Hugging the border with Chile, Argentina’s dramatic Lake District makes a suitably bellowing welcome to Patagonia. Banish all notions of the rolling hills of Cumbria – this is big landscape, and visitors must dress, eat, travel and plan accordingly.
San Carlos de Bariloche – known universally as Bariloche – is the main hub of this great expanse of mountain-rutted wilderness, so all visitors to this part of the world will invariably lay their woolly hats here at some point. It’s a sprawling and expensive place with plenty of traps for the tourist dollar. You could happily while away your days in the city itself and leave with nothing but a pan-pipe Beatles CD, seven kilos of smoked trout and a framed picture of you cuddling a Saint Bernard called Che. Which is exactly why you need to arrive with ideas…
Here are our Top 10 recommendations for any traveler to Bariloche and Argentina’s Lake District in Patagonia.
1. Dine at El Boliche Viejo
Bona fide Barilochenses shun new wave ‘parillas’ (grill restaurants) and head 30km out of town to feast on chargrilled Patagonian lamb and cow parts at El Boliche Viejo, an old-fashioned roadside pitstop that has been taking in weary travellers – including, most famously, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – for over a century.
2. Hike up to top of Cerro Campanario
A sharp half-hour hike up to the summit of Campanario (1,050m), a mini peak just past the Bariloche city limits. It’s worth the puff for the knockout views across the Nahuel Huapi and Perito Moreno lakes and the mountains beyond, but you can always cheat and catch the chairlift straight to the summit cafe. Get a local bus along Bustillo Avenue until kilometre 17 and start at the chairlift base station.
The vista from Cerro Campanario outside Bariloche; Photo courtesy of James Kibbey.
3. Cycle the Circuito Chico
The 40km ride skirts the edge of lakes, ducks down into a chocolate-box ‘Swiss Colony’ and climbs up to some stunning lookouts with views across to the Andes. It requires a modicum of fitness, but the panoramas are worth every wheezing ascent and saddle sore. Take the bus towards Llao Llao and hire bikes (the earlier the better) at kilometre 18.3 on Bustillo Avenue.
Cycling Circuito Chico; Photo courtesy of James Kibbey.
Views over the lakes from Circuito Chico; Photo courtesy of James Kibbey.
4. Gawp at Llao Llao Hotel
You might not be up to paying US$450 for a room at Argentina’s most famous luxury resort, which sits on its own peninsula on the shores of Nahuel Huapi, but it’s well worth a visit, either to marvel at its views (over tea or a round of golf on the beautifully manicured course) or delve into its chequered history. It’s at kilometre 25 on Bustillo Avenue.
Golf at Llao Llao resort; Photo courtesy of James Kibbey.
5. Buy chocolate at Mamuschka
Though the best chocolatier in Bariloche is the subject of much dispute, Mamuschka is never far down the list. Be warned though: you can lose a whole afternoon navigating the vast range of delights in the glass counter.
6. Eat dulce de leche ice cream at Jauja
No further explanation required, except to say that this – Jauja’s frozen incarnation of the ubiquitous caramel filling is the best ice cream in Argentina. (There’s a Jauja in Buenos Aires if you can’t make the trek across to Bariloche.)
7. Drive the Traful circuit
Car hire in Bariloche is surprisingly cheap so there’s no excuse not to fold your hiking-ravaged hamstrings into a clapped out Fiat. Even the abridged version of the famous Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes) circuit requires an early start and a certain tolerance of unmade gravel roads, but the views – particularly from the Mirador Lago Traful – are worth the bumpy ride.
Our clapped out Fiat; Photo courtesy of James Kibbey.
Mirador Lago Traful; Photo courtesy of James Kibbey.
8. Visit El Bolsón
Bariloche’s hippier cousin El Bolsón is three hours down the road, and well worth a couple of days of your itinerary if only for – more – breathtaking scenery and the pinch-yourself idyllicism of the place. If you need further persuasion, it’s also the centre of artisan beer in Patagonia and home of the Fiesta de la Cerveza Artesanal.
El Bolsón, Patagonia; Photo courtesy of James Kibbey.
9. Eat at Di Como
This Italian treasure opposite Alma del Lago Hotel on Bustillo Avenue (868) doesn’t appear in the guidebooks, so the world-beating homemade pastas – just the thing after a day’s hiking – are left to the locals. Service is warm and it also serves the crispiest provoleta in town (ask for it ‘bien cocido’ just to be sure).
10. Ski Cerro Catedral
Bariloche is essentially a large ski resort, and it comes alive from mid June to early October. Cerro Catedral is the hub, serving up 40 lifts and plenty of places to hire kit, as well as 53 pistes for all standards and exciting off-piste skiing. The panoramas of Nahuel Huapi are quite something too.
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