Thinking about escaping the hustle and bustle of the city for a while? Look no further than a trip to San Carlos de Bariloche or simply “Bariloche,” as known by many. Located in the South of Argentina or “Patagonia,” Bariloche is a small Swiss inspired town nestled in the foothills of the Andes along the coast of the Nahuel Huapi Lake.
Mostly known for exceptional skiing in the winter, Bariloche also offers plenty of activities in the summer including sightseeing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and much more. My wife and I recently had the opportunity to travel here for summer vacations and enjoyed many of the activities and beautiful scenery. After visiting, I have some useful tips and information on things to do and see in Bariloche. (Note: winter is the high season and summer is the low season).
During the summer the temperature averages around 23 degrees in the day and around 10 degrees at night. Don’t expect air conditioning in your room, only heat. The temperature can sometimes be unpredictable throughout the day, so I recommend dressing like an “onion,” able to remove layers. Daylight can also extend until 10pm at night in the summer.
The city offers many different restaurants and cervecerías (brewpubs). Some of the local delicacies included local trucha (trout) which can be fresh or smoked, along with smoked ciervo (deer) and javalí (wild boar). The city is also host to many chocolaterías (chocolate shops in Bariloche) with delicious Swiss inspired chocolates and many great heladerias (ice cream shops). Two of my favorite chocolate shops are Rapanui and Frantom, I recommend trying both.
Navigating around the city can be accomplished on foot. However, for traveling outside the city I recommend using the colectivo (bus) which utilizes the sube card or hiring a remís (private taxi). Many tour guide services also include transportation to and from various tourist attractions around Bariloche.
After visiting Bariloche for a month, I have put together a list of activities we enjoyed along with a description of each. Note: there are lots of activities we missed out on because of time constraints, the following are “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Cerro Catedral (Cathedral Hill)
One of the most famous ski resorts in Bariloche and all of Latin America, Cerro Catedral also offers activities such as climbing and trekking during the warmer months. The mountain is named for the towers at the peak that resemble a gothic cathedral. The peak offers majestic views along with a ski inspired restaurant.
No tour guide agency needed here. The ski resort is about 19 km from the center of Bariloche and is easily accessible by colectivo. There are two options to choose from when visiting the mountain: trekking up the backside of the mountain or taking a chairlift to the top. My wife and I chose to take the lift to the top which is over 2,000 meters. The peak of the mountain was quite windy with a little bit of snow left. I recommend wearing sunscreen because I got very sunburned.
Cerro Tronador and Garganta del Diablo
Cerro Tronador (Mount Thunderer) is actually a geologically active volcano which is estimated to have last erupted over 10,000 years ago. It is located in the south of the Andes Range on frontier between Chile and Argentina. The mountain is named for the thundering sound produced by the frequent falling of large blocks of ice from the glaciers at its top. The mountain is over 3,400 meters tall and has 8 glaciers, however the glaciers are receding due to the warming of the climate.
I recommend hiring a tour guide service for this trip with transportation because the drive was a little off the beaten path. The guided tour included a few stops at various scenic points and ended at the base of Tronador and then Garganta del Diablo. At the base there is the glacier known as Ventisquero Negro (black snowdrift). This glacier’s dark brown color comes from the dirt and sediment picked up as it accumulated. Our tour guide told us that the glacier was once accessible and able to be touched. The glacier is fed by the Río Manso Glacier several hundred meters higher up the mountain. Our guide concluded at a small restaurant where from there we walked about 20 minutes to a beautiful waterfall called Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat).
Isla de Victoria and Bosque de Arrayanes
We set off by boat from Pañuelo Port which is easily accessible by colectivo from the center of the city. After sailing on Nahuel Huapi Lake for about an hour we reached the Quetrihué Peninsula which is home to the Los Arrayánes National Park. The park is host to over a 300 year old forest of rare cinnamon-colored trees known as Arrayánes (Myrtles) The Arryánes are actually a type of bush that grow the size of a tree and fall over and die every 100 years. The forest is rumored to be Walt Disney’s inspiration for the forest in the movie “Bambi.”
After leaving the forest we sailed for 40 minutes to Isla de Victoria (Victoria Island) and disembarked at Puerto Anchorena. Here we walked along trails and enjoyed beautiful viewpoints around the island. One trail led to a nursery of conifers and other species such as the famous Redwood and Cypress trees found in California. Another trail led us to Playa del Toro (Bull Beach) where we saw cave paintings and relaxed at a beach of volcanic sand.
