San Carlos de Bariloche, normally just called Bariloche by everyone, is the gateway into Argentina's Patagonia.
The city is famous for its alpine feel deep in the heart of the Andes. Most European tourists will feel right at home, and American tourists can compare it easily to places like Aspen, Colorado with a Swiss twist. The little town thrives on tourism (over 650,000 tourist visit every year) and wherever you go there is a store full of ski equipment, souvenirs, or chocolates!
Another unique feature of Bariloche is the St Bernard's that can always be found in the main town plaza together with their owners. But be careful, he will try very hard to have you pose for a photo with the dogs. But don't for one minute think that it is free! It comes at a price and you better be a good negotiator unless you want to pay an inflated price.
In winter, Bariloche is the base for skiing at some nearby ski-fields with Cerro Catedral being the location to do it. It is not a huge resort but is okay for 1 or 2 days skiing. During the summer months these areas are ideal for hiking or alternatively you can take a cable-car to the top of the mountains where the view of the Lake District from the top are spectacular. It is really an ideal spot year round for travelers of all types. The people in the tourist office in Bariloche are very friendly and helpful so it is well worth a visit.
The city gets its name both from the language of the Mapuche people, meaning "people from behind the mountain" (since the Mapuches live in Chile on the other side of the Andes) and from the name of one of the first European settlers to set up a general store in the town, Carlos Wiederhold. Letters mailed to him were mistakenly marked San Carlos (Saint Carlos) instead of Don Carlos (a formal title for a gentleman in Spanish) and hence the town got its name. It was used as a base for travelers crossing the Andes. It generally had much stronger ties to Chile than to its own country, due to it location, and was dependent upon Chile for many goods until the arrival of the train connecting the small town back to Buenos Aires and the rest of Southern Argentina. Beforehand, it was actually kept a secret from the European settlers, explorers and Catholic priests attempting to conquer the land. Instead they were forced to go over much more difficult passes through the mountain ranges.
What to Do
In winter, Cerró Catedral is the location to go skiing. You can get a bus from the downtown area to the ski resort. The reason for its great reputation isn't actually due to its amazing runs or constant powder, in fact the mountain is at a relatively low elevation and they have trouble keeping snow near the base throughout the season. What it does offer are the most modern facilities in all of South America and a variety of runs. It offers 53 different runs and 27 chairlifts. there is also a fun section for freestyle and snowboarders to do jumps, practice on rails and other crazy things.
El Parque Llao Llao is also a day trip that you can make from Bariloche. The parklands are beautiful to roam in and the views of the lakes are amazing. It also houses the hotel Llao Llao which is reputed to be the most expensive hotel in Argentina. It is a five star hotel so unless you are traveling on an unlimited budget, you may need to just satisfy yourself with a walk around the hotel and maybe, maybe a drink at the café. The hotel has a long and interesting history, constructed in 1939 it was destroyed only months later by a fire and had to be rebuilt quickly. Of course it has all been refurbished and is the epitome of what a luxury mountain lodge should be.
Another trip that you can make is a visit to Cerro Tronador. It is a good 2-3 hours from Bariloche, but is one of the mountains that divides Argentina and Chile. It is just about as close as you can get to Chile without actually being there. There is a glacier at the base of Cerro Tronador but obviously not of the same magnitude as those of Southern Chile like Perito Moreno Glacier.
Cerro Otto: Take the chairlift up to the top of the mountain in winter or summer and have a cup of coffee in the revolving cafeteria that allows you to take in the 360º scenery.
Lake Nahuel Huapi is the largest lake in the area, with several small islands dotting the view. The color of the lake is a beautiful deep blue cerulean. Its name means Tiger island in the Mapuche language. The lake itself covers 560 sq. kms. and while the city of Bariloche does sit just along one bank, the majority of the shore line is virgin forest filled with cypress, poplar, and a variety of other trees. The lake is one of the defining characteristics of the area and is worth a good long boat ride or hike around its edge.
Centro Cívico: This charming area was designed by architect Ernesto de Estrada in the 1930's. It was completed in 1940 with gray stone and wood making it looks like an alpine lodge. Walk around the area and visit the outdoor market, where all of the artists are more than willing to discuss their trade and kindly wait for you to stutter out questions in your limited Spanish.
Kayaking, Hiking, Rafting, Paragliding and other outdoor sports are all great options while here with several different companies offering different tours and sport combinations.
When to Go
Depending on which outdoor activity you want to participate in, Bariloche is always a good choice for vacation anytime of year. Summer's are hot and dry and winters are cold and wet with both rain and snow.
How to Get There
Bariloche has a great international airport that has several flights coming in daily, namely from other cities in Argentina or from neighboring Chile. The number of flights increase during the ski season.
One of the most spectacular ways to get there, or away is to take a series of ferries and buses across the many lakes in the region over the border to Puerto Montt or Puerto Varas in Chile. It is best to do this by booking with one of the major tourist agencies in the area. The ferries aren't overly comfortable, but the different colors in each of the lakes are gorgeous and well worth the day's travel time. When we went we were on one of the boats with a crew of men on their way to rescue two lost hikers in the mountains.
