Bariloche: The “Little Switzerland” of Argentina
Bariloche, Argentina is a wildly popular destination in Patagonia’s Lake District for Argentinians and foreigners alike. It’s a ski destination in the winter and in the summer it attracts crowds for hiking and relaxing days at one of the many pristine lakes nearby. Bariloche hugs the shores of the stunning Nahuel Huapi Lake and it’s full of short hikes to scenic viewpoints.
After getting your wine fix in Mendoza, you’re in for a change of pace with Bariloche’s booming craft beer scene. I recommend doing things early in Bariloche because the top attractions and restaurants get very crowded. Argentinians like to start the day late and you can take advantage of this.
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How to Get There
There are regular direct flights from Buenos Aires and occasional flights from Córdoba and Mendoza. If you’re traveling by bus, get ready for a long journey. The ride is 20 hours from Mendoza and 26 long hours from El Chalten.
Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of both buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
Where to Change Money
You can find blue dollar moneychangers on Calle Mitre between Vilegas and Quaglia. The rates are just as good as in Buenos Aires and this was the easiest exchange I had in Argentina. They offered a fair rate without any negotiating and were genuinely nice people.
How to Get Around
Bariloche is a big city by Patagonian standards with over 100k people and the downtown area is a bit spread out but walkable. Buses are the best way to access the hikes and to get to and from the bus terminal. You’ll need to buy a SUBE card to use the buses and here are the bus timetables for Bariloche.
*All prices are in USD due to Argentina’s high inflation*
What to Do
Paso de Las Nubes – A scenic and rather easy two-day hike in Nahuel Huapi National Park. Refugio Rocca, where you spend the night, couldn’t be in a more perfect place. It’s surrounded by waterfalls, a snow-capped peak, and beautiful views of Lake Frías. You arrive at the park via a 3-hour combi ride and return to Bariloche on a scenic boat ride across Nahuel Huapi Lake.
The logistics are a bit complicated because the combi, refugio, and boat are all operated by different companies. There is the option to add another day to hike across a glacier from Otto Meiling Refugio to Rocca, but you’ll need to hire a mountain guide.
Cerro Llao Llao – This was my favorite hike in Bariloche. It takes less than an hour and the viewpoint looking out over the lake is fantastic. A few of the viewpoints in Bariloche have cable cars, cafes, and large crowds, so you don’t feel like you are out in nature. Llao Llao is different, and I had a wow this is Patagonia moment here. You can take the #20 bus to the trailhead.
Refugio Frey Hike – A 6-hour out and back hike through the forest that ends at a lagoon. The trail starts near Villa Cerro Catedral and you can get here on the #55 bus. On the descent, instead of going back to Villa Cerro Catedral, I recommend walking to Villa Los Coihues. Along the way, you’ll have views of the beautiful Lake Gutierrez and can stop off at Los Duendes Waterfalls. It’s roughly the same distance and you can catch a bus back to Bariloche from here.
Cerro Campanario – A 30-minute hike for the best panoramic views of Bariloche. You can take a cable car down, which is probably the best way to enjoy the view. Bus #20 is how you get to the trail.
Cerro Otto – The hike to this hilltop overlooking Lago Nahuel Huapi has sweeping views and takes about 3.5 hours round trip. It’s also one of the many places in Bariloche you can paraglide from. Stay alert for mountain bikers because it’s a shared trail. You can also take a cable car for $13.50.
Punto Panorámico Circuito Chico – I only passed by on the bus, but the view looked unbelievable. To get here, you need to take a bus from Bariloche’s downtown and change to a second bus at km 18.
The “Circuito Chico” is the name of a 60 km loop near Bariloche with stops at Llao Llao and Campanario. You can do the circuit by bike or car, but after long days of biking in Mendoza and Cafayate, I was able to see most of the circuit by combining buses and hiking.
Cathedral Our Lady of Nahuel Huapi – This neo-Gothic church with a grey stone interior is one of the most unique I’ve seen.
Rapa Nui – Rapa Nui chocolate shops are famous throughout Bariloche and Argentina and it’s quite the experience. It’s an absolute zoo at night, but the take a number system gets you in and out quickly. The ice cream and chocolates both lived up to the hype and they also sell the extremely popular Manush craft beer and liqueurs with fun flavors.
Where to Eat
If you’re heading south in Argentina, Bariloche is the last stop with delicious food at affordable prices. As you get deeper into Patagonia the quality goes down and the prices nearly double. Bariloche gets very crowded and if you want to eat at a popular restaurant, I recommend going right when it opens.
El Boliche de Alberto – Bariloche’s most famous restaurant is known for its exceptional steaks. It’s so popular that I hopped in line 15 minutes before it opened and got one of the last tables. Given its popularity and quality, the prices are surprisingly low.
Dondera La Fonda – A long-standing restaurant with a cozy vibe and outstanding milanesas.
Alto El Fuego Parrilla – The 90-minute wait scared me off, but the steaks are supposed to be fantastic here. You can only make reservations for when it opens at 7:30 PM.
Where to Stay
Hopa Home Hostel Patagonia – A solid budget option with an awesome owner and an on-site bar.
Patagonia Jazz Hostel – If you’re looking for a more social atmosphere, this is a great option. They have spacious, clean dorms and a patio where the occasional asado takes place.
Hostel Olimpo House – A laidback hostel with a family atmosphere and friendly owners.
How Long to Stay
4-5 days is a good amount of time to spend in Bariloche before heading elsewhere in Argentina. Whatever your next destination is, get ready for a long bus ride.
Where to Next
El Chalten (26 hours) – The trekking capital of Argentina has the famous Mount Fitz Roy hike and a great overall vibe.
El Calafate (29 hours) – Trek on the famous Perito Moreno Glacier which is the size of Buenos Aires.