Gateway to Patagonia! Welcome to Bariloche; Switzerland of Argentina & the country’s best chocolate
Doesn’t every country need it’s own Switzerland? Snow capped alpine vistas surrounded by striking azure lakes and greenery, wooden chalets with wood burning stoves and delicious chocolate. Did we somehow fly to Europe? No, we are just in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. I have no idea why it looks like Switzerland here but it does. It’s like you stepped into the fifth parallel or something. But sure enough, we got off the bus and felt like we were anywhere but Argentina.
The start of December found us here as we began our descent down south in an effort to catch our boat to Antarctica on the 28th (which I am happy to report we were successful). Bariloche sits pretty far south and it’s technically not in Patagonia (it’s in the Rio Negro province) but it’s the start of what’s to come and is considered by many to be the gateway. It sits proudly on Lake Nahuel Huapi and the town is surrounded by the National Park of the same name. It truly is beautiful here.
It was barely summer when we arrived to Bariloche, just before all the masses swarm in (the town gets packed in summer & winter). This town attracts both wealthy Argentinians and tourists alike as they flock to the lakes and the mountains for some R & R and the multitude of summer activities (kayaking, parasailing, hiking, etc.) on offer. Luckily we arrived just before the masses set in. In the winter, Bariloche is home to numerous ski resorts and we were told the town gets packed out then too.
Our purpose in Bariloche was not anything to do with mountains, lakes or even hiking. We came here to relax after our northwest road trip adventure and to work on this blog and eat chocolate! In retrospect, not a lot of updating got done if I am writing about Bariloche 2 months later. But alas, I can never seem to catch up!
Anyhow, we spent about 5 days here at the log cabin-like Alaska hostel, which is a really cozy place featuring fresh baked bread for breakfast, a well-stocked kitchen for cooking and super friendly hosts who are choc-a-bloc full of information.
The other great thing about the hostel is its location on the lake, so it’s outside the busy tourist strip and closer to the nature. We took a break one evening to go for a sunset climb up one of the mountains and got treated to a moon-rise!
Our days were indeed spent working but if you have free time in this area, you can enjoy many hikes of all levels or better yet, rent a bike and do the complete Circuito Chico (small circuit). The circuit is about 60 km long but you don’t have to do the whole thing. If you are out of shape or hate bikes, you can also rent a car. The circuit covers much of the amazing scenery Bariloche has to offer and is considered by most visitors, unmissable.
There are some things that you should be warned about (besides the crowds) if you are planning to visit Bariloche:
1. The taxis are ridiculously expensive!!!! Do NOT under any circumstance take them if you are going far. We were happy that our hostel was outside of the main town and we figured it would be okay if we just hopped in a cab from the bus station to get there. WRONG! Do NOT make this mistake! Our cab ride was quadruple of what we normally paid in Argentina. Take the bus instead.
2. The bus system in Bariloche is decent; the buses go right around the entire Lake Nahuel Huapi. However, you need a card to get on the bus! The card itself costs 15 pesos, which isn’t a big deal but you cannot board the bus without a card (they don’t accept any money on the bus) and they don’t sell the card on the bus either! To make it worse, you can only buy the card at certain places! Inconvenient!
3. The city is really dusty. I mean, REALLY dusty!! The hiking is great but your boots, your pants and your legs and even sometimes your mouth will be covered with this ubiquitous, fine dust.
But with the bad is the good and I am happy to report you can get excellent ice cream in Bariloche at Jauja (Perito Moreno 48). And REAL beer!! Cerveceria La Cruz (Nilpi 789).
And now for the best of the best! Drum roll please. Finally, a decent cup of coffee!! Come on Argentina, how hard is this?!
But most of all the chocolate!! Mamuschka (Mitre 298) is the most touristic place in town. You can’t miss it with it’s weird, gaudy colors of the Russian dolls that decorate the walls and the chocolate boxes:
But fear not! This is not the tourist trap I was afraid of. The chocolates were some of the best I’ve had in my life. No joke. You can order from the website but only within Argentina. I thought I bought a lot but they were gone in all of 2 days. Such is life.
Hmmm….so we stayed in a place that looks like Switzerland, in a hostel called Alaska and ate the best chocolates covered with Russian dolls? Yeah, that seemed about right.