BARILOCHE – a Swiss Vacation on the Opposite Side of the Globe

Dramatically jagged mountains, covered by a picturesque layer of eternal snow overtowering fir-covered hills.
Trouts jumping in ice-cold turquoise waters of glacier lakes, rivers, and creeks.

Renata Green standing on the shore of Lago Puelo close to El Bolson
Embracing Beauty!

Not Swiss enough?
Well, the town of San Carlos de Bariloche cranks it up a notch by manufacturing some of the world’s best artisan chocolate and making you pose with a Saint Bernard dog – including the small barrel of rum around the neck; his neck, not yours.

As a matter of fact, San Carlos de Bariloche, located in the North of Patagonia at the bottom of the Andes and at the border of the large glacial lake Nahuel Huapi, is most of all the perfect starting point for hikes and ski trips to the surrounding mountains and the mesmerizing lake lands.

Saint Bernhard's Dog in Bariloche
Actually, he’s a model: For about 500 pesos he’s posing with you in front of the majestic mountains.

Since I was there during the Argentinian summer, there, obviously, was no skiing, which I didn’t miss a bit….since I’m don’t ski.

Renata Green at the Bariloche sign in Bariloche
This was on a Saturday around 7 a. m., therefore, there was no queue – but fortunately a young couple willing to take my picture. The early bird catches the….photo.

But I like nature. I enjoy majestic sceneries. I love beauty. And the lake land around Bariloche has tons of it.

The Town in Former Times

It’s said that Chilean-German Carlos Wiederholdt Piwonka established a settlement that in 1902 was officially founded as San Carlos de Bariloche. Although the German encouraged more compatriots as well as Swiss to settle in the area and focused on trade mainly with Chile, tourism picked up pace quite early, namely in the early 20th century.

There is a very dark side to Bariloche: I don’t know if it was for the large German community or because the mountainous region is so Alpine-European, but after WWII, some quite atrocious war criminals found refuge in there. The most infamous one is probably Erich Priebke who lived here undisturbed until, in 1993, German investigators applied for extradition.

Sadly, it was not unusual that Nazi war criminals found a safe house in Argentina. Mr. Perón was very cooperative in this field.

The Town Today

So, today, the town of Bariloche as such is not very alluring but also not as bad as some people put it. The home to some 130,000 inhabitants is surprisingly the largest city in the province.

Calle Mitre in Bariloche
Walking down the Calle Mitre, the main shopping street, seams to lead you straight to the mountains.

The entire city center is focused on tourism: There are chocolate and souvenir stores, eateries, and lots and lots of travel agencies since the main goal of Bariloche’s visitors is to leave the city. This is not an insult but actually tells you a lot about Bariloche’s strongest suit: The breathtakingly beautiful landscapes around.

Chocolate manufactured in Bariloche
Defining the target group: I find it super-funny that Bariloche’s most popular chocolate brand is called Turista, tourist.

Besides all the businesses catering to the visitors, there are few genuine tourist attractions like the church Nuestra Señora del Nahuel Huapi that was inaugurated in 1946. And there is the so-called Centro Civico, the civic center that looks like some Alpine mansion and is mostly interesting for those who seek tourist information since it houses also the official tourist information bureau. However, if you can get the info you need somewhere else like for instance on the internet, I wouldn’t bother going there since it’s always, always packed with people and lines are very long.

Then, there are tons of guest houses and hotels all over the city center. Prices here are relatively high and names are quirky. For instance, Gstaad – already for a German tongue, this name of a Swiss town is a challenge. I would love to hear an Argentine pronouncing it, though.

Cerro Otto

Like I said, hardly anyone stays very long in the center. The first beautiful attractions are already right on the outskirts of town.

Actually, there are beaches right at the center.

City beach of Bariloche
The city beach at Bariloche right below the main square.

But even the places in the outskirts like for instance Cerro Otto, the Otto hill, are easy to reach. You can either get to the Teleferico, the cable car station, by public bus #50. Mind you, as I explained in my post on Buenos Aires, you need to obtain a SUBE card to take public transportation; yes, the one you’ve bought in Buenos Aires can be used also in Bariloche.

