Bariloche is touristy and extra, but I loved it; maybe I’m just basic (actually, I know I’m basic). If you want to disconnect from the grid, El Bolsón might be a better option, but Bariloche has plenty of striking views. In fact, the scenery around Bariloche resounded with me more than the landscape in El Bolsón.
Many sights around Bariloche are accessible by bus, so I recommend getting a SUBE card if you don’t rent a car. Bus drivers don’t take cash, so you can buy and reload SUBE cards from convenience stores.
The Circuito Chico links a number of sights around Bariloche. You can rent bikes to reach the sights, but the route is hilly. After failing to pretend to be a competent biker in Puerto Varas, I wised up and opted for the bus instead of a bike.
My first stop was Cerro Campanario, which was a 30-minute ride from the center of town. A chairlift leads visitors straight to the peak, but I completed the ascent on foot since I wanted to up my step count (and hey, the walk was free). Although the climb was a steady uphill, it wasn’t challenging; the estimate for the ascent was an hour, but I made it to the peak in 25 minutes without speed walking. If you want to save a few bucks, the climb should be doable for those who can maintain a consistent walking pace on flat ground.
A balcony was at the peak, and the view blew me away.
The balcony didn’t have any seats, which might have been an effort to encourage visitors to take advantage of the dining options at the top of the hill. The restaurants offered plenty of seating to enjoy the views. I sat on a cluster of rocks by the balcony to have some snacks I had packed.
After taking in my fill of the views, I walked down the hill, which took less than 15 minutes. I caught a bus to Colonia Suiza, which consisted of a cluster of shops and restaurants. Colonia Suiza is great for people who like handicrafts, fondue, and chocolates. I love melted cheese and anything that resembles chocolate (I’d munch on styrofoam if it was cocoa-flavored), so Colonia Suiza should have totally been my scene. It wasn’t, though, and I couldn’t figure out why. It felt like a much smaller, perhaps slightly more charming version of Bariloche. Great in theory, but I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for it.
After spending less than 15 minutes in Colonia Suiza, I caught a bus to Punto Panorámico, a restaurant with – wait for it! – a panoramic view.
Visitors don’t have to enter the restaurant to admire the views, but I caved in and placed an order. On the road, I developed an afternoon routine of getting coffee and dessert, a dangerous (but delightful) habit. It was coffee and dessert time when I arrived at Punto Panorámico, so I ordered a café con leche (nothing memorable) and waffle with white chocolate and raspberries (every bit as delicious as it sounds – my sweet tooth was completely satisfied).
Buses run less frequently in the evenings, so I waited an hour for the bus back to Bariloche. A couple without a SUBE card waited with me, and I covered their fare when the bus arrived. The woman reimbursed me with cash, but I didn’t get anything from her partner. I’m not the kind of person to hold petty grudges, though; it’s not like I noted this in my travel journal so I could remember to bring up this instance in a blog post more than a year later.
Even though I had loaded up on sugar at Punto Panorámico, I got ice cream when I returned to the town center. No regrets.
For people looking for daytime hikes around Bariloche, Refugio Frey, with its views of Laguna Tonchek and hills, is a good option. Other guests at my hostel said the hike to Frey was tough, so I tried to keep my backpack as light as possible. The refugio sold meals, so I planned to buy lunch there.
The trail to Refugio Frey starts at the bottom of Cerro Catedral, which was a 30-minute bus ride from the center of Bariloche. Trail runners from Club Andino Bariloche were racing the same day I was hiking, so I periodically had to move aside for them.
I can’t say this without seeming like I’m taking a dig at my hostel mates, but I didn’t think the hike to Refugio Frey was particularly challenging. After having major struggles at Rainbow Mountain and Volcán Villarrica, I didn’t mind the gradual incline to Frey – and I’m far from being a model of good fitness. The hike also offered great views, so I had no complaints.
I reached Refugio Frey after two hours and 40 minutes. Frey appeared to be a checkpoint for the trail racers, so volunteers were blasting music over speakers. Although the refugio wasn’t exactly the peaceful retreat I was expecting, I couldn’t be resentful; the runners certainly deserved a break more than I did.
I ordered a mushroom and cheese sandwich from the refugio and ate it by Laguna Tonchek.