It is also possible to go by the Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass across the Andes from Chile.
Where to Eat
If you like chocolate then Bariloche is definitely the place for you. It is the capital of chocolate in Argentina and you are guaranteed to gain a few kilos if you stay in Bariloche for a few days. There are chocolate stores everywhere and some are the size of supermarkets. You can watch the chocolate being made and after you can choose which you want to buy.
Familia Weiss: This restaurant is a must visit, if not for the wonderful food then for the absolutely beautiful décor done primarily in wood with stone. One wall however has a large picture window bringing in the even more beautiful view of the lake. They have grilled meats, pastas, some seafood and a good wine list. There is even a children's menu, (not the most common thing to find in South America). Try the meat and cheese fondue. The owners also have a smaller older restaurant and a market where you can buy smoked meats and cheese. All of the businesses leave you with a feel good feeling. Located on the corner of Palacios and V.A. O'Connor, you'll find it easy to get to in the city. (The other two are located on the main street Mite).
Casita Suiza:Talk about feeling like you are at home in the Alps, this restaurant serves up old family recipes from the fatherland, including a variety of delicious pastries and desserts. They also have fondue and grilled meat. They generally open for a late lunch... until midnight. (Quaglia 342)
El Boliche de Alberto: A steakhouse in the truest sense of the word. The menu consists of different kinds of cuts of meat and a few different optional salads and side dishes. Not the best option for the vegetarians... but gosh, darn worth it for the rest of us. The decorations are simple; nothing gets in the way of your humungous portion and you. Be aware that the rest of Bariloche also frequents this restaurant so your waiting time could be a lot longer than you'd like if you come late at night. We recommend splitting an order with a friend or asking for a half order of some of the different larger cuts. It opens for lunch around noon. (Villegas 347)
Friends: A cute café that is regularly visited by tourists, due in part to its 24 hour a day schedule. They serve sandwiches, soup and crepes along with a few other dishes.
El Refugio del Montañes / La Parrilla de Julian: By either name, this restaurant is a great find. They also serve up large portions of tender meat and side dishes. All the taste offered up by El Boliche de Alberto but without the wait. (San Martin 540)
Frantom: has a dinner and tango show. Geared mainly toward tourists, and a little pricey, it is still an enjoyable way to spend an evening, especially if you have never seen live tango. It is on the corner of Av. Costanera and Panozzi in the center of town.
Where to Drink
If you are really craving to speak some English when you are in Bariloche then The Map Room is the bar to visit. It is owned by an American who married an Argentinean and the staff all speak English. It is a great location at the end of the day for a meal or to just sit at the bar and try one of the many beers available in Argentina. Make sure you check out the maps that decorate The Map Room and leave a memento on the bar from your home city. It is located very close to the central plaza in Bariloche so it is not difficult to find.
Choppin Tapas y Fondue: This place is great to go early while there is still light out so you can catch the beautiful view of the mountains and drink the homemade beer made on site.
Where to Stay
Hostel 41 Below: Owned and run by a New Zealander (Kiwi), this hostel is located in the heart of Bariloche, just 2 blocks from the center of town and the Nahuel Huapi Lake! (Juramento 94)
Patanuk Lake: While it might be a bit on the rustic side, that seems to be part of its charm. The most important factor is of course the beautiful views of the lake that can be seen from all the rooms. It is still a new unknown spot for many travelers, so you get that personalized attention by the staff that makes all the difference. WIFI and breakfast included. (Juan Manuel de Rosas 585)
Bariloche Hostel: A helpful English speaking staff really make this hostel a great place to come and relax. The rooms are on the basic side, but the view of the lake is worth it. They offer a small breakfast and are very good for hiking advice and booking tours for you. You'll have to create your own fun though, or hit up one of the clubs in Bariloche at night if you are looking for a party scene. (Salta 528)
Tangoinn Hostel Downtown: Design, innovation, comfort, a good vibe and excellent service at this hostel. Don't miss their wonderful Jacuzzi overlooking the Lake and the snowy slopes. (Salta 514) Note: People under 18 are not allowed, even with their families.
Where to Dance
Grisu: Chances are you will somehow get lost in here in any one of the 6 floors. The building is large with different rooms for dancing. There are always 3 DJs spinning live. There is even an area with couches where you can sip your mojito and look out over the lake... this club has a something for everyone! You can try some pretty interesting drink concoctions here as well. (Juan Manuel de Rosas 574)
Cerebro: This club is filled with all kinds of light effects, smoke machines and other new age techniques to keep you dancing through the night. The DJs play a mixture of popular music so it shouldn't be hard to find a room with something you like. (Juan Manuel de Rosas 424)
Traveler's Tip: Be careful with some of the products that you might want to buy here in Bariloche. Smoked meats are not generally allowed outside of the country and large wooden objects and food don't make it into Chile.
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