Surrounded by lakes, dense forests, and mountains, San Martín de los Andes lies in a natural basin at the foot of Lago Lácar. It's a small, easygoing town, much like Bariloche was many decades ago, with hotels and houses reflecting the distinctive Andean alpine architecture of Bustillo. Wide, flat streets lined with rosebushes run from the town pier on the eastern shore of Lago Lácar to the main square, Plaza San Martín, where two parallel streets—San Martín and General Villegas—teem with block after block of ski and fishing shops, chocolatiers, souvenir stores, clothing boutiques, and cafés.
The Mapuche lived in the area long before immigrants of Chilean, French, Dutch, and Italian descent founded the town in 1898. Because all of the water from this area runs into the Pacific, the territory was disputed by Chile, which claimed it as its own until 1902, when it was legally declared Argentine.
After Parque Nacional Lanín was established in 1937 and the ski area at Chapelco developed in the 1970s, tourism replaced forestry as the main source of income. Today San Martín is the major tourist center in Neuquén Province—the midpoint in the Ruta de los Siete Lagos and the gateway for exploring the Parque Nacional Lanín.