Just south of the small Andean town of El Bolson, Argentina lays the settlement of Puerto Patriada which sits on the edge of Lago Epuyen. It’s a pretty remote spot that we couldn’t find any information about in any of our guidebooks. Yet its places like this that just beg for us to explore them. So when the owner of the hostel we were staying at enthusiastically recommended a kayaking excursion on this Andean mountain lake, we had to check it out.
An easygoing fellow named Pedro picked us up in his truck and whisked us about a half hour or so down the infamous Route 40 before turning off onto a dirt road that took us to Puerto Patriada. Before reaching Lake Epuyen for our kayaking trip, we picked up some vacationing Argentinian youth along the way, who would join us for the excursion.
A Smooth Paddle on Lake Epuyen
From Puerto Patriada we viewed the stunningly blue waters of Lake Apuyen. They were glassy smooth and surrounded by the looming Andes mountain peaks on all sides. We couldn’t wait to get paddling on our kayaks! After Pedro provided a few minutes of instruction, we hopped into our kayaks and sliced right through Lago Epuyen’s smooth gleaming waters.
It was a very tranquil paddle and you could often see through the clear water right down to the bottom of the lake, even though it was several meters deep. But it was also necessary to look up on occasion too, to admire the magnificent mountain vistas. After about an hour, Pedro guided us to a beach where we pulled our kayaks out of Lake Epuyen and onto the stony shore.
Argentine Campfire Lunch
As we sat on the beach admiring the scenery and practicing our poor Spanish with our new Argentine friends, Pedro was busy grilling up a feast. The smells from the grill slowly wafted our way and seemed to call us over one by one. Steak was on the menu and it looked delicious. We had worked up an appetite paddling over here and it was now time to chow down.
We sat around and served ourselves family style. We made sandwiches with the very tender, generously salted, and thinly sliced cuts of Argentine beef; topping them with a mixture of hot grilled squash & egg in addition to fresh lettuce and tomato. Delicious! After devouring a few sandwiches, I just had to snag a couple of extra cuts of the juicy steak to savor on its own, as we continue to really enjoy the meat in Argentina.
Then for desert, freshly frozen raspberries were presented to us in cool metal cups. We neglected to add the sugar they were served with and enjoyed the tartness of these berries known here as “frambuesas.” Half-frozen and dripping in their own juices, the berries ate like a fine whole-fruit sorbet. We chowed down on this refreshing treat under the Patagonian summer sun while staring at the snow-capped Andean peeks in the distance.
The Waterfall Plunge!
We were ready to resume paddling our kayaks on Lago Epuyen but were instead led inland down a trail. Having no idea where we were trekking to, we simply followed along the rocky path, stumbling by in our flip-flops. About 20 minutes in, we pushed aside flowering blossoms to reach a quaint stream that soon opened up into a little canyon with a charming waterfall.
One of the Argentine girls dared me to jump off the waterfall. I jokingly replied “after you!” knowing that she wouldn’t jump off. That’s when she scaled the side of the cascade and completely proved me wrong. So I made good on my promise and hesitantly climbed the falls to plunge into the frigid natural pool, while the water tumbled over the edge of the falls behind me.
Upon the trek back to the lake, we grew thirsty as we realized that we’d only packed a small bottle of water, which had run out a long ago. We were told to simply drink the lake water. We would never have even considered drinking any water from such a large source anywhere back in the US, where we’re from. But here in Patagonia, all was good. The water in our bottle was crystal clear and we chugged away. (I now write this days later and all is still good.)
Kayak Lago Epuyen Continues
It was soon time to continue our paddle up Lake Epuyen. The winds were picking up and the once glassy lake now had a bit of a chop to it. But we were headed in the same direction as the wind and the waves, which all helped our forward momentum.
We passed by lone cows grazing on the beach that we thought must be among some of the luckiest cows in the world to have such a view and peaceful existence. Is this why the steak tastes so good here? Maybe so. Talk about free-range!
Snorkeling in the Andes
After this next hour or so paddle we landed on another little beach. Here our guide handed us some masks and snorkels. I would have never considered snorkeling as an activity to pursue in the Andes Mountains, but I gave in to the curiosity and dove beneath the cool waters to have a look. There was sand, some minor plant life, and a deep drop off that revealed beautiful blue hues down into the lake’s depths. Visibility was crystal clear enabling me to see a few submerged dead trees that dotted the otherwise relatively barren landscape.
