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Where to start in Patagonia: San Carlos de Bariloche

If you have just one week in Argentina then Patagonia is the perfect location. And for the best place to start in Patagonia look no further than San Carlos de Bariloche, commonly known as simply Bariloche. Part of the Patagonia Lake District, it is ideally located to start any Patagonia adventure. Bariloche, in the north of the region, functions as a gateway to Patagonia in Argentina and Chile.

The town is reminiscent of Switzerland and anyone who has been to the Alps will instantly recognise the feel of the place. From the wooden chalets to the spectacular mountain views, even the vast array of chocolate shops scattered throughout the town. There are many places to hike and, if you plan on heading further south afterwards, plenty of shops to stock up on warmer clothing and gear before the weather gets worse and the prices more expensive.

Some of the views over Bariloche
It doesn’t take very long to realise why this area is known as the Patagonia Lake District

Bariloche itself is a nice town and easy to wander around, despite the long hills leading down towards the water at Lago Nahuel Huapi. You’ll find plenty of options with regards to accommodation, bars, restaurants, supermarkets and other types of shops.

Getting to Bariloche is simple too, you can travel by either long distance coach or fly direct from Buenos Aires. With flights not really suiting my budget or schedule, I took an overnight bus from the Argentine capital to the Bariloche bus station just outside town. From the station you can either walk the 5km, or, even easier, take the local bus into the centre. You’ll need to buy a travel card to use the bus, which can then be topped up at most kiosks around town. The local bus network is a useful and cheap option for getting to the various starting points of the hikes, so it’s always useful to keep your travel card topped up.

One of the first places I visited was Colonia Suiza, a small community founded over 100 years ago by a Swiss family (who clearly had a big impact on the local area). Bus number 10 takes about an hour to reach the site, which is just under 25km from Bariloche. From where the bus stops it’s just a 5-10 minute walk to Colonia Suiza. The best days to visit are Wednesdays and Sundays as they have an arts and crafts fair at the same time and you can try all kinds of local beers, home-cooked food or buy various handmade products from the locals. While waiting for the bus back to town, which isn’t very frequent, take the time to enjoy some of the views over the lakes. I climbed one hill and spent a long time gazing out over the scenery. This was my first taste of Patagonia and only got me more excited for what was to come.

Colonia Suiza community just outside Bariloche
Colonia Suiza, about an hour away from Bariloche, is a small community surrounded by some stunning views

Away from the ‘Little Switzerland’ elements of Bariloche are some wonderful hikes. Each take in crystal clear lakes, gigantic mountains and rocky beaches in-between tramping through thick green woodland. From the town centre you can take local buses (without having to travel as far as Colonia Suiza) to reach the starting point of several hikes. Some half-day treks while others take a little longer. The most well-known of which are Cerro Campanario, Refugio Frey and Cerro Lao Lao.

The hike to Refugio Frey has several options, including overnight stops, and is the longest of the three I’ve mentioned here. Campanario is the closest to town and, while it involves a steep incline, takes just 40 minutes to reach the top. From there you have a stunning panoramic view over the lake below. The hike to Cerro Lao Lao starts when you get off the bus at Hotel Lao Lao and takes two to three hours to complete. The walk is relatively easy and the views are amazing, with rocky outcrops overlooking the lakes and mountains as they disappear into the distance.

Mountains reflected in the lake
Such a peaceful spot with no-one else around. The unbroken water of the lake perfectly reflecting the mountains beyond

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  1. traveldoneclever

    Sound like a perfect place! Thank you for inspiring us to find out more about Patagonia ?

    1. stufahy

      No problem. There is so much to see in Patagonia, I had a month there and could probably have stayed longer. I loved it! Southern Patagonia was my favourite part with El Chalten and Perito Moreno Glacier plus Torres de Paine, but every part is so beautiful. I hope you get to experience it for yourself. It’s something I’d highly recommend and if you have any questions I’ll try to help you out.

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