Nahuel Huapi National Park  

  When the Pleistocene glaciers retreated from the grassy plains into the heights of the Andean Cordillera of northern Patagonia, they left behind an enormous, irregularly shaped lake. The lake was deep, but the caprice of glacial sculpture left a narrow island anchored in the center of the lake.

Centuries ago, Mapuche Indians gave this island a revealing name: Nahuel Huapi (Tiger Island). Much later, a man named O´Conner re-christened the island, giving it a much less imaginative name: Isla Victoria (Victoria Island).Although O'Conner's choice remained stuck to the island, Nahuel Huapi has prevailed to the extent that the entire park, of which the lake is the main feature, has now taken that name.

Today Nahuel Huapi is one of the oldest and most popular national parks in South America and it has something for everyone. Nahuel Huapi is to Argentines what Banff National Park is to Canadians: a honey-moon destination which offers winter ski races, summer music festivals, regional museums as well as elegant Old World hotels and restaurants, all set against a backdrop of breathtaking mountain scenery.
Its rugged mountains, alpine glaciers and well established trails attract hordes of high mountain hikers every summer. Likewise, serious anglers from around the world come to fish in the park's plentiful streams and clear, cold lakes, seeking trout and salmon.

Nahuel Huapi´s dense and silent forest beckons those who seek respite from the frenetic business world of Buenos Aires, while Bariloche's sophisticated tourist community and Villa la Angostura's enchanting resort attract those who seek to be seen in fashionable places.

The highest mountain in the park is the extinct 11.722 foot high volcano, Tronador (Thunderer). Its name refers to the frequent rumbles caused by ice falling from the face of several glaciers (ventisqueros) that cling to the mountain's three peaks. According to an ancient Mapuche legend, the rumbling is a warning sent by pigmy-like creatures who are the mountain's custodians and who will slay with tiny arrows those who venture too close to Tronador.

The park contains six large lakes and dozens of smaller ones, but the immensity of Lago Nahuel Huapi dominates the entire region and even moderates the climate. Sixty miles long, with more than 200 square miles of surface, the lake has several major arms (brazos) and boats regularly cross it on the way to or from Chile. In fact, Lago Nahuel Huapi is the final link in one of the most unusual short journeys in South America: travelers can cross the Andes by taking a series of ferry trips across alpine lakes and bus trips over mountain passes.

The western part of the park is the region between the Chilean border and the western margins of Lagos Nahuel Huapi, Traful, Mascardi, and Gutierrez. Annual rainfall is high in this area (120 to 160 inches per year) and vegetation is lush and dense. Xerophytic shrubs predominate in the dry eastern zone, at the edge of the plains. The Valle Encantado (Enchanted Valley) lies within this arid zone. The valley extends for 25 miles along the Río Limay, the powerful river that drains Lago Nahuel Huapi.

Trout and salmon were introduced into the waters of Nahuel Huapi just after the turn of the century and the fishing is now world renowned. Virtually every lake and stream in the park contain brown, rainbow, or brook trout, and several contain landlocked salmon. Trolling is the preferred method of fishing in the larger lakes, but fly fishing is effective in the smaller lakes and in the streams.

Nahuel Huapi is one of the few national parks in South America with a well developed network of good trails and alpine refuges, so backpacking and mountaineering are popular activities. The main hiking areas are Península de Quetrihué, Bosque de Arrayanes, Puerto Blest, Cerro Bayo, Tronador, Cerro Catedral and Cerro Dormilón.

The history of Nahuel Huapi National Park is intimately associated with the development of trout fishing in Patagonia. On November 6, 1903, Francisco "Perito" Moreno (the same man who pressed the Argentine government to introduce salmonid into Patagonian waters) decided to donate about 75.000 acres of land he owned in the vicinity of Laguna Frías to the government of Argentina. He made his offer contingent upon a single condition and that condition altered Argentine History and firmly established Perito Moreno as the father of his country´s park system. He insisted that the land be set aside for the enjoyment of all Argentines.     

Such a notion was unheard of in those days and the government took several months to think it over. Eventually the offer was accepted and in 1934 Nahuel Huapi the first national park to be established in South America and the third in the western hemisphere- was born.

Nahuel Huapi National Park is situated in the Andean region of Neuquén and Río Negro Provinces, well into northern Patagonia.



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