San Carlos de Bariloche is known affectionately as the ‘Switzerland of South America’, and it’s not hard to see why. With its wooden chalets, chocolate shops, sprawling lakes, hiking trails and ski slopes, it has a palpable European Alpine vibe.
We spent a week here, which we filled with a mixture of outdoor and city exploration activities. If you’re the type who likes to get out and about, here are 15 awesome things to do in Bariloche.
Things to do in Bariloche around Circuito Chico
1. Take the chairlift (or hike) to Cerro Campanario
Bariloche is famous for its scenery viewpoints, and one of the very best is at the summit of Cerro Campanario. At the top you will find a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of the Andean mountain landscape. Snow-capped peaks and riddles of lakes stretch to the horizon in every direction.
You can reach the summit via a short, steep hike that takes around 30 to 45 minutes. The well-marked path passes through woodland and offers a variety of vantage points on the way up. The elevation gain is approximately 200 metres, so be prepared for a little uphill effort.
Sounds too strenuous? Don’t worry, you can reach Cerro Campanario’s 360 viewing platform without climbing a step. For a fee of 250 Argentine pesos, you can take a return trip via chairlift. It takes just a few minutes and allows you to enjoy the amazing views in comfort as you ride.
Cerro Campanario is easy to reach by bus from Bariloche, with services running regularly through to midnight. From the city centre, public buses 10, 20 and 21 will drop you directly at the foot of the hike and chairlift entrance.
2. See the famous Llao Llao Hotel
Llao Llao Hotel is quite possibly the most famous hotel in Argentina. It was designed by Argentinian architect Alejandro Bustillo and opened in 1938, but was destroyed by a fire shortly afterwards.
After being rebuilt and restored intermittently over the years, it has hosted celebrity guests and is today a member of the Leading Hotels of the World consortium.
With prices starting at a couple of hundred US dollars per night, a stay at Llao Llao Hotel isn’t compatible with backpacker budgets. It’s still worth taking a short trip to see its dramatic setting between the lakes of Nahuel Huapi and Moreno. It’s a classic photo to add to your collection!
There are various spots to see the hotel from around Circuito Chico and Lago Moreno. If you take the 20 bus from Bariloche and get off at Puerto Pañuelo, you can access some of the best viewpoints from there. The trip can be combined with other activities on this list, which brings me to…
3. Visit Capilla de San Eduardo
Another local icon designed by Alejandro Bustillo is Capilla de San Eduardo, a gothic-inspired wood-and-stone church on the Circuito Chico circuit. It’s a popular attraction due to its stunning views, and it also provides one of the best vantage points for Llao Llao Hotel.
From the church’s high ground, you can see out across Nahuel Huapi and Moreno lakes, forestland, and towering peaks such as Mount Tronador.
Capilla de San Eduardo opened in 1938 (around the same time as the Llao Llao Hotel) and is free to enter. In the grounds outside, you can buy handmade local chocolates.
The 20 bus from the centre of Bariloche drops directly at the church grounds.
4. Take the Circuito Chico tour (for all the above)
By taking an organised tour of the Circuito Chico route from Bariloche you can combine trips to Cerro Campanario, Hotel Llao Llao viewpoints and Capilla de San Eduardo. We took the option of a half-day tour with local agency Turisur, which included all these landmarks and more.
While we like hiking and getting around ourselves, the tour was a really good way to get our bearings around the area before we did some of our own trekking in the following days.
At 470 Argentine pesos per person (plus 250 pesos for the Cerro Campanario chairlift), a tour does work out quite expensive in comparison to going self-guided via local buses and walking routes. If we went again we would probably find our own way.
Having said that, it was nice to have a convenient pick-up and drop-off, and an English-speaking guide. This option is worth considering if you’re short of time or want to bypass figuring out the local public transport.
5. Hike to Cerro Llao Llao
The area around Circuito Chico, comprising Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi and Parque Municipal Llao Llao, offers a whole host of scenic hiking routes.
One of the most rewarding is to Cerro Llao Llao, a hill with spectacular views of the surrounding lakes and mountains. It’s a fairly gentle hike that can be done by people of all ages and abilities.
