were hiking up to the ice tunnels. He mentioned some of them would probably not make it to the tunnels, it would be 4 hours of climbing for them, and 3 hours to return. Until he mentioned it, we didn’t even know you could hike to the tunnels, haha!

Hiking to the ice tunnels

When the car couldn’t continue any further, we had about an hour of walking ahead of us. It was still going up, but nothing too crazy. After a bit you pass the tree line, from there you’re walking the last stretch to the tunnels in the open. Not long after you’ll start hearing water running, and soon after that the waterfall itself will come in to view. And, not a bad view that is!

Just around ‘the corner’ you’ll find the tunnels. They are shaped by melting snow and ice, the water that runs down from the mountains after winter creates an impressive, textured tunnel of ice.

Ice tunnels in Los Alerces NP in Esquel
The entrance to the ice tunnels

Esquel was not at all in our original plan for Argentina, but we’re so glad we bumped in to this small town.

*Money in Argentina

We travelled to Esquel in January of 2023. We exchanged our euros to pesos via Western Union, giving us the blue dollar rate. For €1 we got approximately $360 at this time. Learn more about the Blue Dollar.

Traveller 'in heart and kidneys' (as we would say in Dutch), currently on the road with no end in sight. Started in Brazil, making our way through South and Central America.

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