Teleferico Cable Car to Cerro Otto in Bariloche

Or you go on a shuttle bus at the corner of the streets Mitre and Villegas. This shuttle bus leaves every 30 minutes and you pay 900 pesos – albeit this is the cost of the cable car, the shuttle itself is actually complimentary, but you still need a ticket.

People hiking down Cerro Otto in Bariloche

Cerro Otto is a hill named after Otto Goedecke, one of the first pioneers that had his farm on the slopes of the hill. And if you’re a trouper, instead of taking the cable car, you can actually hike the 8 kilometers to the top located 1,405 meters above sea level.

View from Cerro Otto
A world made of blue – and, by the way, #nofilter.
Why do I feel the need to stress this fact? Well, you might wanna read my post on Instagram.

No matter how you get up there, you’ll be rewarded by grand views of the entire lake Nahuel Huapi against the backdrop of an overwhelming mountain ridge.

I already complained about this in my post on Kawaguchiko, the town located at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan: Why do people need some additional entertainment in a place as mesmerizing and beautiful? How come nature’s beauty is not enough?

I’m very happy having just an epic view.

Well, whether you can answer this question or not, there is some additional entertainment – literally – on top of Cerro Otto.

A chocolate heart in the backdrop of Lake Nahuel Huapi
An – edible – symbol of my love for the view of Lake Nahuel Hapi.

I, however, was just standing there, taking in all those gorgeous shades of blue.

Day Trip to El Bolsón and Lago Puelo

15 minutes of fame

“Good morning, everybody! On today’s tour, we are joined by a lady all the way from Germany, Mrs. Renata”, announces the loudmouthed tour guide my participation in the day trip to El Bolson while I’m making my way between the seat rows to the back of the bus.

I’m not exactly shy, but there is no reason making such a fuss over my presence – there are about 16 other people, after all. Why doesn’t he introduce them?

“Hey, if I’m the attraction of this tour, I want you to tip me!” I’m trying to shut him up in a fun way. It works, everyone is laughing and I Mr. Loudmouth changes the topic.

But nevertheless, I was introduced in a quite intrusive way so that I remain one of the highlights till the end of the tour.

On the bus, my fellow day-trippers are eyeing me secretly from the corners of their eyes. As I look back at them, they sheepishly smile. It’s kinda sweet. Being a foreigner from so far away and, nonetheless, speaking their language fluently seems to be quite fascinating.

During our visit to an organic orchard, a mother-daughter-couple is sneaking their way next to me and during the break, only the fast’n’lucky single mother from Venezuela with her two kids finds a seat at my table to ask me some questions.

Wow, so this is what it feels like being really, really popular. However, I’m some sort of day trip homecoming queen just because I traveled over 12,000 kilometers to join this tour.
Well, if that’s my claim to fame, so be it.

El Bolsón

The trip to El Bolsón was my first choice since, actually, I even wanted to spend two days there. Eventually, it turned out that the coach I had to take to continue South would not stop there so that I decided to stay in Bariloche and visit this famous place on a day tour.

Why is El Bolsón so popular’n’famous? After all, it’s just another small town.

Located at the foot of the Cerro Piltriquitrón, the town has a particularly mild climate for its southern location and is, therefore, a very fertile’n’fruitful region.

Fruit Trees against the backdrop of a Mountain Ridge
Stop at an organic orchard – including souvenir-shopping, of course.

Like I mentioned above, we were visiting an organic orchard where, after a short introductory tour, we could purchase some produce at their farm store. I buy five packs of different local seasonings and a big bottle of organic blueberry juice against a terrible cough that’s been torturing me for two days.

Trout farm on the way to El Bolson
And another shopping stop at a trout farm.

After another short tour of a trout farm, we finally make it to the town of El Bolsón.

In the late 19th century, the first non-indigenous settlers in this area were farmers from Chile.

Then, in the 1970s, in the times of Woodstock and the longing for an alternative, independent lifestyles, hippies from Buenos Aires migrated to El Bolsón in search of peace and love. Living in a self-contained community, they practiced horticulture and artisan craftwork.

