Every major city has its outdoorsy getaway and for Bueno Aires that is San Carlos de Bariloche. Located in Northern Patagonia, it is surrounded by glacial lakes, snowcapped mountains, and thousand-year-old forests. This alpine-style town is surrounded by breathtaking views and is a must-visit destination for outdoorsy types. Bariloche is home to Cerro Cathedral Alta Patagonia, the largest ski resort in South America, but it is a year-long destination with so many other things to do.
We spent five days in Bariloche in December (keep in mind this is the Summer in the Southern Hemisphere) while traveling through Argentina and loved it. It is one of those destinations where you feel like you never have enough time to see everything and hate to leave. There is an unlimited number of things to do in Bariloche, everything from water sports to hiking to road trips with magnificent views to just sitting on the balcony with a cold adult beverage and soaking up the beauty.
Things to know about Bariloche before you travel:
Getting to Bariloche
Bariloche is a ~2.5 hour flight from Buenos Aires. Another and more budget-friendly option is taking a bus from Buenos Aires. It will be a long ride (over 20 hours) but the buses are comfortable. They are equipped with AC, TVs, toilets, fully reclining seats and food and drinks are served on board. It is an overnight route and can be a good budget option, not having to pay for accommodations, and getting to Bariloche early the next day refreshed and ready to explore.
Bariloche is a laid-back ski and hiking town nicknamed “Little Switzerland.” And like most European cities, many stores and restaurants will be closed in the middle of the day to clean up after lunch and prepare for dinner. If you arrive in the middle of the day, as we did, it may appear to be a ghost town. Most people are out enjoying some type of physical activity or taking a siesta.
In the early 20th century European immigrants from Switzerland, Germany and Austria settled in this area. It was also a safe haven for Nazis after WWII. If you are interested in this part of Bariloche’s history, we suggest you take one of the many walking tours offered in the city.
How to get around
The easiest way to get around Bariloches is to rent a car. However, if that is not in your budget, public transportation is available by the company Mi Bus. You can only pay for the fare using the SUBE card, the same card used for all public transportation in Argentina. You can find the daily schedule and more information here. Lastly, you can also hitchhike. It is considered safe in Argentina and a lot of hikers get by that way.
In Argentina, like most South American countries, you will see stray dogs everywhere. They are usually very friendly and only interested in you if you are giving them food. However, they do sometimes have “turf wars” with other dogs and can be aggressive toward them.
People in Bariloche take care of the dogs, by building dog houses for them, leaving water and food in front of their establishments/homes meanwhile doggies enjoy their freedom.
Bariloche is a very safe place for tourists. We did see high police presence on the streets when we were there, but it was right around the holidays and that may have been a reason for it more than anything else.
Best Things to do in Bariloche
Bariloche is surrounded by lakes and there are many tours offered for kayaking and paddleboarding. Whether you are interested in a half-day, full-day, or multi-day adventure there are kayaking tours available for pretty much any age group and physical ability. The transportation, kayaks, and food are usually provided by the tour company and if you are doing a multi-day kayaking adventure all you need to bring with you is a sleeping bag.
Kayaking is a great way to explore the shores with the backdrop of snowcapped Andes and learn about this beautiful area. Tour guides are very knowledgeable, multilingual, and they take a lot of pride in the history of their country.
White Water Rafting
If kayaking is not adventurous enough for you, white water rafting in Rio Manso may be a more appealing option. Transportation and all the equipment are included, some tours include lunch others do not, but you can order separately. Rapids are mostly class III-IV, and guides are very experienced and knowledgeable to walk you through what to do to stay safe.
Sailing in Lago Nahuel Huapi
Sailing Lago Nahuel Huapi gives you an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Bariloche city center from a different viewpoint. You will see hidden islands, hills, and shores only accessible by water. It is about a 3-hour adventure right out of the Camping Petunia campground.
Fly fishing tours on Rio Lamay or Rio Manso are half-, full-, or multi-day tours. Rainbow and Brown trout are what you will be fishing for predominantly. All the equipment is provided by the tour guides and they usually make an elaborate Argentinian lunch around mid-day for everyone to enjoy.
For a fisherman, this is a must-do experience, but it can be costly.
Every day in Bariloche is windy and Lago Nahuel Huapi is the perfect location for kitesurfing. Almost every day we saw someone kite surfing from our balcony. But we would not recommend this activity unless you are an experienced kitesurfer. Varadero Beach is the local favorite launch location.
