For skiing, hiking, exploring, dining, indulging in some of Argentina’s best Chocolate, or all of the above, Bariloche is the place to be. Come for the adventure, or simply to revel in the startling beauty of this mountain paradise.
Bariloche is nestled in the foothills of the Andes mountain range and rests upon the shores of the crystal clear Nahuel Huapi Lake. This picturesque town is accessible by car, train, sleeper bus or plane, with direct flights from Buenos Aires (about 2½ hours) and from El Calafate, further south in Patagonia (2 hours). However you choose to arrive, the destination justifies the journey. Arriving in this secluded Patagonian paradise, you are welcomed with the embrace of the surrounding mountains and the fresh scents of cypress trees coming across the glacial lakes.
The official name of this town is San Carlos de Bariloche, showcasing both its indigenous origins and its more recent history. ‘Bariloche’ is a Mapudungun word, meaning ‘people from behind the mountain’. San Carlos comes from one of the first German settlers, Carlos Wiederholdt, who settled here in the late 1800s and opened the first general store, ‘La Alemana’ (The German).
Bariloche was a place of farming, where settlers lived off agriculture and cattle raising. After Carlos Wiederholdt’s arrival, Bariloche began to grow and welcome more modern settlements. In 1903, Bariloche was named a protected national park and in the 1930s, due to the arrival of railways, tourism blossomed. Now Bariloche is known to be one of the best skiing destinations in South America and its hiking attracts people from all over the world.
Things to do
The changes of the seasons in Bariloche are quite drastic: winter brings snow-covered mountains and the town buzzes with ski enthusiasts, while the warm, fresh summers offer fantastic hiking and countless water activities to enjoy on Lake Nahuel Huapi. One thing is for certain: no matter what time of year you come, you will be confronted with adventure and breathtaking views.
Cerro Catedral (Mount Cathedral in English) is one of the biggest ski resorts in South America and is located just minutes from the town center of Bariloche. It got its name as the peaks resemble church steeples, and in winter months the snow-blanketed mountain range glistens in the sun as skiers zip down its many slopes. Cerro Catedral offers countless ski runs for all levels of skiers. Even for non-skiers, it’s worth the visit for the ample lookout points from which you can take in the riveting landscape of peaks, lakes, and beyond. There are also cafes and restaurants where you can take in the panoramic views while warming up alongside a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
One of the best views in all of Bariloche is from the top of Mount Campanario. From here you can see Lake Nahuel Huapi, the Moreno Lakes, and El Trebol Lake. The snow-peaked mountains cradle the tree-lined shores of these sparkling blue lakes. The views are splendid and give a completely new perspective on the area’s beauty and its sheer vastness. You can arrive by chair lift, which only takes about 7 minutes to get you to the top, or take the lovely 30-minute hike up. The hike is relatively gentle and allows you to saunter through the woods, taking in all the sights and smells of the lush forest before arriving at the tremendous views at the top.
No visit to Bariloche is complete without a stroll around the Centro Civico. The center was built in 1940 and is still the beating heart of Bariloche. At first glance, you can understand why many refer to Bariloche as the Switzerland of South America. The stone-walled buildings with wooden doors and arched walkways tucked amongst the Andes make you feel as though you were in an Alpine village. The square is bubbling over with gourmet chocolate shops where you can taste raw chocolate and several other mouth-watering morsels from ‘Argentina’s Chocolate Capital’. The civic center is also home to The Patagonia Museum which delves deep into the history of the environment, the original settlers of Bariloche, and the colonization of the territory. The center is also thriving with many craft beer breweries, fine dining, and boutiques.
In the warmer months, Bariloche is ideal for its countless water sports and activities at arm’s reach. For those looking to soak in the sun and relax, Playa Bonita (Beautiful Beach) is a peaceful, pebbly beach just outside Bariloche’s small center. Here you can refuel on vitamin D and lounge on the shores of the brilliant blue Lake Nahuel Huapi. There are also kayaks, paddle boards, windsurfing, and paragliding rentals, so the water sports enthusiast will get their fix too. Several bars and restaurants are conveniently located around Playa Bonita, making it easy to spend an entire day at this tranquil retreat.
A wonderful way to take in all the beauty that Bariloche has to offer is by partaking in one of the many spectacular hikes in the area. One of the best-known hikes that delivers some of the most incredible views is the Refugio Frey hike. This classic hike starts at Cerro Catedral and makes its way up winding forest paths with views of Lake Gutierrez and the occasional waterfall and stream. The hike can take 2–3 hours to reach the summit of Refugio Frey, which is hard to miss as the wooden lodge can almost always be seen against the backdrop. This lodge offers simple accommodations and access to its bathrooms and dining room. If you plan to stay the night at this backpacker haven, be sure to make a reservation.
