San Carlos de Bariloche
Bariloche, Bariloche, Bariloche! This city of incredible beauty is the alpine answer of South America. The city is based on the Swiss Alpine villages and is no less in terms of its beauty in any way. It was the third stop on my Patagonia trip to Argentina after El Chalten and El Calafate, just click on the name to read about these destinations.
Read my country guide about Argentina to find answers to all your questions for a comfortable trip.
Bariloche is considerably bigger than southern Patagonian cities and has a lot to offer in terms of sightseeing, nature and things to do. I tried rafting here as well as making the best international border crossing to Chile through the Andes.
Bariloche is also famous for the famous 7 lakes route with actually around 9-11 lakes, rivers and waterways on the way ending in San Martin de Los Andes going through Villa Angostura. Both these small cities are beautiful and offer a lot of opportunities to have a great relaxing time in nature.
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Getting to Bariloche
Bariloche is easily accessible by bus or by air but if you are coming from Chile (Osorno, Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt), the best way is to use the Andes Cruise which takes a day to bring you to Bariloche. I did it on the way from Bariloche to Puerto Varas and it was one of the best experiences in terms of border crossings. Read about it here.
The Airport is 15 km away from the city and it is quite small. I had taken the direct flight from El Calafate and arrived there at midday, I got out of the airport and then took a shuttle to the centre for ARS 200. The shuttle drops you close to your hotel if it is in the centre which was very helpful. The bus terminal is a bit far from the centre but there’s plenty of taxis around to easily get to the city.
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Where to Stay in Bariloche?
If you have a car, I’d recommend staying near the lakeshore a bit outside the city, there’s plenty of options. I like living in the city centre which was very convenient. The city centre is quite small and it is easy to walk around. If you want ultimate views and can splash some cash stay at Llao Llao Hotel which is one of the iconic hotels of the world for its service and views.
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When to Visit Bariloche?
Early summer is the best time to visit Bariloche. The later it gets in summer, the busier it becomes and consequently more expensive as well. Mind you it is a small city so the infrastructure is limited. I visit at Christmas time and it was perfect in terms of people, weather and things to do.
How long to stay in Bariloche?
I spent 4 days which was a day longer than I should have, you can easily see the most important things. One day for 7 Lakes route, one day for Circuito Chico and Companario mountain and one day for other activities, I went for rafting in River Mansa which was an amazing experience.
Want to plan your perfect trip? Read this guide.
Food in Bariloche
Bariloche is the Alpine version of South America which means it comes with fondue, cheese, chocolates and best of all, great meat.
There’s plenty of great restaurants in the city and around, you can see my Instagram stories for recommendations.
For chocolates, head to Bartolome Mitre which is sort of the main pedestrian street and there’s plenty of small and big chocolate shops with crazy amounts of option with amazing flavours. It was Christmas which made things even better and I had one of the best Pennatone cake here.
Trekking and Hiking
Bariloche is very different than south like Calafate or Chalten and hiking options are plenty but the spots are also easily accessible by other means like cars and chair lifts. I have had enough hiking done in the south so I decided to skip it but the two most important hikes are Refugio Frey and the Hike to Mount Tronador. You can find information about both of them through the Trek Bariloche website here. If you want more information you can also visit the Tourist Information Office in Centre Civico next to lakeshore.
Tours were sadly very disappointing in Bariloche for a few reasons:
- The tours are in Spanish by default and you have to pay extra for English guides and a lot of times they aren’t available.
- The tour agencies don’t tell you about the Spanish part which ended up being a really annoying thing being the non-Spanish speaker on a Spanish tour.
- If you are paying by card you will have to pay a lot more for the same tour.
- For activities like rafting and canopy the tour sizes are huge, you are better off saving money on other tours and doing a more private tour.
- For the 7 lakes tours, most of the tours don’t stop at all 7 lakes, just badly planned days.
I would highly recommend getting your own car for this trip and driving around. The roads in and around Bariloche are in very good condition and driving is relatively easy and stress-free.
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Money and Cash Machines
Money and cash machines are the most frustrating part of visiting Argentina for me. The machines in Santa Cruz province charged me ARS 368 for a single withdrawal limited at ARS4000. In Rio Negro province it became $680 for a single withdrawal. This is roughly £8.5 for a single transaction. Absolutely moronic and stupid. Do bring some cash with you especially dollars and euros to counter this stupidity.
You can learn how to manage your budget during travelling in this guide.
Best Things to do in Bariloche
City centre and Nahuel Huapi Lakeshore
Bariloche is located at the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi which is located inside the Nahuel Huapi National Park. The city itself is small in terms of the city centre but quite spread out at the lakeshore. There’s plenty to do here and I absolutely loved the 4 days I spent here.
The city centre has Swiss Alpine style houses. The main pedestrian street is called Bartolome Mitre which is host to many colourful Chocolataires from big brands to arsenal shops. You can also try fondue here (It was a bit too hot for fondue but I loved gorging on the chocolates).
Centro Civico is the centre of most activities from small markets to fairs and it is also at the lakeshore. I loved going to the lakeshore in the evenings to see the sunsets and the changing colours of the sky.
Water rafting at River Mansa
I have made it a mission to try as many crazy things I could get my hands on and it was the perfect opportunity to go rafting in River Mansa at the border with Chile.
It was a half-day excursion and despite the big group, lack of English and slightly disappointing level of difficulty (It was too easy) the views were breathtaking and at some point, I was thankful I didn’t speak Spanish because I switched off from the guide/instructor and focussed on the beauty of the surroundings.