Mate cups on the market in El Bolson
These mate-cups made from some pumpkin are actually quite nice. Much of the goods that are sold on the market, however, are far too dream-catcher-ish for me.

On three days a week, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, there is a market and craft fair, and those are the days when the tourist buses from Bariloche get here. Therefore, this market is an important income source for today’s inhabitants.

Vendor on the market of El Bolson
If you’re going to El Bolsón, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair….the spirit is still alive.

Most of the visitors who actually stay here are still rather hippie-ish backpackers. But nonetheless, every nature-lover will find their Dorado around El Bolsón’s since apart from hiking and climbing in the mountains, it’s a great place for rafting and fishing, too. Trouts, coming from the clear, ice-cold lakes and rivers, are one of the region’s signature export product.

Trout with potatos
Those trouts that are not being exported, can be enjoyed right on the spot – for instance with some fried potatoes and a creamy sauce.

Lago Puelo

After some shopping – my fellow day-trippers – and some big lunch – me, we were heading to Lago Puelo.

As I see the clear, turquoise water, I remember that it was for this lake that I absolutely wanted to visit El Bolsón. It’s glacial water and crystal-clear.

Lago Puelo close to El Bolson
Lago Puelo against the backdrop of the majestic mountains. Can an outing be any more beautiful than this?

Located in a National Park and Reserve, there are around 20,000 visitors coming every summer to enjoy the water’s beauty and the serenity of the surrounding mountains and forests.

Day Trip Circuito Grande

New day, new trip. And, unfortunately, new loudmouth. By the time we reach Bariloche’s city limits, this Mr. Loudmouth has said my name about fifty times. Oh dear, a Spanish speaking, solo travelling gringa is really a great token for these guys.

This Mr. Loudmouth is talking without cessation, lecturing us on topics totally unrelated to this trip, sharing his point of view on basically everything. It’s a permanent, slightly annoying drone. And while he’s blathering on, we are passing by the most amazing places. All other buses are stopping and people are taking pictures. We are stuck on a bus that keeps on going with a man that keeps on talking. I feel like kidnapped, complaining a couple of times that I want! to! take! pics! Mr. Loudmouth staves me off, we would soon stop at a truly beautiful place. And the bus keeps on going with a man that keeps talking. I’m annoyed. Very annoyed.

Puente Villa Llanquin across Río Limay
Finally a break – from the ride’n’guide. Crossing the Río Limay at Villa Llanquin.

Then, finally, Mr. Loudmouth had mercy and let us get off at Villa Llanquin where a suspension bridge is crossing the Limay River.

ferry across Rio Lamay at Villa Llanquin
However, if you need to take your vehicle, you’ll have to take this rustic ferry.

We then continued on a rough gravel road and not far from Villa Llanquín, we stopped again at what they call the Lemu Cura viewpoint.
This was the saving grace – forgotten the stupid bus, gone the endless monologue…drowned in waters of the bluest blue with a hemline of cool turquoise.
Life was good.

Anfiteatro along Rio Lamay on the Circuito Grande
Nothing but beauty.
Anfiteatro along Rio Lamay on the Circuito Grande
Rio Lamay: #nofilterneeded

Actually, after having enjoyed the sight of these marvelous sceneries, I was so pleased that I stopped nagging and rolling my eyes and let Mr. Loudmouth be Mr. Loudmouth. Patiently, I was looking forward to the next stop.

Lago Traful on the Circuito Grande Tour from Bariloche
Kayaking is one popular activity on Lago Traful,…..

Which then was at Villa Traful, a hamlet on the shores of the same-named lake which is connected by the Traful River with the Nahuel Huapi lake. Hey, this region is called Lakeland for a reason!

Lago Traful on Circuito Grande Tour from Bariloche
….fishing is another.

Yes, the stop at Villa Traful was nice, too, and I totally understand that people spend their vacation in these serene surroundings.

Lago Traful on Circuito Grande Tour from Bariloche
Or just doing nothing and enjoying the scenery.

However, we continued. To more highlights, namely to Villa La Angostura which is only an eight kilometers hike from the famous Bosque Arrayanes – but this enchanted place was on my list for the next day.

