We continued our trip with a stop in San Carlos de Bariloche, which most people simply refer to as Bariloche. The city rests at the foothills of the Andes so stunning views of mountains and alpine lakes abound. Step outside and you'll have the unmistakable feeling of having been transported to a small town in the Alps, even in the middle of spring. Turns out the city center was redesigned in 1930 to have the appearance of a European alpine town so many buildings resemble small chalets, constructed out of wood and stone.
Like many ski towns around the world, slopes transform into hiking trails every year, providing the opportunity to enjoy the lush forest-filled views warmer temperatures bring. The weather was absolutely gorgeous every single day of our stay so we tried to enjoy it as much as possible. With a plethora of activities, there's absolutely no way to feel bored here. During our 5-day stay, we realized we'd gone hiking 11 out of the last 15 days so we actually took two days off to relax and make sure our legs didn't fall off. Even then, we managed to keep busy, exploring town and eating loads of chocolate (see note)!
As for the other three days, we combined a bit of biking with a lot of walking...
Speak with anyone who's been to Bariloche and they'll probably tell you about the Circuito Chico, a 27 km bike ride up and down hills encompassing pristine blue lakes. On top of the bike ride, there's also a 45 minute hike nearby, up Cerro Campanario, a steep hill that offers clear views of Bariloche and its surroundings. Following the advice of our wonderful hostel owner, we decided to hike first and then bike to make sure we could make it up. Thinking back on it, I'm glad we did it in that order. After a day of biking, going uphill for almost an hour would have seemed impossible. If it seems daunting either way, there is also a chair lift that can take you up, since this is a ski town above all. After our hike, we walked to the rental shop, got our bikes and completed the circuit. While the views are gorgeous throughout, I was hoping it'd be a bike-only road vs. dealing with cars zooming past all the time. There are many stops along the way including a Swiss village but we skipped it wanting to spend more time at Villa Tacul. We ended up staying at Villa Tacul for almost an hour, we loved the calmness there so much.
Another viewpoint of Bariloche, although a more central one. We walked the 9 km up the hill from our hostel although many choose to take the cable car up (which includes transport there) for 70 pesos. The views are impressive, especially on a clear day. If I were to do it again, I would probably take the cable car as the track is quite dusty with little shade and hikers are usually not allowed up on the highest viewing platform. On the way back, we decided to walk along the Rio Negro lake instead of back down the same way. Turns out it was just as dusty and even less shade!
Our favorite hike in Bariloche and also the longest of the three (expect 3-4 hours up and 2-3 down). We took the trail leading to Refugio Frey and started the walk up after the 30 minute bus ride. The hike is a steady uphill until you approach the refugio when it becomes a bit steeper. Thankfully, a good chunk of it is in a forest so you're not in direct sunlight the whole day. The best part of it is the view you are rewarded with once you arrive.
Notes & a few helpful tips
None of the buses (except for the ones to Cerro Catedral & the airport) accept cash when you board so you have to buy a pre-paid paper ticket or metallic card at the ticket offices in town or at the overnight-bus terminal
For Cerro Campanario, take bus #10, 20, or 21 and get off at km 17.8
For Cerro Catedral, take the bus from the center of town (the destination is marked on the front of the bus). It leaves every 10 minutes past the hour but don't worry if it's late. I think ours got there at 20 minutes past.
We heard great things from travel friends about El Boliche de Alberto, a local parrilla. Unfortunately, we were running of pesos at that point so we didn't get to try it.
Check out Rapa Nui for some delicious chocolate. We consistently heard this was the best chocolatier in town so we chose it above the many other options. Make sure to try the hot chocolate as well as the raspberries coated in white & dark chocolate.
Before realizing how little pesos we had left, we tried a small vegetarian place, Casa Covita and loved it. It was a bit on the expensive side but a nice change from all the steak and potatoes!
We stayed at Hostel Achalay, which we absolutely loved. The house feels so homey and comfortable and the owners are fantastic. They even make their own bread and jam for you to enjoy at breakfast EVERY SINGLE DAY. If you have any hiking questions about the area, ask Pablo (the owner) – he really knows his stuff.