Base Camp Bariloche: What to Do in Argentina’s Lakes Region
Just an easy two-hour flight from bustling Buenos Aires, visitors to the town of Bariloche will find themselves stepping off the plane into a scene straight from an idyllic fairy tale. With snow-capped peaks towering over glistening glacial lakes lined by pastel-colored lupine flowers, this laid-back town in the northern region of Argentine Patagonia is a dream for nature lovers.
San Carlos de Bariloche, or more commonly just “Bariloche,” is famous for its ever-present views of the massive lake named Nahuel Huapi, seen from both town and most of the hikes. The lake is situated in the middle of a 1.8-million acre national park of the same name.
Here’s how to experience the best of Argentina’s Bariloche region if you go…
Adventure your way through the landscape
Bariloche offers everything from short waterfall walks to one-day glacier hikes and demanding multi-day treks.
The majority of trails are connected by refugios (mountain refuges). Frey is the most popular day trek because of its relative ease and spectacular views, but go into it understanding that the trails can get crowded. Refugios Lopez, Cerro Lindo and Laguna Negra can also be reached by beginner to intermediate hikers on a day hike and are generally less crowded.
Experienced trekkers wanting to fully experience the stunning views of the region will want to undertake the epic 31-mile trek from Pampa Linda to Colonia Suiza. It’s best to go in the summer months of January or February to assure that the mountain passes will be accessible (other times of the year may mean too much snow).
Water sports aficionados can not only raft the turquoise Rio Manso close to Bariloche (the sections closest to the border of Chile have the most exciting rapids), but can also kayak or kitesurf Lago Nahuel Huapi. Steady winds, safe shorelines and kilometers of water with the Andes in the background make for a perfect playground.
To enjoy the water without exerting much energy, set up a sunset sail. Constellations custom travel company is the most reliable option, and in addition to memorable sailing trips, they can also craft unique adventures such as an overnight in a private luxury Bedouin-style tent in the middle of some of the most spectacular scenery that Argentina has to offer.
Eat like a local
The Lakes Region of Patagonia is noted for its chocolate, microbrews and traditional Argentine asado, making this a perfect spot for both foodies and nature lovers alike. Straight out from Centro Cívico there are blocks upon blocks of streets lined with chocolate shops. Mamuschka has a dizzying display of variety, while Rapanui is famous for its locally-grown raspberries dipped in white chocolate, then dark chocolate, before frozen.
While microbrews are just recently becoming popular in Argentina, Blest started making beer here 30 years ago. Get a sample tasting to try multiple beers including their Pilsen, Cream Stout, Scotch Ale, cider and a delicious IPA. They also offer specialty regional beers such as a Honey Queen beer and a slightly acidic raspberry beer, both using fresh ingredients from the area.
For the best in asado, Alto el Fuego is a cozy family-run restaurant set in an adorable old house close to Centro Civico. The menu is comprised of the best of traditional Argentine cuisine, including ojo de bife, grilled proveleta, and empanadas cooked to perfection. There is an impressive wine cellar downstairs with some very under-the-radar wines, and the owners make all of the homemade desserts from scratch. Because there are few tables in this small restaurant, it’s best to make a reservation, especially in the high summer season of January and February.
Butterfly is Bariloche’s most renowned gourmet restaurant. The impeccable interior is refined but not pretentious, with a fireplace and massive windows overlooking Lake Nahuel Huapi. There’s only a handful of tables, which makes having a reservation a must. They offer a tasting menu of seven courses, with a good mix of both local and international dishes. (Chef Andres Lopez trained in Europe and his dishes have Spanish and French influence.) Each plate is paired with an ideal Argentine wine for that dish. This is a perfect place to commemorate your last evening in Bariloche.
Road trip for a day or two
Two hours to the south (and easily accessible by buses run by Via Bariloche) is the hippie town of El Bolsón, home to Argentina’s most celebrated artist market, the country’s best gelato (at Jauja), and incredible paragliding over Cerro Piltriquitron. At nearby Lago Puelo there are kayaks to rent.
If you have time in your schedule and a vehicle, consider spending another day to head a bit more south to Piedra Parada. In just a two and a half hour drive you will find yourself in the desert steppe with surreal rock formations and some of the world’s best rock climbing.
If you want to head north of Bariloche, consider taking the Siete Lagos circuit. On this half- to full-day trip (depending on how long you stop along the way), you will pass by seven picturesque lakes that this region is known for.
While Buenos Aires is generally the initial draw for visitors to Argentina, it’s often the charm, natural wonder, and abundant activities that you can find in Patagonia adventure hubs like Bariloche that keep visitors coming back to the country.