The clouds looked fluffy in the clear blue sky. The lake water shined a bright crystal blue, as it reflected the strong afternoon sun. The dark green forests and snow-capped mountains lined both sides of the lake - they seemed never-ending. I stood on the deck of the ferry, as it rides tranquilly along Lake Nahuel Huapi.
An official photographer on-board busily snaps photos of us passengers, hoping to earn a quick buck.
The Spanish-speaking guide called us in as we began to dock in the port after 55 min.
As a kiasu Singaporean, I rushed to the exit and walked hastily ahead of the group – with good reasons. It was 3:30 pm and the Los Arrayanes National Park, or Arrayanes Forest, is empty right now.
How to go to the Arrayanes Forest / Los Arrayanes National Park
1. From Bariloche, take a bus to Villa la Angostura (take the 8:30am bus if you want to hike)
2. Walk 3km south or take a local bus to the entrance of the national park
3. Pay the entrance fee of ARS $250 (May 2017)
4. Take the ferry, hike, or cycle the 12km trail
The Los Arrayanes National Park lies along the shore of the scenic Lake Nahuel Huapi in Northern Argentine Patagonia. Already a part of the bigger Nahuel Huapi National Park, Los Arrayanes was created in 1971 to protect its forest of Arrayan trees.
I guess you can say: it’s a national park within a national park. Parkception.
What’s so special about these trees that a National Park is created for it?
For one, it’s magical. Really. Disney-like. Local folklore says that Walt Disney himself got the inspiration for his animation, Bambi, in this forest.
But more importantly, Arrayan trees – also known as myrtles – are usually bushes that only grow along the shores of lake and rivers, but over here, they make up a whole thick forest. The persistent foliage does not fall off in winter, giving it the name “evergreen forests”. These trees grow up to 49 feet (covert to meters) tall and some are as old as 650 years old.
Its characteristic twisted branches complement its silky-smooth cinnamon, dark-red bark and its irregular white spots. Together, they are the perfect nature frames for photographs. The late afternoon sun in the background provided a mystical orange glow, making the whole forest picturesque.
This is why I rushed to the front of the group. With 5min of buffer time until the group catches up, I had the whole area for my mini-photoshoot. The twisted trunk and slanted branches framed the shots like a druid-conjured portal, as I imagined walking into a fantasy world.
I walked along the 800m broad wooden path, stopping multiple times for photos. This path was built to prevent damage to the soil, to protect the roots, and to help recover the low vegetation in the forest. The 30min walk was peaceful and the only sounds were the birds chirping and footsteps on the wood – my footsteps.
This 800m trail forms the last part of the 12km hike from the beginning of the park, should you choose to hike or cycle. I was dressed and ready for the hike but unforeseen circumstances prevented me from hiking.
You see, the park entrance lies 3km from the tourist town of Villa la Angostura. I took the bus from Bariloche and arrived slightly after 11am. I walked the 3km, instead of taking a bus or taxi, and when I arrived at the ticket counter, it was almost 12pm (my knee still hurts). Access for hikers is permitted only up to 11am (from the 1st of April each year), and up to 12pm for bikers.
In the Summer: 1pm for hikers and 2pm for bikers.
The only way to hike in was to take the catamaran (or ferry) out. A one-way ticket costs ARS $495/USD $35 (May 2017) and a two-way ticket costs ARS $600. It wasn’t just a matter of value-for-money, but if I could hike the 12km and make it for the ferry out.
In autumn, the Futaleufú Catamaran departs daily from La Angostura Port located on Bahía Mansa dock, near the park entrance at 2:30 pm and returns at 4:30 pm.
One-way ticket: ARS$ 495
Two-way ticket: ARS $600
After calculation for money and time, I decided to take the ferry instead. I was a little disappointed, but the scenic ferry ride made up for it. Plus, I got to rest my knees a little more.
(On normal days, Catamarán Patagonia Argentina runs a similar service across the isthmus at Bahía Brava dock. I couldn’t find it that day. Might be an off-season thing.)
Another popular option is to ride a mountain bike along the undulating trail. Not my thing.
The last 800m on the wooden path is an easy walk. I noticed other trees (with scientific names I can’t pronounce) scattered and intermingled among the Arrayan trees and in the undergrowth. From all these trees, the Arrayanes is the last to bloom; from January to March. The others finish blooming in December. Trees know to save the best for the last too.
At the end of the path is a wooden cabin built over 50 years ago and is known as ‘Bambi’s House’. Sadly, the folklore about Walt Disney’s inspiration is untrue; it was proven that Bambi’s production was before Disney’s trip to Argentina in 1941 and that he had never visited the area.
Nevertheless, the forest is still magical and the cabin serves coffee, tea, pastries and hot cocoa for the wounded souls, or tired hikers.
The forest is also known as the “only passable Arrayanes forest in the world”, and many people sure pass by. While I was waiting for my ferry to leave, a huge ferry emblazoned with the popular CauCau Excursion tourist agency name docked. I counted (yes, I was bored) 119 people, including a bunch of school children.
I sure am glad that I walked ahead of my group of 20 or so. This new tour group is gonna have a VERY difficult time taking a good photo.
At 4:30 pm, I boarded the ferry back to Villa la Angostura, satisfied. This small touristic town is exactly like most touristic town: tourist agencies, expensive restaurants and colourful souvenir shops line the main street. 30min is more than enough to see the main part of the town. Bariloche is still the better base for exploration.
And now, it’s your turn.