Day Trip to Bosque Arrayanes and Isla Victoria

As they sell you the boat trip to the Bosque Arrayanes and Isla Victoria, it comes without the entrance fee to the National Park and the port tax, this you have to pay once you get to Puerto Pañuelo, located about 24 kilometers west of Bariloche.

Also, the shuttle to the port is not included. For an additional 500 pesos, they don’t even pick you at your hotel but you have to catch the shuttle at designated stops.

Nobody tells you that there is also the public bus #20 going every twenty minutes and taking you to Puerto Pañuelo in about 45 minutes for something like 35 pesos. 35! 70 round trip! Instead of 500.

The Night Owl Ride

Since I’m a cheap person on the one hand, I decided to take the public bus. Since on the other hand, I’m a very prudent person, I wanted to make sure I’d be there on time.

Therefore, I took an early bus. A very early bus. Some people might say a far too early bus.

Since it was still very early and it was a Saturday, Bariloche’s streets were surprisingly lively. Lots of young men, clearly inebriated, as well as young women who obviously didn’t stick exclusively to soft drinks, either, were weaving on the sidewalks, holding on to each other.

With this crowd – and me – the very, very early bus #20 filled up right at the civic center stop and off we went across Bariloche and then along the unending Avenida Exequiel Bustillo.

While I had woken up early, most of my fellow passengers hadn’t slept at all and I had the feeling they some urgently needed to sit. Or, even better, to lay down.
You have to give it to the driver that he did his best to get them home as fast as he possibly could. For every stop he had to make, he made up by racing like a madman till the next night owl signaled to get off.

So time passed quick amidst this spectacle of juvenile drunks and the racer at the wheel and we actually made it to Puerto Pañuelo far ahead of the scheduled time. And since I had taken a far too early bus, anyway, I now had an hour to spend.

Puerto Panuelo in Bariloche
View of the hotel’s manicured golf course against the backdrop of Lake Nahuel Huapi.

Actually, there are far worse places spending an early Saturday morning than Puerto Pañuelo and the adjacent Llao Llao hotel, located on a hill above the port.

View from Hotel Llao Llao In Bariloche
No, Heidi will not join us – despite this view, it’s Argentina, not Switzerland.

I had eaten breakfast so that I just wanted a nice cup of coffee, no matter how much I had to pay for it. Unfortunately, before 10 a. m., they don’t serve just coffee, even not an expensive one. You have to buy their breakfast. Hence, I only took a couple of pictures of how the other half lives – and most of all, of what the other half sees from their hotel – and went back to Puerto Pañuelo where the first shuttle buses arrived.

Lago Moreno Este
View of Lago Moreno Este from hotel Llao Llao.

Los Arrayanes

Los Arrayanes is a national park of about 17.5 square kilometers. It became a national park in 1971 to protect the unique arrayán trees. Some of these species are hundreds of years old.

Renata Green at the Parque Arrayanes
At the starting point of the wooden trail.

Interestingly, the arrayán is a plant classified as a shrub that only her takes the bearing of a tree. Isn’t that amazing? It has an intense cinnamon color with a very thin crust. To protect the soil and the fragile roots, visitors are not allowed to trample where they please but have to walk on some wooden path.

Arrayan Tree
The typical cinnamon-colored branches of the Arrayán tree.

Isla Victoria

Isla Victoria was shaped by the last ice age, which left several traces in the region, beginning with the Nahuel Huapi lake itself. In the past, it was inhabited by indigenous communities. In the late 18th century, missionary Francisco Menéndez found the island, that he called Isla Large, uninhabited. It was never known for certain what happened to these ancient inhabitants. Only in 1918, the isle was called Isla Victoria in a map. It is believed that the name Victoria is honoring the painter and philanthropist Victoria Aguirre who visited the region in 1917.

Seagull
A seagull following our catamaran.

Anyway, the visits continue – actually, there are two tours to the island every day. While the route is exactly the same, the early tour takes almost two hours more that you can spend having lunch or lazing on the beach.

After the two loudmouths that accompanied the other trips, I enjoyed the calm and knowledgable explanations of the tour guides. After all these tours, I felt quite tired and was in no mood for more pointless brouhaha.