Where to stay
Alma del Lago Suites and Spa is beautifully situated both in the heart of the town center and resting along the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, allowing guests to fall asleep to the gentle crashing of the waves upon the beach. With the glass facade, visitors can enjoy the breathtaking views of the gently flowing lake, cradled among the Andes mountain range. The hotel also offers a first-class spa equipped with a heated indoor pool, sauna, gym, and an array of massages and different specialty spa treatments. Alma Del Lago has two restaurants on-site, serving gourmet Patagonian classics and with a large balcony to dine outside and breathe in the crisp Bariloche air.
For a slightly more intimate setting, the Rochester boutique hotel stands out for its stunning views and tranquil gardens and spa. Nestled in the foothills of Bariloche’s mountain range, the Rochester hotel feels like a sanctuary of peace and tranquility. The sweet songs of birds chirping in the distance and the panoramic views of the lake make this a perfect place to unwind. The hotel also offers a complete spa, with both indoor and outdoor pools – ideal no matter what season you visit in. The rooms have a modern design with a touch of luxury; bathrooms have jacuzzi tubs that overlook the lake and mountains beyond. A perfect way to end a long day of adventure in Bariloche.
Another boutique hotel a bit further from the town center but well worth the distance is Peninsula Petit Hotel. Here you can find reasonable room rates despite the extraordinary views and hospitality. At this quaint, cozy hotel you are in the heart of nature. Just steps from the lake, with its very own beach access and surrounded by hiking trails, you feel quickly immersed in the unique beauty of the nature that surrounds you. All rooms are simple yet charming, with views of the lake. The hotel also provides a delicious breakfast and in the evening they serve up local Patagonian specialties alongside craft beer and local wines.
Eat and drink
Casa Cassis is a family-run restaurant, where owners Mariana Muller and husband Ernesto Wolf welcome you into their home and serve up blissful cuisine using ingredients from their very own garden. With their seven-course gourmet menu, you can truly taste all the passion that goes into every dish, from their salmon trout served with a variety of vegetables from their garden, to the savory flavors of their cheeses, served with homemade bread and chutneys. Depending on the season you visit, you may have the opportunity to begin your dining experience in their garden with the first few courses and make your way into their home to finish the meal with one of their sensational desserts. At Cassis, the ambiance is friendly and inviting, with views of the gardens, mountains, and lake – a gem tucked in the woods of Bariloche.
Manush is a family-run craft beer brewery with two locations in Bariloche. One is located in the heart of town and the other is located off Avenue Exequiel Bustillo, just across from the lake. Walking into Manush you’re delighted by the homely atmosphere and hypnotized by the aroma of different beers streaming from their many taps. With an array of house beers and IPAs to choose from, any beer lover will feel rewarded. Not only are the beers here some of Bariloche’s best, the food is exceptional too: traditional bar food with a gourmet touch. From generous meat and cheese boards to Italian pizzas and burgers bursting with flavor, each dish here is designed to pair perfectly with one of their exquisite beers.
A true favorite among locals, La Fonda del Tío is a traditional Patagonian restaurant steeped with history and, according to many, ‘the world’s best milanesa napolitana’. La Fonda del Tío opened its doors in 1978 and has strived continuously to provide the best service and bounteous meals cooked with love and the freshest of ingredients. With its simple and cozy decor of wood-paneled walls and deer antler chandeliers, it feels like you’re entering a hillside hunting cabin. While they are famously known for their milanesa napolitana – breaded ham smothered in rich tomato sauce and cheese – they also serve gnocchi, ravioli and sorrentinos with a red meat sauce or buttery cream sauce. There is also a variety of other milanesas, meat dishes, and desserts. Try a slice of their moist and luscious homemade flan served with a heaped dollop of fluffy whipped cream.
For the perfect pick-me-up in the morning and to charge yourself up for a day of exploring Bariloche’s wilderness, Cafe Local is the perfect pitstop. Located across the road from the shores of Lake Gutierrez and just a short drive from the center of town, this cafe serves up some seriously good coffee, delicious sandwiches, quiches, cakes and desserts, all prepared to perfection. Their moist carrot cake packs a delicious crunch from the crumbled walnuts mixed in with the creamy frosting, pairing perfectly with a cup of their cafe con leche. Even the view alone makes this cafe worth visiting: as you sip on a cup of joe on their terrace, you can hear the soft rippling of the water in the lake beside you. In the colder months, you can take in these breathtaking views from the enormous windows in the relaxed dining area, watching the gentle snowfall sprinkle into the lake.