Patagonia in autumn

Enjoy the colors before winter sets in.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
In the Patagonian mountain country, autumn not only offers vibrant beech leaf colors: it is less windy than spring and summer, and on occasion a powdery early snowfall on the upper reaches of red forests may be reflected in an azure lake, creating really unique photo opportunities.

The Pehuenia Circuit
Of all the scenic Patagonian road trips that could be themed to autumn colors, the untrodden “Pehuenia Circuit” in Mapuche country in the center-west of the Argentine province of Neuquén takes the cake. Here, you need to have your own car, or contract a guide with a vehicle in Aluminé.

You can drive the circuit all year round, but in winter you need to take special care; the snow makes a 4WD a must in some sectors.
During an unforgettable 183-km drive on a series of mostly gravel roads (routes 23, 11 and 13), Lake Moquehue reflects prehistoric-looking candelabra-shaped araucaria conifers, and fiery beeches cloak the lower reaches of chalk-white Mount Impodi and extinct volcanoes between Aluminé (102 km north of the fly fishing mecca of Junín de los Andes) and the resort village of

Villa Pehuenia (60 km further north, near the Icalma pass to Chile). Both have good inns and hotels.
Along the way, Piedra Pintada, thus called for a large rock outcrop bearing ancient petroglyphs beside Lake Pulmarí, has a very upscale little resort that caters to fishermen, birders and spa lovers from November to April.
Hostería Moquehue offers a dreamy view of the eponymous lake and serves good food. However, the best views of all are to be had from the nicely organized Trenel camping ground on a hillside immediately above it.

Winter. The inns in Villa Pehuenia and Moquehue remain open in the winter for people who like snow sports in beautiful, untouristed spots. The snow park that the Mapuche community runs on the slope of the Batea Mahuida volcano near Villa Pehuenia rents skis and snowboards, and a Samoyed kennel owner in Moquehue offers sled dog rides.
Driving to Chile. Aluminé is 98 km from the Icalma pass (1,269 meters above sea level) and 95 km from Pino Hachado (1,846 meters). It is 215 km from Temuco (capital of Chile’s 9th Region) via Icalma, which is open all year, snowfall allowing, and 292 km via Pino Hachado, which is open from December to May. Icalma is also the shortest route from Aluminé to Villarrica (266 km), Pucón (291 km) and Valdivia (342 km). However, consult at the tourist office before setting out, because the Icalma route passes near the Llaima volcano, which has erupted several times during the past year.
Other activities
In May, local guides take tourists on hikes and horseback rides around Aluminé, Villa Pehuenia and Junín de los Andes.

White-water kayaking can be done at this time of the year on the Aluminé and Pulmarí rivers. In Villa La Angostura, people paddle about on sit-on-top kayaks in the calm waters of sheltered bays.
Those who feel the need to get rid of aches and pains can do so at the Lahuen Co hot springs and spa at the end of Lake Epulafquen in Lanín National Park, or the Huife hot springs spa outside Pucón in Chile.

The famous hot springs complex on the slope of the Copahue volcano north of Aluminé opens in mid-November and closes on May 4.
The sport fishing season changes every year. This time it extended from November 1 to May 1.

Information on the Pehuenia Circuit
Aluminé: (02942) 496-001;
Villa Pehuenia: (02942) 498-044;
In Buenos Aires, stop by the Casa del Neuquén ( Maipú 48), or call 4343-2324, ext. 1.

Tierra del Fuego
You don’t need a car to enjoy autumn colors in Tierra del Fuego National Park, 11 km from the Argentine city of Ushuaia: a battalion of tour buses is on call to take you there and back. The snow season is a month away, and you can still hike in the park.

Part of the standard bus tour is done on board a little steam train that recalls the one that took prisoners to cut firewood in the forest during the first part of the 20th century. Tourists are bused to the train terminal 7 km from town, where they occupy plush seats in reduced-scale carriages that are a far cry from the flatcars that were the transport of the prisoners of yore. On the return trip the prisoners had to walk back to the prison because the firewood they cut occupied the flatcars.
After a 50-minute ride, which includes a photo-stop above the Pipo River, today’s tourists descend at an entrance to the park, where they board another bus that transports them to Lake Roca, Ensenada Bay and Lapataia Bay, and back to town.

In the spring and summer (November to March) they have an interesting land-sea option: a catamaran takes them from Ushuaia to Lapataia Bay inside the park, where they board a tour bus that takes them to Ensenada Bay, Lake Roca, and the tourist train that takes them to its terminal for the final bus transfer back to town.
The catamaran option is not offered in winter because snow often prevents disembarkation, as well as bus access to Lapataia Bay and Ensenada Bay. For this reason, admission to the park is not charged in winter.

Other activities
Cruises in catamarans, yachts and sailboats are done on the Beagle Channel all year round, and sea kayak excursions until June or July. Conventional bus tours to lakes Escondido and Fagnano run all year round. Horseback rides, hikes and off-road excursions take place in the forests outside the park when there is not too much snow.

Ushuaia is a city with three interesting museums that shouldn’t be missed: the Prison and Maritime Museum in the former prison; the End-of-the-World Museum in the former provincial legislature building; and the Yámana Museum dedicated to the people who lived in the region 10,000 years before the arrival of the first Europeans.
Sport fishing is done in the rivers in the eastern part of the province, 240 km from Ushuaia. The season extends from November 1 to May 1.

Information on Ushuaia
In Buenos Aires, stop by Esmeralda 783, or call 54-11-4328-7042.

PHOTO CREDITS: Beech leaves, Bonnie Tucker. Mount Impodi, Neuquén, Bonnie Tucker. Pehuenia Circuit Map, Neuquén Tourism Undersecretariat. Araucarias, Neuquén, Bonnie Tucker. Riding on Estancia Huechahue, Junín de los Andes, Neuquén, Bonnie Tucker. Natural hot spring, Lahuen Co, Neuquén, Termas de Lahuen Co. Tierra del Fuego National Park Map, National Parks Administration. Lapataia Bay, Tierra del Fuego, Bonnie Tucker. Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego, Bonnie Tucker.