A return hike to Cerro Llao Llao can be done in a 2–3 hours from Puerto Pañuelo, which is on the 20 bus route. After getting off the bus, walk down further along the road with Lago Nahuel Huapi to your right, and you will reach the trailhead for Cerro Llao Llao after about 300 metres on your right. Note that the final 20–30 minutes involves quite a steep uphill section.
The trail can be combined into a 15-kilometres loop circuit with Sendero de los Arrayanes and Villa Tacul beach. Check out our full guide to this trail here.
Things to do in Bariloche around Cerro Catedral
6. Go skiing at Cerro Catedral
Bariloche has a rich history of outdoor adventure activities, and is home to the largest ski centre in the Southern Hemisphere. Cerro Catedral is located about 20 kilometres from Bariloche centre, and is open for skiing from June to October.
The facilities offer over 50 trails for skiers of all abilities. It has hosted major international competitions; we visited shortly after the Snowboard World Cup was staged there.
The site has a range of facilities including gear hire, restaurants, lockers, shops and medical care. You can reach it easily from Bariloche on the 55 bus service, which runs every hour.
Of course, skiing is not a cheap activity. However, if you’re a ski enthusiast and happen to be passing by, you can take advantage of rates that are favourable in comparison to many other resorts around the world. The 2018 price for a lift pass at Catedral is 1,165 Argentine pesos – about 39 US dollars – which is lower than average prices in Europe and North America.
7. Hike from Catedral to Refugio Frey
When the skiing season is over at Catedral, it is neatly repurposed into the starting point for one of the most spectacular hikes in Patagonia. We were gutted that we missed out on this, as the weather conditions were not quite yet good enough during our stay.
The hike can be done in one long day, about eight hours return. Many people choose to break it up by camping or staying at Refugio Frey. The spot is renowned for its breathtaking night skies, so for the stargazers out there an overnight stop is a must.
The trail follows a steady incline for the first three hours or so before a much steeper final section. Clean water is accessible from various natural sources on the way up. It’s no walk in the park, and is only recommended for intermediate to advanced hikers.
If trekking outside of the summer season (December to March), it’s likely you will need specialist gear for snow-hiking such as gaiters and spikes. These can be rented from shops in Bariloche.
8. Hike from Catedral to Lago Gutierrez
With Refugio Frey out of our reach, we took on an alternative hiking route from Catedral to Lago Gutierrez. This made for a great day getting outdoors, with beautiful views along the way.
The first section of the hike was not well signposted. It’s worth asking the tourist information centre at Bariloche’s Centro Civico for advice before going.
From the ski centre, walk back towards the main road, and where the road splits, follow the track to the right which runs alongside the big car park. This track becomes Balcón Gutierrez, a road that zig-zags in long stretches all the way down to the shores of the lake. This section is about 7–8 kilometres in total and took us about two and a half hours with regular stops.
You will arrive at Playa Lago Gutierrez, a lovely beach on the shore of the lake with mountains all along the horizon. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic lunch. From here, we did a 5-kilometre return hike to Cascada de los Duendes. This gentle path follows the perimeter of the lake around to some pretty cascading waterfalls in the forest.
Back at Playa Lago Gutierrez, you can take the number 50 bus back to Bariloche.
Things to do in Bariloche around the city centre
9. Take a themed walking tour
While most people visit Bariloche for outdoor activities in the national parks, the city has a fascinating history to explore. You can do this through a range of themed walking tours that run every week from the tourist information centre at Centro Civico.
We went on the German footprint walking tour with a friendly, eccentric local guide called Diego. The tour examined the various phases of German influence during Bariloche’s history. We were enlightened about German explorers who contributed heavily to the founding of Bariloche’s modern settlement, and its establishment as an adventure and mountaineering destination.
The tour also looked at a darker side of Bariloche’s German history. In the decades following World War II, the city was used as a hideaway by war criminals who had been able to escape Germany in the aftermath. The tour was a fascinating experience; I wrote about it in more detail here.
Other options include a key historic events walking tour, and a flavours tasting walking tour.
10. Have a craft beer in Manush
In addition to educating us about Bariloche’s history, our tour guide also told us about his favourite spot for a beer. Manush is a legendary local joint serving craft beers and ales, with a distinctly European feel to it.
