When planning our visit to Argentina, we had originally planned the majority of our trip to be in Patagonia with a last stop in Mendoza. When Matt proposed going to Bariloche instead, I quickly shrugged it off, thinking that it couldn’t be nearly as special as wine tasting in Argentina. That said, the more we talked to colleagues and friends about the two places, the majority leaned toward Bariloche, arguing that Mendoza was comparable to Napa whereas Bariloche offered a more unique Argentinean experience. And once our good friends at LittleBitesLA and Beaches & Backpacks said Bariloche was a “no-brainer”, I was finally convinced.
Bariloche is known as the Switzerland of Argentina, and it holds true to its reputation. It’s known for its beautiful lakes and mountains, making it popular for skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer. All of the locals we met lived and breathed for adventure – one woman’s husband was even a Mt. Everest climbing guide, going on multiple expeditions a year.
That said, if you’re not a climber or even a big hiker, Bariloche still has a lot to offer – a quaint town, copious amounts of chocolatiers (Bariloche is also Argentina chocolate’s capital), sailing tours and incredible food, which I’ll get to below. There’s even chair lift options to see the views if you’re not up for hiking. Unfortunately we didn’t have great weather which put a damper on our short time here, but there were still a few key “do’s” and “don’ts” that we learned.
Where to stay
While I normally don’t focus on accommodations, our hotel, The Charming Lodge, was the highlight of our trip to Bariloche. It was one of the most beautiful, charming places I’ve ever seen, perfectly nestled in a cove overlooking the Nahuel Huapi Lake and offering private lodges each with their own spa. The location is also very convenient – it is near a variety of restaurants and equidistant to the town and popular hiking spots. What’s best though is that the staff – especially the concierge Roberto – went above and beyond for the guests and truly made the experience special and personalized.
This particularly stands out as almost everyone we knew told us to stay at Llao Llao – the famous hotel in the area, known for its secluded location in the mountains. While Llao Llao is in a beautiful location, it’s far from town and other attractions and it’s also quite touristy. Of course everyone has their biases – including us – but if you’re looking for a more quaint, local place to stay, Llao Llao wouldn’t be our first pick.
What to do
While there are copious amounts of hikes to do in Bariloche, if you’re looking for something short and sweet paired with incredible views, the hike Cerro Campanero is your answer. As we had spent the past week hiking in Patagonia, we were looking for something less treacherous but a means to see Bariloche’s spectacular views. Luckily, our friends at Beaches & Backpacks recommended Cerro Campanero – and it was perfect.
The hike is only about 30 minutes long, depending on how quick you go, but it is relatively steep. It’s worth it – at the top, you’ll see a panoramic view of some of the most beautiful scenes Bariloche has to offer.
What’s best is that if you’re not up for hiking or unable to, there’s a chairlift option to get to the top of the mountain. I’ll admit we took it down the mountain in part because of the views but I was also hiked-out by day 11!
One thing to note is that this is a very popular activity in Bariloche, especially because of the chairlift and cafe at the top of the mountain, so if you’re looking for a trek off the beaten path, this would not be my first recommendation.
Another easy and less treacherous hike is Cerro Llao Llao, which you can easily get to if you’re near the Llao Llao area. We unfortunately were greeted with windy, gloomy weather, so our photos do not do this beautiful view justice.
That said, the highlight of our time in Bariloche was sailing along the Nahuel Huapi Lake. We were looking for something to do besides hiking and came across the sailing company, Vallero El Orgulloso, which offers sailing tours around Bariloche. After two weeks of hiking, it was a perfect way to relax and soak in the stunning landscape.
The best part of the experience is that it felt very local and personalized, as opposed to a corporate tour which can be common in places like Bariloche or Patagonia. There were only three guests on the boat (including us) and the captain encourages the guests to take the reins. While I preferred to enjoy the sights and have a drink, Matt ended up sailing for the majority of the trip (no surprise there!).
The total trip is three hours and it accommodates 5-6 guests, so if you have a small group and half a day to spare, this is a perfect way to see the sights without breaking a sweat. Compared to U.S. prices, it is also quite affordable.
Where to Eat
While we had known that Argentine beef was world-renowned, we didn’t truly experience it until we ate at Alto El Fuego and La Salamandra Pulperia in Bariloche. Not only were these two of the best meals we had in Argentina (number one was iLatina in Buenos Aires – a must-go if you’re there), but some of the best meals we’ve had in our lives. If you’re heading to Argentina, it may be worth making the trip to Bariloche just for them!
Alto El Fuego is a quintessential steakhouse, but unlike most steakhouses that are crowded and loud, it’s located in an adorable little house right outside of the main town. The menu is simple with about a dozen meats to choose from, ranging from steak and chorizo to sweetbreads and gizzard. If you go here, there’s one thing you must get: the ojo de bife. (rib eye). While I am not a steak aficionado, Matt on the other hand, is. Within five minutes, the 1.5 pound steak was gone (I managed to get two bites) and he claimed it as “the best steak of his life”, which says something if you know him. We also tried lamb and cow sweetbreads for the first time here, which we realized was a poor decision since we’re pretty sure no other sweetbread will top the ones served at Alto El Fuego. Bottom line: if you’re in Bariloche, you must go here. (shockingly, I failed to take photos – the biggest mistake of the trip – the food was just too good to break away!)
The runner up to Alto El Fuego was without a doubt La Salamanda Pulperia, which we heard about through our good friend at LittleBitesLA. The setting is quaint and rustic, filled with character. Like Alto El Fuego, the menu is also pretty simple with only a handful of appetizers and main courses to choose from, but everything is perfectly cooked and seasoned. If you make it here, don’t miss the skirt steak and choripan (a chorizo sandwich) – I still dream of it!
One thing to note if you’re heading to Bariloche, make sure to make reservations ahead of time. Many of these places get booked up quickly so it’s worth asking your concierge or contacting the restaurant directly for a reservation.
How to Travel
As mentioned in my past post on Patagonia, it is definitely worth looking into renting a car if you come to Bariloche. Almost everyone we met rented a car ahead of time, but as New Yorkers who haven’t driven in years (at least I haven’t!), it didn’t even cross our minds. By the time we realized we may need one, they were all sold out – and most are manual which we couldn’t drive anyway!
That said, we quickly learned that Bariloche has a decent bus system that takes you to most key spots: hiking trails, the main town, llao llao, etc., so if you don’t have a car or don’t want one, the bus is definitely a viable option. It only passed us at the bus stop a handful of times!