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 definite European Alpine vibe! After spending a week in this beautiful corner of the world, we’ve compiled the very best things to do in Bariloche to explore the city, see the lakes and get outdoors.
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Is Bariloche worth visiting?
Yes, Bariloche is worth visiting! Especially if you love getting outdoors while also exploring interesting local history and culture.
Bariloche is the gateway to Argentina’s Lake District, and is close to some breathtaking natural scenery and walking trails. In the winter it also becomes one of Argentina’s top skiing destinations.
Bariloche is a lakeside mountain city that also has a fascinating local history. Not to mention some really fun foodie traditions, like chocolate-making and craft beer!
In this article we’ll explain some of the best ways you can explore it with local tours, sightseeing and discovery.
Is Bariloche safe?
Bariloche is one of the safest cities in Argentina, with a very low crime rate. We never felt in danger while exploring Bariloche. It felt like a bit of a haven after looking over our shoulders a bit in Buenos Aires!
As with any tourist destination, it is still best to be cautious and vigilant, and don’t go wandering into areas you don’t know. We always like to speak to locals at our accommodation to get a sense of the safe neighbourhoods. The dodgier parts of Bariloche are right on the outskirts and away from downtown, so you have to veer really out of the way to accidentally wander into them.
The main risks to tourists in Bariloche are the weather and the nearby environment. If you go hiking or mountain climbing you may want to go with a local guide, and we recommend some tours in this article.
If you do go self-guided, always check the weather forecast. We also recommend speaking with the lovely people at the Bariloche Tourist Information Centre on Libertad 56, who will be happy to give some advice.
What is the best time to visit Bariloche?
Bariloche is in the northern part of Patagonia which means it has milder weather than other parts of the region. The hiking season starts much earlier here than southern Patagonia.
The core hiking season in Patagonia is from October to April, but you can begin getting on the trail in September, which is when we first visited.
As mentioned above, Bariloche is also a skiing destination. The ski season in Bariloche is from around June to October, overlapping a little with the hiking season.
If you want the warmest, mildest weather, the best time to visit Bariloche is between December and February, at the height of the southern hemisphere summer.
Things to do in Bariloche: in the city
1. Take a themed walking tour
While many people visit Bariloche for the amazing wealth of outdoor activities in the nearby national parks, the city also 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 examines 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 looks 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. We thought the tour was a fascinating experience; I wrote about it in more detail here.
You can book a German footprint tour in advance through GetYourGuide, which enables you to cancel for free up to 24 hours before it starts.
The creators of the German footprint walking tour also run an indigenous people of Patagonia history tour in Bariloche. This tour explores downtown Bariloche through the lens of its natural history and its original inhabitants, as well as a look inside the 80-year-old Museum of Patagonia.
2. See Bariloche Cathedral
Bariloche’s streetscapes are defined by alpine-style chalets and colourful hotels rather than grandiose religious buildings, but one striking exception is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Nahuel Huapi. This towering church stands a few paces from the lake’s shore and dominates the city’s modest skyline.
The cathedral, like many of the most prominent landmarks around Bariloche, was built by legendary Argentine architect Alejandro Bustillo.
If you take the above-mentioned indigenous people of Patagonia history tour, it includes a visit to the cathedral with insights into its intricate stained-glass windows and beautiful gardens.
3. Visit a local chocolate shop
Bariloche is famed for its chocolate, which is evident from the range of chocolate shops and cafés all over the city centre. In fact, one of the city’s many nicknames is ‘Argentina’s chocolate capital’.
Our favourite Bariloche chocolate shop 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. Make sure you try the house ice cream!
4. Have a craft beer in Manush
Craft beer is surging in popularity in Argentina, and Bariloche has a lively scene of its own. Diego, our guide on the German footprint tour, recommended his favourite spot to try the local brews: Manush. This legendary local joint is located in a large and homely wooden log-cabin building just up the hill from the Civic Centre.
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, from beer snacks to full meals. If you have just one spare evening in Bariloche, you can’t go wrong spending it here.
Thanks to its popularity, Manush has now opened a second microbrewery just outside Bariloche, called Manush km 4. Yes, that’s because it’s four kilometres outside the centre! It’s conveniently located right on the lakefront road, Avenida Exequiel Bustillo, so you can stop for a pint and a meal on your way back from hiking in the national parks.
5. Stay in a 10th-floor penthouse hostel
There are countless options for places to stay around Bariloche, but few are 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 – one of the best we’ve stayed in. There’s a plush communal space for meeting other travellers, and a superb hostel kitchen for prepping your own food. Book your stay on Hostelworld or Booking.com.
6. 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 the cathedral. Just walk down to the shore across the road, where you will find a small jetty. Take a little picnic and have your camera at the ready!
7. Hang out with the Bariloche Couchsurfing community
Bariloche has a vibrant and active Couchsurfing community. In case you hadn’t heard, 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 accommodation costs down.
Local Couchsurfing hosts and guests meet up each week in Bariloche for a social event. We stayed with a host for two nights and went along for a night of pizza, beer and travel chat. Ask your host in advance if an event is on while you’re in town – it’s an awesome way to meet locals and fellow travellers.
Things to do in Bariloche: around Circuito Chico
8. Take the chairlift (or hike) to Cerro Campanario
Bariloche is famous for its scenery viewpoints, and one of the 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, with snow-capped peaks and lakes stretching 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 viewing platform without climbing a step. There is the option to take a return trip via chairlift, which you can book in advance. 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.
