7 Things to Do in Bariloche, Argentinian Patagonia
I love Argentina. Having travelled around the colourful mountains in the north and the wine regions in the centre I was more than a bit excited to have my first taste of Argentinian Patagonia by travelling to the lakeside town of Bariloche. Turns out I was right to be excited. Bariloche is beautiful. A small town running along the lake with views of the national park and the snow-capped mountains in the background, you could easily get stuck here. In fact I ended up staying six days rather than the three I originally planned.
Bariloche is like a European ski town and if you visit in the winter you can ski on the nearby mountains. I visited in January though, the middle of summer, and so whilst there were no winter sports on offer, there was more than enough to keep me occupied. Plus with clear blue skies making the views even more incredible, I was pretty much in my element.
Here is a list of some of the things I did, and would recommend, in Bariloche.
Cycle the Chico Circuit
The easiest and most fun way to see Bariloche is to rent a bicycle for the day and cycle the Chico Circuit. The circuit is a 25km loop around Lago Moreno. Although it’s pretty hilly (I had to get off and walk a couple of parts), when you’re speeding along the downhill sections taking in the beautiful views along the route you quickly forget about your aching legs.
The circuit starts at kilometre 18, about a 45 minute bus ride outside of town. Take the number 20 bus from the centre and get off at the stop after Cerro Campanario (the driver usually shouts out the stops). The bus is only 35 Argentine Pesos (~$0.60 USD) but you’ll need to pay using the SUBE card. These can be bought and topped up in most kiosks and can be used on buses all over Argentina, including Buenos Aires and Mendoza. Once you get off the bus there are two conveniently located bike rental shops. I went with Cordillera Bike Rental who charge 1000 Argentine Pesos (~$16 USD) per day. They’ll show you a map and tell you all the stops you might want to consider visiting along the route.
Parque Llao Llao & Cerro Llao Llao
The first stop they recommend is Parque Llao Llao where you can take a short walk to see the orange trees. Whilst the park isn’t anything special, it’s a conveniently located stop 7km into the circuit where you can stretch your legs and take a short walk. The next stop, however, is definitely worth stopping at, although it doesn’t allow you to rest your legs! This is the hike up to Cerro Llao Llao. The hike takes about 45 minutes and is pretty steep and tiring, but boy is it worth it. When you reach the top you’ll be greeted with stunning views of the park, the lakes and the mountains. The colours are just incredible. This is one of the best viewpoints I’ve visited so regardless of what else you do in Bariloche you should find a way to visit here.
Cerveceria Patagonia and Punta Panoramico
After climbing Cerro Llao Llao it’s back on the bike to carry on around the loop. You can make a short stop to see Lago Escondido and Bahia Lopez which are only 5 minutes after Llao Llao, but then it’s a longer stretch. There is a great reward at the end of this part though: a cold beer! That’s because the next stop is Cerveceria Patagonia where you can sit and have a beer looking out over the mountains that inspired the Patagonia brand logo. From here it’s about a 40 minute cycle back to the bike rental shop, so you can sit and chill in the pub garden until about 6pm (bikes have to be returned by 7pm).
The final recommended stop is at Punta Panoramico. Although the views along the whole circuit are great, here really does give you that great panoramic view and as it’s located right on the road you can also take some cool photos with your bike.
Hike Up to Cerro Campanario
One of the best views in Bariloche can be seen from Cerro Campanario. The start of the walk is only 10 minutes from the Chico Circuit and the bike rental shops, so if you’re not too tired (or are but, like me, don’t want to get the bus back again another day), then you can do this after you’ve done the Chico Circuit. The hike takes about 30 minutes up and like Cerro Llao Llao is very steep and tiring, but the views at the top are amazing.
Hike to Refugio Frey
A great day hike to do from Bariloche is the hike to Refugio Frey. Take bus number 55 from the centre to Cerro Catedral. Buses are every hour and leave the centre at quarter past the hour, and the journey there takes about 40 minutes. Once you arrive in the Cerro Catedral car park don’t head towards the shops but look across the car park and you’ll see a big “Frey” sign which is the start of the trail. From here it’s pretty straight forward. The hike is one of the easier ones with a general incline and a few steep hills, with only the last kilometre being a straight up hill climb over large boulders.
Although the hike is relatively easy, the rewards are high as there’s pretty much something to see along the whole route. The first part of the hike is along the side of Lago Gutierrez so you’ll get amazing views of the lake, then it’s through the forest past small streams and waterfalls, before finally coming out above the tree tops and reaching Refugio Frey and the lagoon surrounded by the mountains. Here you can take a further walk around the lagoon, chill and eat your lunch, or even go for a swim.
If you want to rest your legs after all the hiking then kayaking is a great option. There are a few different places to do it, including Lago Gutierrez (bus 50) but having seen kayaks advertised here the day before when cycling the Chico Circuit, I chose to do it at Lago Moreno. So it was bus 20 again to the start of the Chico Circuit, and then a 2km walk to the bridge over Lago Moreno. From here you can access the beach and you’ll see plenty of kayaks and paddleboards to rent. After some haggling, I paid 300 Argentine Pesos (~$5 USD) for an hour.
Take a Trip to El Bolson
El Bolson is a small town approximately 2 hours drive south from Bariloche. Via Bariloche have a number of buses a day doing this route but buses get booked up quickly so it’s worth buying your ticket a day in advance and your return ticket as soon as you arrive in El Bolson. Tickets cost 300 Argentine Pesos (~$5 USD).
Cajon del Azul
You’ll need to stay the night in order to be able to get up early the next day and do one of the day hikes in the area. One of the most popular hikes, and the one that I chose to do, is the hike to Cajon del Azul. This requires you to get the bus to Wharton, and the only bus is at 8am. It’s therefore really busy, but luckily the bus company have realised this so there were at least two buses departing at that time to cater for the demand. The bus costs 70 Argentine Pesos (~$1 USD) and takes about an hour, and once in Wharton you register at the park office and then start the hike.
The hike takes you along the river with its crystal clear water. You’ll walk over various bridges and then start the climb up where there are excellent views of the snow-capped mountains. After about 3 hours you’ll reach Refugio Cajon del Azul which you can camp at or simply grab lunch. From the Refugio there is a further 1 hour loop where you’ll see the actual Cajon itself before walking back.
The hike is generally uphill but isn’t too tough and the views are amazing. The walk back is quicker and if you have time before the bus leaves (return buses are at 5.30pm or 8.30pm) there is a cute little bar along the river, about half an hour from the start of the trek, which you can stop at before heading back.
Finally, Bariloche is famous for its chocolate and you really shouldn’t leave town without trying some. The town is littered with various chocolate shops (some of which give free samples!) but my favourite was Rapa Nui. They sell chocolate boxes or individual chocolates for pretty reasonable prices and also do the most amazing ice cream (which was why I ended up visiting five times!).
If it’s a rainy day you can also visit the Havanna Chocolate Museum. Tours cost 90 Argentine Pesos (~$1.50 USD) and include a taster of hot chocolate and 50% discount for their shop. But be aware – the tours are only in Spanish.
Go to Bariloche! It really is a great town and the views in and around it are simply stunning. I couldn’t think of a better place to mark the start of my trip south to Patagonia.
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