San Carlos de Bariloche is an Argentinian town nestled at the foothills of the Andes. Closer to Chile than the capital, Buenos Aries, it is a chilled and restful ski resort. The name means "the people from the other side of the mountains", given to the town by the Chileans just over the nearby mountains. In the summer months the focus moves from the ski slopes to mountain walking and leisure sports on Lago Nahuel Huapi. Before starting on the five-day trek that would take me over the Andes, close to the Chilean border and Monte Tronador there was time to explore Bariloche. Bariloche and the surrounding hills are likened to the Swiss Alps and this really is the Patagonian Lake District.
The town is full of hills so be prepared to walk and once you leave the town and head in to the mountains the real hills hit you. There is lots to do in Bariloche to fill the time before heading out on foot and exploring the wilderness. With just one day there wasn't time to explore beyond the town centre, however there was more than enough to fill the time.
The main square in Bariloche has the appearance of an Alpine town. The green stone buildings with wooden Tyrol style roofs surround the central square which has the proud statue of General Julio Roca in the middle. This was coated in graffiti during our visit as was the pavements surrounding the square, a protest against the role of the General in the removal of the indigenous people of the area.
The square is busy and bustling with street artists and steps down to the waterfront of Lago Nahuel Huapi. The tower on the town hall has a clock which chimes at midday with characters emerging from behind the face. The square also has its resident St Bernard's who for a small fee will sit patiently for a photograph. Something we avoided!
The shops in Bariloche are commercial with a few hidden gems, but it is very definitely a commercial tourist trap in places. However, on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday there is a lovely market between Centro Civico and the water front which extends behind the clock tower. This has food, jewellery and local crafts. So much to choose from and all at good prices. The stall holders were all lovely and we spent far too much here.
Bariloche is famous for its chocolate and this is reportedly some of the best in Argentina. A chance discovery of an amazing shop and chocolate cafe was visited a few times both before and after our trek. The chocolate is beautiful and smooth, with the 90% cocoa solid chocolate being a real treat. Rapa Nui is not part of the bigger chocolate chains in the town and this makes all the difference to what they make.
The ice cream is equally good with lots of beautiful flavours with amazing presentation - lemon meringue ice cream looks like the real thing! A number of flavours were taste tested and it can be confirmed that all are good!
As well as chocolate and ice cream this amazing gem has a coffee shop. However we were not interested in coffee. Hot chocolate was the order of the day and this did not disappoint. A mug of liquid gold. Absolutely perfect.
Catedral de San Carlos de Bariloche
The Cathedral is located above the lake with beautiful views towards the mountains on the far side of the lake. The grounds surrounding the cathedral are lovely for a wander and picnic. Getting in to the cathedral is harder as it is only open for short periods each day. The external appearance is beautiful even if you can't get inside.
Just opposite the Cathedral is the small Plaza de Italia. A memorial to the Italian immigrants who were early settlers in the town. There are a number of statues in this small park, but the statue of Romulus and Remus was a reminder of the origins of Italy and school homework on the story.
This isn't a beach in the traditional seaside sense, but it is a beach with swimming and waves. There are a number of ways to get down to the water's edge, but the easiest is at Playa Bonita. There are tables and chairs, roped swimming areas and lifeguards on duty. Add to that the beautiful landscape views and you can almost blank out the freezing cold water and pebbles! A beautiful spot to spend a summer afternoon.
All along the water's edge are wooden statues, carved to represent the local Mapuche style of Peoples. A reminder of the indigenous past of this area.
Argentina is well-known for its beef and Bariloche is no exception. There are lots of lovely restaurants in the town all serving their own take on steak. Just be warned, servings of meat are large and there is very little time given to vegetables. Not that I am complaining - a decent steak can't be beaten! There were also amazing empanadas, European style pastries and wild local delicacies such as lamb.
There is so much to do in Bariloche before the trails out-of-town are even considered. While I love the wilderness, this town has wide open spaces and stunning landscape that makes it a pleasure to wander around for a day. The trails are tough in places, but worth the effort for the stunning scenery. A few will be explored, but all the options can be found on Trek Bariloche. Walking around the town is an adventure in itself. Just past Centro Civico we discovered traders making lavender wands on the side of the pavement, a beautiful scent and such a shame we couldn't take them home. There is also graffiti. Lots of very artistic graffiti, in the most unexpected locations. While it is never good to see, this was real art on the side of the road.
Bariloche is located on the edge of the Lake District. It is a 22hour drive from Buenos Aries. Coaches run from Buenos Aries with a journey time of 24hours. However there are a number of flights a day into the local airport - San Carlos de Bariloche International Airport (BRC) with Aerolineas Argentinas andLAN Argentina. One Savvy Wanderer has a fantastic article to help planning a trip to Bariloche.