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Puerto Blest is a small port which you can take a tour of. I did it as part of the Andes Cruise to Chile but we had people with us who were taking the daily cruise. We ought the entrance ticket for the national park and then boarded a catamaran which takes you to Puerto Blest in an hour. The hour-long cruise is breathtakingly beautiful.
Puerto Blest is blessed with clear green waters, tall, green mountains and a stillness which you can appreciate when the people around you leave. The water trickling down from the stream to the lake was the only audible sound with some birds. Life because perfect for a few minutes until I have had to leave.
This is a smaller lake and you can only go from Puerto Blest to Lago Frias through some thick jungle. The 10 minutes bus ride brought us to a small dock at the shores of Lake Frias. The lake is an easy 15 minutes ride. This lake has greenish waters with beautiful scenery around. It is also the last point of Argentina.
The Circuito Chico
The Circuito Chico or mini circuit is an absolute must in Bariloche. It is the easiest way to see the most beautiful spots in a single day around Bariloche on Lake Nahuel Hupani and a few other small lakes.
The best option is to cycle the entire 26kms but if you are not keen on it, you can go by car which is what I did.
Take the bus 20 from San Martin Street opposite number 56 and get off at the base of Cerro Companario. A little walk later you will find 2 cycling shops where you can rent the bike as well as a kayak for Moreno lake. A full day rental costs around ARS 1000. You will need to buy a Sube card for the bus which costs ARS 200 and the return journey is ARS 70 which you can top up on your card from any kiosk.
The road from Bariloche to Cerro Companaruo is straight forward and very beautiful along the shores of the lake.
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I arrived at the base of Companario, parked the car, purchased the chairlift ticket for ARS 450 and headed up. It was a windy day with clouds but when I got up, I completely forgot how cold it was. The view from up there is so gorgeous. I have never seen anything like it. I could see the small islands, the lakes, the mountains everything in one 270 degree view from the viewpoint. This alone would make Bariloche as one of the most beautiful places I have visited.
Tea with a View
I got back down after absorbing more of the beauty of this gorgeous place from other viewpoints and realised how cold I was. I saw a small restaurant called Chiado. This quirky little café has the most amazing tea and views both. Just as I got my tea and cheesecake the weather cleared up and the sun decided to make my day better.
The cheesecake was absolutely delicious and I was ready to do the rest of Circuito Chico. Next stop was Mirador de los Navigantes at Puerto Pañuelo.
This port is where most of the boats leave for tours of places around Bariloche like Victoria islands, Puerto Blest etc. I ignored the welcome centre and took the catwalks behind the building for some views of this gorgeous place. The mirador or viewpoint here shows some amazing views of the lake.
Llao Llao Hotel was the next stop but honestly, I felt a bit stupid going to a hotel without a reservation but I drove up and they told me to park the car down the road and walk up because you can’t park up there unless you are staying in the hotel. I decided to drop it because it is a hotel after all and I had other places to be.
Mirador Cerró Capilla
Mirador Cerró Capilla is a small viewpoint with a gorgeous view of water and mountains but this and the next viewpoint was a good break only.
Patagonia Beer House
It was time to make another stop and I got the perfect place for it; Patagonia Beer House at km 24.7. This absolutely gorgeous bar has some amazing views and a large selection of great drinks including craft beer.
Punto Panorámico was the last stop of the day and from here the views of Llao Llao were perfectly clear. I smiled at my choice to skip it.
It was Christmas evening and I was a bit worried about getting food so I decided to make my way back to the city but it was a great day spent looking around this beautiful place.
If the day had been clearer, I would definitely go for kayaking or stand up paddling around Lake Moreno, maybe next time…
The Seven Lakes & San Martin de Los Andes
On the third and best day I went for the tour of 7 lakes and San Martin and for anyone visiting Bariloche this is another must-do. I took the tour but I’d suggest taking your own car so you could stop anywhere you want and manage your time properly. Remember the sun sets here around 10pm in summer and there’s plenty of time to see the places plus you can start a little later to avoid the same time as tourist tour buses to have the places to yourselves.
We started early at 8 in front of the agency and headed to Villa Angustura which is a beautiful town by the lake. We stopped here for 30 minutes for some coffee. I grabbed some green tea from the high street which is small and full of roses.
The excitement was building because the seven lakes started soon after we left Villa Angustura, even if I couldn’t understand most of what the guide was saying.
Lago Espejo (Mirror Lake) was our first stop.
The second one was Correntoso Lake.
We skipped the next 2, Lago Escondido and Lago Villarino which I wasn’t happy about but there’s plenty to see in the meanwhile.
The next lake came with a small sandy beach, Lago Falkner. It has beautiful blue-green waters and this was our last lake at Nahuel Huapi National park.
After Falkner, we entered into Lanin national park which hosts the last 2 lakes.
The first stop was at Lago Machonico It is cute and the last small lake on this route. From Mochonico the road drives around the last lake.
Lago Lácar was the final lake. It is a massive lake with beautiful emerald waters. The viewpoint shows you not only the lake but the whole of San Martin.
San Martin de Los Andes
It was a late lunch at San Martin which is a beautiful little town in the Andes full of greenery. It was a gorgeous sunny day which made it perfect to walk around this tiny city.
The best discovery I made was the Paseo del Rosedal, a small square full of flowers of each colour. I grabbed some green tea after lunch with a tour fellow and we sat there chatting eating some fresh cherries and drinking green tea.
Sadly, it was time to say goodbye. We stopped again at Villa Angostura for 30 minutes (absolutely unnecessary) but I had to follow the tour. All in all, it was a beautiful day which was made infinitely beautiful by the scenery.
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Have you been to Bariloche? I’d love to hear your experiences about your trip.