View from Playa del Toro on Isla Victoria
Can you spot the beach to the left? Look closer: It has my name on it!

Sadly, that’s also the reason why I chose the third option of how to spend my day on the island.

The first one was an 8 kilometers hike which I would have loved to join, but…naaah, I’m too tired.

Playa del Toro on Isla Victoria
There is already much natural beauty to admire just walking to the beach.

The second one was a short hike of about one hour, guided by a lovely lady with a beautiful voice. Listening to her deep, warm voice alone would have been a joy. In the very last moment, I opted for the panza arriba alternative – panza arriba translates to belly up. Yes, I spent three long hours on the beach, reading, and sleeping and looking at the beautiful surroundings.

Practical Information

How to Get There…

Bariloche has an airport that goes by the name of Teniente Luis Candelaria. And since there are a couple of connections with Brazil, it’s a so-called international airport.

While I’m not convinced regarding this international thing, especially during high season, there are tons of domestic flights from many different cities.

JetSmart plane from Buenos Aires to Bariloche
Taking the plane for Bariloche at El Palomar in Buenos Aires.

As I came from Buenos Aires, there were two different flights at almost the same time. Both low-cost carriers: Argentine flybondi and JetSmart, a company from Chile. Low-cost flights are actually low cost and start at around 20 US$. However, in Buenos Aires, these flights are going from the El Palomar airport, you’ll find all the relevant information in this post.

Once you land in Bariloche, you might be shocked by the temperature difference. I left Buenos Aires in sweltering heat and as I landed, it was 10°C. So you better be prepared.

There are various options to get from the airport to the city center. Obviously, you can take a cab, but that’s actually quite a waste of money. Because besides the city bus #72 that costs about 20 pesos – don’t forget your SUBE card to pay the fare – there are special shuttle buses for about 200 pesos that bring you straight to your accommodation which is a great service if you aren’t familiar with the place.

About two kilometers east of the city center is the bus terminal. From here, coaches are going to many different places around Argentina. However, before you book a bus ride, check the hours – most trips are very long and the buses are far less comfortable than for instance in Perú.

Bus on the way between Bariloche and Los Antiguos
There is not that much traffic on Ruta 40.

If you are going from Bariloche south to Los Antiguos, El Chaltén, or El Calafate and you are going by Chaltén Travel – which I highly recommend – note that the bus does not leave from the bus terminal, but from the Club Andino on the calle 20 de Febrero 30.

…and Around

Although Bariloche is not that big and very touristy, they have a great system of buses taking visitors even straight to some of the points of interest such as the Cerro Otto – Línea 51, the beaches on Península San Pedro – Línea 22, the Colonia Suissa – Línea 10, and Puerto Pañuelo – Línea 20. You’ll find all the routes and time tables on this website.

Of course, there are also cabs – metered like everywhere in Argentina and not very expensive.

Organized Tours

Like I said, downtown Bariloche is packed with travel agents – big and small, shabby and fancy. The tours don’t differ at all, the prices do a bit – and you can even haggle a little.

However, according to my experience, ZigZag Travel is the cheapest one. I checked a couple of agencies, negotiating cheaper prices – and still, ZigZag had the best price.
You can check them online.
Although on their site they say otherwise, I got the same discounted prices also at their office. Only that the office is not that easy to find.

Lemu Cura View Point along Rio Lamay on the Circuito Grande
A view you shouldn’t miss: Rio Lamay, seen from the Lemu Cura viewpoint on the Circuito Grande.

Here is there address – and on the map, you’ll find the exact location. Be aware that the office is on the second floor, they don’t have a big sign.

ZigZag Travel
Villegas 316
2nd Floor
Office A (R8400)
San Carlos de Bariloche
Phone: +54 – 294 – 443 20 03
Email: agustin@zigzagtravel.com.ar

Monday to Friday 9 a. m. to 1 p. m. and 5 p. m. to 9 p. m., Saturday and Sunday only from 5 p. m. to 9 p. m.

Although they are claiming on their site doing tours in English, all the tours I took were in Spanish. Also other groups we met on the way were in Spanish. Actually, I met very few tourists that were not from a Spanish-speaking country or from Brazil, consequently all tours were exclusively in Spanish. Just a heads up for you.