Mate: An Argentine Tradition
Back on shore, our guide was using a stove-like Argentine invention to heat up a pot of lake water to as close to 85 degrees Celsius as possible. We were going to partake in our first-ever cups of mate (pronounced mot-tay). There is a deep cultural tradition behind drinking this customary Argentinian hot beverage, which is similar to tea, yet much different. It seems that Argentinians drink it very regularly; as we’ve seen it everywhere during the past week we’ve been in the country. So they were all quite amused at the fact we’ve never had it before and patiently explained to us the ritual-like practices associated with drink.
The hot water was poured along the side of the cup, warming all the loose leaves it was jam packed with. A full cup was passed to Heather and she sipped it through the special straw which acts like a sieve, filtering out all the loose material. You drink the entire cup before passing it back to the host-of-sorts, who again refills it with hot water to pass to the next person.
The taste was somewhat tea-like but much stronger and bitterer. It was pretty good. Sweet breads with homemade raspberry jams were being simultaneously passed around. The bitterness of the mate complimented and balanced the sweetness of these treats quite nicely. After the first round of mate, we were offered a regular cup of coffee or tea instead. Everyone seemed to be delighted when we responded that we’d rather continue drinking the mate. Four cups later and we’d be on our way.
The Return to Puerto Patriada Kayak
The mate is said to be highly caffeinated. So after glancing at the now turbulent looking lake, I was really hoping this was true. We had a long way to paddle back and now we were heading against the wind and the waves. During the previous kayaking sections earlier in the day, we sat in the open kayak. But now we suited up to be enclosed in the kayak as we fought the rough waters to get back to Puerto Patriada. We were given strict instruction to head into the waves head-on or else we would flip.
Heather and I were in two separate, single-person kayaks that would make the harsh paddle all the more difficult than those in the tandem kayaks, since they had double the power. So we set off across the lake and did as we were told, hitting the waves straightforward. Each wave we slammed into was another fight as we battled the increasing headwinds. Some of the lake waves felt a bit more like whitewater rafting. As our arms grew tired, the paddle became progressively difficult. This was becoming a serious workout. I mentally marked points on shore to keep track of forward momentum. Minutes would go by where I didn’t seem to move an inch. This was not motivating. I’d want to give my arms a rest to take a 30-second break but I knew doing so would just cause me to go backwards. I dug deep.
The paddle was extremely tough for me, so I couldn’t imagine how Heather was handling it. I looked back occasionally and noticed she was lagging far behind to a point where I couldn’t see her anymore. But I wasn’t worried because another guide was sticking right by her side. I just kept on, tried to find some energy from the mate and sweets, and envisioned an ice-cold local beer waiting at for me at the shores of Puerto Patriada.
After hours of battling this windswept lake, I was absolutely drained. Then I looked back and noticed Heather was actually now gaining on me pretty quickly. I thought, “How could this be? Okay, I really need to pick it up.” I was giving this all I got. I tried to find the strength and push through the pain to propel my kayak through the rough water. Next thing you know, she was right beside me. Wow! That’s when I noticed the guide was actually towing her. Lol. That explains it.
Yet despite being towed, she continued to paddle hard (maybe even harder), not wanting to make the guide do all the tough work. We eventually came to a cove blocked from the wind where we could see our exit point. We were delighted to finally get back on dry land at Puerto Patriada, where this intense workout had thankfully commenced as the sun began to sink behind the surrounding mountains.
Notwithstanding the tough kayak back to Puerto Patriada, this was really a splendid and unforgettable day. From gliding through the glassy clear waters to an awesome campfire lunch to jumping off a waterfall, it was all a lot of fun!
If You Go – Puerto Patriada Kayak on Lago Epuyen:
The cost of this day trip with Puerto Patriada Kayak was 450 pesos per person (or about $35 USD with current dolar blue rates at just above 13) including kayaks, all the equipment, guide, lunch, snacks, and transportation to/from El Bolson. Some English is spoken.
We arranged the trip through our hostel outside of El Bolson – La Casona de Odile Hostel (which we loved and recommend). But you can also organize the trip with the small tourism office in El Bolson or directly with Puerto Patriada Kayak. This link will take you to their Facebook Page where you can message them directly. Pedro runs this trip every single day during summer season, until the weather begins to change (end of March or early April).