If you visit between 5.30pm and 8pm, you can take advantage of happy hour discounts. We tried the porter ale on Diego’s recommendation, and it was superb! Manush also serves food – we had an excellent plate of fries to accompany our beers.
11. Visit a local chocolate shop
Bariloche is famed for its chocolate, which is evident from the range of chocolate shops and cafēs all over the city centre.
Our favourite was Rapa Nui, a cute little place on the corner of Villegas and Mitre. Inside you can sample and buy handmade local chocolates, or sit in for a mug of hot chocolate and cake. A real highlight is the house ice cream.
12. Watch the sun set over Nahuel Huapi Lake
Bariloche is nestled on the southern shore of Nahuel Huapi, the largest body of water in the Argentine Lake District. On the eastern side of the city, the shore arcs slightly northwards, enabling a perfect view of the sun setting over the water.
We found a great spot to see it close to Catedral de Nuestra Señora del Nahuel Huapi, a large cathedral not far from the water’s edge. Across the road you can walk down to the shore, where you will find a small jetty.
Take a little picnic and have your camera at the ready. Against the backdrop of the Andes mountains, this was one of our very favourite sunsets.
13. Stay in a 10th-floor penthouse hostel
There are many options for places to stay around Bariloche, but none quite as visually rewarding as Hospedaje Penthouse 1004, a hostel on the 10th floor of a tower building.
From the hostel’s balconies you can look out upon the city from above and enjoy some superb views of Nahuel Huapi Lake and the mountains beyond. The main balcony outside the communal area somehow works perfectly for both sunrise and sunset, with visibility across the lake shore in both directions.
As well as the great views, it’s a fantastic hostel all round. It ranks among our travel favourites. The kitchen and bathroom facilities are very good, and the comfy common space is well geared for meeting people and socialising.
You can book your stay at Hospedaje Penthouse 1004 using the links below:|
Bariloche has a vibrant and active Couchsurfing community. For those of you who don’t know, Couchsurfing is a global network of people who offer lodging and homestays for travellers. It’s an awesome way to meet people while keeping your travel costs down.
We stayed with a local Couchsurfing host for two nights and had a great time. Our host took us out to the weekly Couchsurfing community meet-up, where we spent an evening eating pizza and drinking beer with a friendly mixture of travellers and locals.
On our second night, we cooked a traditional English dish for our host and her partner as thanks for having us. We practiced our Spanish and traded travel stories. It was a memorable evening.
Things to do in Bariloche further afield
15. Take a trip to El Bolsón
If you are staying for a week or longer in the Bariloche area, it’s well worth spending a couple of days in the nearby town El Bolsón. The bus takes two hours, and costs around 8 US dollars.
El Bolsón is a laid-back place that has become renowned as a hangout for hippies. It has a lively local art movement and an atmosphere like quite no other place in Argentina. Surrounded by mountains, it also has some excellent hiking trails, such as Cerro Piltriquitrón.
The town centre is awash with alternative bars and eateries. If you do visit, it’s an absolute must to try an ice cream tub at local institution Helados Jauja. I can promise you from personal experience it won’t disappoint!
Note: Argentina’s national currency, the peso, has suffered turbulent recent fluctuation amid economic difficulties. Where I have cited prices in pesos, they may be subject to frequent change. I will update the article whenever new information becomes available.
If you’re planning a trip to Patagonia, you might find some inspiration in our other articles:
- Patagonia itinerary and travel guide: 28 days / two weeks
- Six incredible Patagonia hiking trips for backpackers
- How to get around Patagonia by bus: a backpacker’s guide
- How much does a Patagonia trip cost? Here’s what we spent
- Patagonia packing list: what to take for the hiking season
- 11 awesome things to do in Ushuaia, Argentina
- El Chaltén trekking guide: Laguna de los Tres
- Camping El Chaltén: a guide to free sites
If you’re planning to stay in Buenos Aires before heading south, try our article on the coolest things to do in Argentina’s capital.
Do you have any experiences to share from San Carlos de Bariloche? Please let us know in the comments below.
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