Isla Victoria is only accessible by boat, a small island where you can walk, hike or sunbathe at Playa del Toro. The island is about an hour boat ride away from the mainland, and most people combine this with the visit to Bosque de Arrayanes (Arrayanes Forest). The Arrayanes forest is an ancient forest with trees over 300 years old.
FUN FACT: These trees inspired the forest in the Disney movie Bambi.
Brazo Tristeza and Arroyo Frey Waterfall
Tours for this adventure leave from Bahia Lopez, about 30 km away from Bariloche. Here you will meet with your guide and set off on a guided boat tour through the deep glacial fjord on the Tristeza branch of Lake Nahuel Huapi. On a clear day, it is possible to spot the black glacier on top of Mount Tronador. Once at the end of the branch you can take an easy hike through the thick forest to view the Arroyo Frey waterfall.
Cerro Campanario (30-40-minute steep hike)
The Cerro Campanario trail starts about 15 km from downtown. It is a quick hike to the top for some of the most amazing views of Bariloche and its lakes. If this hike is too much for you, there is a chair lift that can take you up and down for a fee. Facilities are available at the starting point and at the summit.
Cerro Llao Llao
Cerro Llao Llao is located on the loop of Parques Municipal Llao Llao. The starting point is right off the Circuito Chico road and marked as Sendero Cerro Llao Llao/Playas Tacul Y Puntilla. The trail starts off flat and mostly shaded, after 30-40 minutes you will come to the crossroads and you can go left to continue up to Cerro LLao LLao or straight to go to Playa Tacul.
We went left first to Cerro Llao Llao for some of the most amazing views we’ve ever seen and, on our way back we went to Playa Tacul. This would have been a perfect opportunity to jump in the water if we had the right gear on, it was a brutally hot day. The entire round trip took about 4 hrs. and there are no facilities available. After the hike, we stopped for some food and cerveza at Cerveceria Patagonia.
Frey por el Filo (22km hike, ~8 hrs)
To make this a loop hike, instead of starting at the trailhead to Refugio Frey we took a gondola then a chair lift to the top and started our hike literally on the edge of the mountain. Quickly we found ourselves walking over loose rock and scree, using both our hands and feed to hold our balance. The only marks on this ‘trail’ are red dots and just when you think you don’t see any more red dots and you start panicking one of them will appear painted on the rock.
It takes about 4 hrs. to make it to the Refugio Frey, walking over scree, through snow patches, and a creek. We found it helpful to hold a hiking pole in one hand while using the other hand to pull yourself up on the rock or just hold on for balance.
Once at Refugio Frey we were able to use facilities, enjoy lunch by Laguna Toncek, fill up our water bottles, and descend back the normal way. This was our favorite hike while in Bariloche.
Tip: If you wanted to make this multi day hike you could continue from Refugio Frey to Refugio Jacob.
Refugio Otto Meiling and Cerro Tronador (1 day or 2-day hike)
The starting point for this hike is in Pampa Linda over a 2-hour drive from Bariloche, and you will need a 4WD and high clearance vehicle for part of this road or book a tour, and do not worry about transportation.
If you are just going to Refugio and back it can be done in one day, it will be a long day (4.5 hr one way), but it can be done. The hike is of medium difficulty but gets more strenuous as you get closer to the Refugio. Once there, enjoy the view! If you decide to spend a night, the Refugio sleeps 60 people or you can put up your own tent.
Guided tours are provided from the Refugio Otto to climb all three Tronador peaks if that piques your interest.
And when you get tired of all the strenuous activities and need an easy day here are a few things to choose from:
Visit Centro Civico, chocolate shops (Rapanui was our favorite), ice cream shops (helado es muy delicioso in Argentina!), Patagonia Museum in Bariloche, or try craft beers and choripans.
Visit Colonia Suiza
Colonia Suiza is a small village that was built by Swiss and German settlers back in the 1800s. It is known for its Sunday market where traditional curanto is the main attraction, along with tea and craft shops. Curanto is a traditional Chilean dish and consists of seafood, meat, vegetables, and potatoes traditionally prepared in meter and a half deep hole.
Ruta de Siete Lagos (Route of Seven Lakes)
You will need a car to drive the route of seven lakes. This round trip can be completed in one day, or you can make it a multi-day adventure. It is a scenic drive, where every lake is more beautiful than the last, you will also come across waterfalls, creeks, different wildlife, and beautiful purple lupin flowers. It is an approximately 3 hr. trip one way from Bariloche to San Martin de Los Andes, a very nice little town itself.
We could go on and on about how beautiful Bariloche is and we definitely wish we had more time there and can’t wait to go back. If you are planning a trip to Argentina, Bariloche should be on your itinerary!