9. See the famous Llao Llao Hotel
Llao Llao Hotel is quite possibly the most famous hotel in Argentina. It’s another building designed by Alejandro Bustillo.
Originally opened in 1938, it 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 (but book here if you want to splash the cash!). 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 travel 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.
10. Visit Capilla de San Eduardo
Yet another local icon designed by Alejandro Bustillo, Capilla de San Eduardo is 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 Cerro 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.
11. Take the full Circuito Chico tour (must do in Bariloche!)
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 did this half-day circuit in the morning so we could enjoy a leisurely afternoon in the city afterwards, but you can take an afternoon tour if you’d prefer a lazy morning.
The tour is a really good way to get your bearings around the area at the beginning of a fews days of hiking and outdoor activities. With pick-up and drop-off including it also means you don’t need to worry about figuring out the local transport.
12. 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 routes leads 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 the Cerro Llao Llao trail.
Things to do in Bariloche: around Cerro Catedral
13. Go skiing at South America’s biggest ski centre
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.
On GetYourGuide you can arrange a Cerro Catedral base tour which also serves as a return transfer from the town to the slopes.
14. Hike from Catedral to Refugio Frey
When the skiing season is over at Catedral, the site is neatly repurposed into the starting point for one of the most spectacular hikes in Patagonia. 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.
15. Hike from Catedral to Lago Gutierrez
On our trip, the weather conditions weren’t great for Refugio Frey so we chose 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 is 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: further afield
16. 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!
17. Road trip to San Martin de los Andes
The scenic lake town of San Martin de los Andes is perched at the far north of Argentina’s Lake District. It is connected to Bariloche by the Seven Lakes route, one of South America’s most stunning road trips.
The drive along Argentina’s famous Ruta 40 winds past the lakes of Correntoso, Espejo, Escondido, Villarino, Falkner, Hermoso and Machonico, each with its own special charm.
The journey from Bariloche takes around three to four hours. Car hire in Patagonia is typically expensive, but you can find the best rates available on RentalCars. However, it’s often cheaper to just book a full-day tour to San Martin de los Andes from Bariloche, which includes a stop at the beautiful mountain village of Villa La Angostura.
18. Sail across Nahuel Huapi to Victoria Island
Victoria Island sits in the middle of the vast Nahuel Huapi Lake, and features some of the region’s most diverse wildlife. There are several well marked hiking trails weaving through the island’s Arrayanes forestland, which is home to the world’s smallest deer, as well as wild boar, giant sequoia trees and much more flora and fauna.
The island was once inhabited by indigenous communities, whose mark can still be seen in the form of cave paintings. On a Victoria Island tour from Bariloche you can cruise across the lake, learn about the island’s history and discover it on foot.
19. See the towering peak of Cerro Tronador up close
The lakes of Nahuel Huapi National Park are set against a backdrop of jagged mountain peaks, the highest of which is Cerro Tronador, a colossal extinct volcano. The mountain straddles the border between Chile and Argentina some 50 kilometres west of Bariloche.
Experienced trekkers can climb to the summit with a local guide, or alternatively a long day return hike to Refugio Otto Meiling culminates in a spectacular view from between two glaciers.
For a less strenuous experience, you can book a day tour to a viewpoint at the base of Cerro Tronador. The tour also includes the chance to see other natural phenomena along the way including Black Glacier and the Devil’s Throat waterfall.
20. Take a horse riding excursion
While you’re travelling in Argentina, a horseback experience is definitely something that should be on your bucket list. And in the depths of Patagonia, horseriding is an intrinsic part of the culture.
Not only is Bariloche the gateway to Argentina’s Lake District, it is also on the doorstep of the vast Patagonia desert. Just a 45-minute drive from the town takes you to a cattle ranch, where you can leap onto horseback and get lost in the tundra.
This is the base for a horse riding experience in the Patagonia desert from Bariloche. And after you have explored this unique terrain, the tour rounds off with a traditional Argentine asado lunch – another must while you’re here!
Where to stay in Bariloche
As we highlighted above, Hospedaje Penthouse 1004 is a really cool hostel in Bariloche set at the top of a 10th-floor building. We stayed there in between a bit Couchsurfing and overnight trips out to El Bolsón. You can find more budget options in our guide to the best hostels in Bariloche.
You can find some great self-catered around Bariloche too. This has become an evermore popular option, as understandably many travellers prefer to have their own space. Here are two excellent apartments for couples or solo travellers:
- Studio apartment with lake view – excellent budget option
- Luxury lake view penthouse – incredible lakeside location
Bariloche map of attractions
You can see the locations of many of the sites in Bariloche and Nahuel Huapi National Park on the map below:
If you’re planning a trip to Patagonia, you might find some inspiration in our other articles:
- Patagonia itinerary and travel guide
- How to get around Patagonia by bus: a backpacker’s guide
- How much does a Patagonia trip cost? Here’s what we spent
- Best times to visit Patagonia: everything you need to know
- Patagonia packing list: what to take for the hiking season
- 17 awesome things to do in Ushuaia, Argentina
- El Chaltén trekking guide: Laguna de los Tres
- Camping El Chaltén: a guide to free sites
Planning to stay in Buenos Aires before heading south? Read 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.