7 Lagos and San Martin de Los Andes
No tour guide is needed here if you have your own source of transportation. The road of Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes) is about a 108 km drive with beautiful scenic stops. Leaving Bariloche by tour guide we started our trip towards the mountain town of San Martin De Los Andes. First we briefly stopped in Villa La Angostura a small town nestled in the northern part of the Nahuel Huapi National Park surrounded by lakes, forests and mountains. Villa La Angostura is considered to be one of most beautiful locations in Patagonia; earning it the nickname “Jardín de la Patagonia” (Garden of Patagonia). We then continued on a tour of the 7 lakes towards the town of San Martin De Los Andes. Each crystal-clear lake has unique shades of green and blue and different water temperatures.
Finally, we arrived at San Martin de los Andes, a typical mountain town with breathtaking views. Here we walked around the town and enjoyed a delicious lunch and a cerveza. San Martin de los Andes is along the shore of the Lake Lácar where you can take a swim if you can brave the cold water or rent a kayak. Here we concluded our tour and returned along route 234 to Bariloche.
Puerto Blest y Cascada de los Cántaros
We again set off by boat from Pañuelo Port for about an hour to the western end of Nahuel Huapi Lake. The lake is divided into different sections, and the western arm of the lake is the Blest section. On the way to Puerto Blest we passed Centinela Island where Perito Moreno, father of the national parks, remains rest in peace. After arriving in Puerto Blest we visited the bay and Frías River whose waters have a unique emerald color coming from the glaciers of Mt. Tronador. From the port of Puerto Blest we hiked about 4 km to the top of a waterfall known as Cascada de los Cántaros which is fed from Lake Los Cántaros. Note: there was an optional tour of the Lake Frías extension which we did not participate in. This extension includes a 20 minute ride to Puerto Frías right on the frontier of Chile.
Playa Bahía Serena
We spent the last day of our vacation at Playa Bahía Serena (Serene Bay Beach). A beautiful beach on the coast of the Nahuel Huapi Lake about 12 km from the center of town. I recommend visiting this beach because it is one of the few with actual sand and not a mixture with rocks. Here we enjoyed renting kayaks and taking in the sun. It was a perfect ending to our week in Bariloche.
Take In the View
Bariloche is located right on the short of Lake Nahuel Huapi, an impressive glacial lake whose size and deep blue color would be enough on their own; coupled with the surrounding peaks and cerros, it’s enough to take your breath away. Bariloche has various lookout points from which to survey the stunning landscape. Some popular ones are Cerro Campanario, Cerro Otto, and Cerro Llao Llao, all of which are located on the Circuito Chico route. If you’re feeling lazy, or have had too much chocolate–which we’ll get to next–to think about trekking up to the top, many of the look outs have cable cars to take you up. But there are some wonderful hiking paths all around Bariloche that are definitely worth the effort. Mirador Gutiérrez is an easy-moderate hike that takes you past waterfalls and a up to a vista of another lake to enjoy.
Beyond the scenery, Bariloche boasts a reputation for some of the best chocolate in Argentina. Staples of the sweets scene in town are Rapanui and Mamuschka, which are always crowded but worth the chaos! Sit down and enjoy a treat, or bring some back as gifts for friends and family. And during the colder months, nothing warms the body and soul like a chocolate caliente.
Hit the Slopes
In the winter, Bariloche definitely has the air of ski town. Everyone’s decked out in their ropa abrigada, and your hostel roomates will be up at dawn to head over to Cerro Catedral, one of the more popular places to enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports. In Argentina, but didn’t bring your gear with you? No worries! In town you’ll find dozens of shops that rent out cold weather clothing.
After a day of skiing, hiking, or even just taking in the sights, nothing hits the spot like a cold one. Bariloche has no shortage of craft beer taps and breweries, so if cerveza is your thing, you can visit as many as your vacation time allows. If you only have time for one, enjoy a pinta at Cervecería Patagonia. Not only is the beer (and food) great, but the view is arguably the most attractive aspect of this microbrewery, so be sure to get there during the day; it’s a great lunch spot!
Mountains, lakes, chocolate, beer…what’s not to love about this Patagonian town? Maybe the Hitler conspiracy theories, but that’s beside the point. Bariloche should be high up on your list of places to visit in Argentina, which is saying quite a lot considering how much there is to see in this massive and beautiful country.
Now that you have read about some of the best places to visit and are ready to plan your trip to Bariloche, I recommend checking out Bariloche.org for a list of good travel agencies. Another great resource is the office of tourism located in the civic center. Here they can provide you with recommendations on things to do and tour guide agencies. We did not book our excursions in advance, but were still able to find many spots available.
Tip: If you’re staying in Buenos Aires and use a Sube card, bring it with you to Bariloche! They work with the colectivos there, too. The colectivos are an extremely easy and economical way to get around in town.