After about an hour, I started walking back to the bus stop. I probably would have stayed at the refugio longer if there hadn’t been a race, but I couldn’t relax with the music and activity. Runners passed me more frequently on the way down, so the descent ended up taking a few minutes longer than the ascent.
When I finished the hike, I was dying for sugar since I didn’t have any for lunch (this is what happens when you have a coffee and dessert break every day). I dashed to an unassuming comedor close to the bus stop and got a raspberry milkshake. The cup was smaller than a Starbucks short drink, but in my sugar-deprived state, it might as well have been the best milkshake I’ve ever had. I inhaled the shake and thought about getting another one. Because I’m a completely lucid and rational human being, I decided against buying another milkshake so that I could get ice cream when I returned to Bariloche.
Llao Llao is a park with a resort about a 45-minute bus ride from Bariloche. Nothing noteworthy occurred on my trip to the Llao Llao park entrance, but I panicked when a dog barked at me and nipped the back of my thighs on the ten-minute walk to the ranger station. I love dogs, but this one clearly didn’t reciprocate my feelings. I raised my hand to try to scare it away (this was most likely the opposite of what I should have done), which had no effect on the dog. After a few long seconds, I must have reached the edge of the dog’s territory, and it backed off.
I got a park map at the ranger station and started walking to Cerro Llao Llao. This was yet another easy hike with just a few uphills, and I reached the peak after 45 minutes.
I was alone at the top of the hill for ten glorious minutes, when a French (French-Canadian?) family arrived. I headed to another nearby viewpoint, which was just as beautiful as the first.
The rest of my stops in Llao were less grand (but still pretty!). Mirador Tacul was a 45-minute flat walk from Cerro Llao Llao.
I followed the trail to Lago Escondido (quiet but skippable; I didn’t take photos) and then Playa Los Troncos. Playa Los Troncos offered a peaceful spot to eat some trail mix.
I then walked to a viewpoint of Bahía Lopez.
My last stop was Sendero de los Arrayanes, where I reached a viewpoint of Lago Moreno.
A few final thoughts about Bariloche:
- These were a few notable sights I missed:
- Cerro Lopez is supposed to offer breathtaking views of the lakes and mountains around Bariloche. The hike to a refugio takes about two hours; if you want to continue to the summit, it will take an additional hour. After reading reviews of the hike, I was too scared to do it. The trail is steep with rocky and slippery terrain. In hindsight, I might have been able to complete the trek with just sneakers, but, to make myself feel better, I’ll continue convincing myself that I would have twisted an ankle. If I return to Bariloche, I’ll bring proper hiking boots for Cerro Lopez.
- Cerro Tronador is a three-hour drive from Bariloche, so some visitors take day trips there. The mountain contains glaciers covered in volcanic ash. Since I had seen Perito Moreno and other glaciers on my trip, I decided to skip Tronador.
- The Siete Lagos route is popular for visitors with cars. It would have been a great road trip, but I’ve shared my stance on driving in other countries plenty of times on this blog. No go for me this time.
- Rapanui, where I got ice cream every day, is the perfect embodiment of Bariloche. It’s not a cute, modest mom and pop shop; the store is enormous and includes a small ice rink. If you’re an El Bolsón hippie, you’ll hate it. When I entered Rapanui for the first time, I was overwhelmed and couldn’t figure out where to order ice cream. Terrified, I fled and sought refuge at another shop, where I bought a crepe. After I steeled myself (the crepe helped), I reentered Rapanui and successfully ordered a cup of ice cream. Small victories, my friends. I usually favor chocolate- or nut-flavored ice cream, so pistachio, tiramisu, and chocolate peanut were creamier and more memorable than the fruit flavors I had (strawberry, kiwi, maracuya/passionfruit).
- I went to a drug store to buy moisturizer, which was a drawn-out affair. I couldn’t just pick up moisturizer from the shelf, go to a cashier, pay, and leave – nope, that would be too simple. After I picked the moisturizer I wanted to buy, I had to go to an employee who took the moisturizer and gave me a slip. She directed me to a cashier, who took my slip and money and then handed me a receipt. With my receipt in hand, I had to go to a counter where yet another employee finally gave me my moisturizer. I don’t mind getting checkout assistance at grocery and drug stores (I avoid self-checkout lines in the US), but even I thought this was just a little excessive.