Where to Stay…

Since Bariloche is very touristy and therefore everything is a bit more expensive, accommodations, too.

I stayed at the Ausonia hotel which looks nice online but is a bit of a dump in reality.

Lake Nahuel Hapi at Bariloche
This is what you see from the hotel’s window.

First, they assigned me to a room that was a bit like a prison cell. However, they were immediately willing to give me another room. It was on the 4th floor and had an amazing view of Lake Nahuel Hapi – a million dollar! Nonetheless, as soon as I didn’t look at the lake but around the room, I was far less impressed.
On the other hand, I left early in the morning after the – complimentary – breakfast and came back to my room in the evening to crash.
So if you’re not on a honeymoon or a special birthday, it might be a quite cheap and okay-ish option.

However, here you find different options where to stay in Bariloche.*

One very important thing: In addition to the price for the room, there is a crazy 21% tax. The good thing is that foreigners who stay up to 90 days in the country do not have to pay it. However, sometimes you have to remind the receptionists since they are so used to local tourists. Nevertheless, you have to pay your hotel bill by credit card to be entitled to this exemption.

…and what to Eat

There are many restaurants offering what they think is Alpine food, however, you get also trout from the ice-cold waters around. There are also many snack options like burgers and empanadas. Nothing really overwhelming and everything a bit pricier than in not so touristy spots.

Cash And Cards

Obtaining cash in Bariloche is actually too easy. Besides the official banks and currency exchanges, there are loads of money changers on Calle Mitre. ‘Change, cambio, dólares’ – these are the sweet things they whisper in your ear.

Actually, it can be very tempting to change with them when they promise you 80 pesos for a €uro instead of 66 that the official bank is willing to pay.

Of course, it’s your decision. You only have to consider that the money might not go a fully legal way – code money laundry – and if something goes wrong, i. e. if you get dud bills – good luck negotiating with those guys.

Argentina Bills on a Table
Some Argentine bills.

You can pay most service and even smaller amounts by credit card. However, haggling over prices for instance for day trips often includes the final remark if paid cash. So sometimes, paying cash gets you a better price.

Normally, credit cards work fine at ATMs, but you might encounter another significant problem: There simply might be no cash in that stupid thing.
Yes, it is definitely frustrating having waited for 15 minutes in line just to find out that the person before you got the last bills.

Also, some ATMs are limited to a certain – very low – amount like e. g. 3,000 Pesos; and no matter how much you get, you always pay the same, very high fee.

Language

Yes, Argentina is a South American country once conquered by the Spanish and Castillano is spoken to this date.
The Argentine Spanish that is. Argentinians pronounce everything that sounds like ya, ye, yi, yo, etc. sha, she, shi, sho. Yo llego becomes sho shego. And the hotel Llao Llao ist being pronounced shao shao, almost like ciao in Italian.

Bariloche is a tourist place so many people speak quite good English. However, since most of the tourists are locals or Chileans – or Brazilians who manage to understand Spanish, the tours I joined were exclusively in Spanish. I believe that if I hadn’t spoken the language, the loudmouths would have translated at least parts of their endless monologues for me. I experienced that in El Calafate when there was one lady from the US on the bus.

Although you probably will be fine with English, you might want to brush up your Spanish on babbel – knowing some words always makes things smoother.

Connection and Communication

Like during most of my trips where European roaming is not available, I did not get a national SIM-card but did rely on WiFi – worked like a charm.

However, things might be different if you are planning on doing extended tours and excursion by yourself – then a working cellphone might be a lifesaver. Other than that, the available access spots will do.

Map

San Carlos de Bariloche was only one stop of my exciting Argentinian road trip. Go to the main post to check out all the other destinations.

Pinnable Pictures

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Pinnable Picture on my Post on Bariloche
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Pinnable Picture on my Post on Bariloche
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Pinnable Picture on my Post on Bariloche
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One Reply to “BARILOCHE – a Swiss Vacation on the Opposite Side of the Globe”

  1. This website was… how do I say it? Relevant!!
    Finally I’ve found something that helped me.
    Many thanks!

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