Most likely, you will have heard of Patagonia before. I was totally taken aback over just how beautifully breathtaking Bariloche and the whole region of Rio Negro was – like a slice of the Swiss Alps in Argentina. Bariloche was actually redesigned in the 1930’s to mimic and rival the Alps as a tourist destination.
The town of El Bolson is a 2 hour drive from Bariloche along stunning azure lakes – its smaller than Bariloche, but definitely has its own quirks and has more of a hippy vibe. If you’re passing that way to go to the southern points of Argentina (Puerto Moreno, Tierra de Fuiera etc), I urge you to stop here and indulge yourself in a little El Bolson magic.
Where we stayed
Penthouse 1004 – Bariloche
THE VIEW. Oh my god. That view. The hostel is on the tenth floor of the tallest building right in the middle of Bariloche, with an amazing view over lake Nahuel Wapi. Our room was cosy but very comfortable with sassy leopard print sheets (did they do it because of my surname!?). The whole hostel had the biggest family vibe I’ve ever experienced in my travels, and you immediately feel right at home. Penthouse 1004 has a kitchen that rivals a professional one, allowing you to create amazing homely meals, which you can eat on the balcony while watching the sunset over the mountains.
Willy Cabanas – El Bolson
First off, I booked this place because the name made me giggle (I’m a child, I can’t help it!!). But wow, I’m glad I let my immature nature sway me because the owners here are so fantastically friendly and attentive. The owner (Willy!) even gave Tom and I a lift to the bus station so we didn’t miss our coach after we checked out, and we were treated to 4 fresh towels every day. The cabana itself was quaint, with a little kitchen, bed, table and chairs – everything you would need (minus a wardrobe, but hey, I’m used to living out of my backpack now). Excellent location as well, it’s in the quiet suburbs but only a 5 minute walk to the centre of town.
What we did
You can grab the number 20 bus from the main street in Bariloche straight to the Chico Circuit which has all sorts of different hikes, the bus driver stops and calls out the main stops so you can’t miss it (get off at the golf course). Llao llao is on the Chico Circuit which is the hike we did, medium difficulty and quite steep in parts but the views are definitely worth the sweat.
Cerro Campanario is also accessible on the number 20 bus, and is located about 15 minutes earlier than Llao llao. This is also a steep hike, but you can also ascend to the top by ski lift. At the top there is a viewing deck where you can see miles and miles of blue lakes and mountains, and little cafe. On the route up, keep an eye out for orange and white mushrooms, Morillas, that can be foraged and eaten – once cooked they have a heavenly taste similar to that of truffle and parmesan.
Other hikes in the immediate area include to Cerro Otto (which was closed when we arrived), and Refugio Frey which is a two day hike that requires a tent and adequate preparation beforehand. For walking and hiking in El Bolson the easiest accessible one is Cerro Amigo that has three different walks for three different views, in ranging difficulty. Bare in mind, some days you have to pay for access. If you are walking from the centre of town to or from Cerro Amigo there is a delicious churro food truck handily situated on route for a sugary pick me up!
Chocolate shops –
You might want to sit down for this revelation but I am not a fan of chocolate. And either is Tom. We’re a pretty chocolate-less couple. That being said Bariloche is super famous for its chocolate (the whole Swiss/Alpine thing coming into play again!) so we went to Rapuani which is a fancy chocolatier in the front and a cacao obsessed restaurant in the back. We sampled a hot chocolate, alfajore and a walnut brownie. Bariloche has chocolate shops dotted all up and down the main streets for the tourists, with plenty of free samples to satisfy your sweet tooth, and even a chocolate factory tour!
Kayaking, Rafting –
Bariloche is the best place in Argentina for outdoor activities. We booked the kayaking from the information centre in the middle of town for $3000 pesos for two people, which included a bus pick up and kayak rentals. You glide along Lago Guterrez in a two person kayak for 2 hours, but be aware it is not for the faint-hearted with little upper body strength as Tom ended up having to pull another kayak back to shore. We never got to do the white water rafting, but this can be booked from the same place.
El Bolson Market –
This market was full of skillfully hand crafted items that I would’ve loved to by if my backpack was bigger! Especially the gorgeous large, wooden serving boards made from local wood. There are food trucks with delicious local food and fresh fruit juices that were so, so tasty – I had the raspberry and Tom had the blackberry. There are also two sellers of weed at this market, however we were warned by our Isareli friends do not buy off the seller with curly hair, as he takes your money and never returns!
Walking Tours –
There are all sorts of paid walking tours you can do in Bariloche as it is a tourist hot spot. We did the ‘Bariloche German Footprint’ tour that revealed somewhat ‘shocking’ (their word) details of presence of Nazi’s in Bariloche and Argentina, the history of immigration of Germans, and how it affected and changed the way the town was established. There are other tours such as ‘Bariloche Flavours’ which I didn’t attend, however, below I set out my very own flavours of Bariloche restaurant tour…
Where we ate
La Casa de la Hamburgesa
Omg the staff here are the friendliest ever. The burgers here are named after countries in South America where we tried the Venezuelan burger and the Peruvian burger. Top notch!
A fully vegetarian restaurant in Argentina!? Madness. We came here 2 or 3 times, to eat their delicious veggie Asian food that was pay by weight, which you could eat in or takeaway. Their seitan curry was the absolutely best I’ve ever tasted.
Oh dios mio, I was dumbfounded to find an Israeli restaurant that served shawarma and falafel. We came here 3 or 4 times. If you go, please get the shawarma pizza you will not regret it.
We came here for midnight ice cream before a night shift. The cones are piled up with three different flavours, and oh so yummy sauces.
From the outside it looks like a greasy fast food takeaway, but the food inside is very decent. I murdered about 3 of their choripans. Also, great wi-fi!
There is a store in Bariloche AND El Bolson for this ice cream shop. Servers are friendly (they liked my Metallica t-shirt, so that is an automatic tick!), ice cream is delectable and price is great!
The Coffee Store
Like a moth to a flame, I am always drawn to trendy coffee shops. They are like my haven. You can chose the region your coffee comes from, and the pizza’s here aren’t bad either!
Oh dear. It came so highly rated, so we went on one of our first nights. The menu is mainly steak and lamb. I opted for the salad and received a bowl of undress carrot shavings and lettuce. That cost me a fiver in British sterling!
We came here for ‘El Super Classico’ (twice) and drank so much we needed to eat. Twice we had the loaded fries that came with gooey cheese and sausage pieces. So naughty but so good.
Tablon Pizza – El Bolson
Best pizza I had in Argentina! It was perfection, super flavourful and loooovely thin base, which is the biggest rarity you will find in this country. Good effort Tablon.
That is a lot of information to digest, but I hope it gives you a guide of places to visit while you’re in Bariloche and El Bolson. Obviously, there is a bit more to do in Bariloche over El Bolson but both towns are definitely worth a visit. I was happily surprised at the variety of foods there were available in Bariloche and sadly surprised about the options in the dubbed ‘hippy village’ of El Bolson, that were mainly badly cooked meat. The whole region of Patagonia is magical, its not hard to see why it is the next trendy skiing destination.
Upcoming post – Peumayen review