Are you wondering what to do in Bariloche? San Carlos de Bariloche in central Argentina is a beautiful lakeside town and is often considered the start of Argentinian Patagonia. Surrounding the town is a lake with views of the national park and the snow-capped mountains in the background. Similar to a European ski town, visit in the winter and you can ski on most of the nearby mountains, whereas in the summer there are many trails available for hiking.
Bariloche is an outdoor lover’s paradise, so read on for some of the top things to do whilst staying in this amazing little town.
1. Cycle the Chico Circuit
The easiest and most fun way to see all the best things that Bariloche has to offer is to rent a bicycle for the day and cycle the Chico Circuit. The circuit is a 25 km loop around Lago Moreno and although it’s pretty hilly, when you’re speeding along the downhill sections taking in the beautiful views along the route you quickly forget about your aching legs.
The circuit starts at kilometre 18, which is around a 45-minute bus ride outside of town. Take the number 20 bus from the centre of town and get off at the stop after Cerro Campanario. The bus is extremely cheap, but you’ll need to pay using the SUBE card. These can be bought and topped up in most kiosks and can be used on buses all over Argentina, including Buenos Aires and Mendoza. Once you get off the bus there are two conveniently located bike rental shops who’ll tell you all the main stops along the loop.
One such stop is Punta Panoramico. Although the views along the whole circuit are great, here really does give you that great panoramic view and as it’s located right on the road you can also take some cool photos with your bicycle.
2. Hike up to Cerro Llao Llao
One of the possible stops along the Chico Circuit, the hike to the top of Cerro Llao Llao takes about 45 minutes and is pretty steep and tiring, but boy is it worth it. When you reach the top you’ll be greeted with stunning views of the park, the lakes and the mountains in the background. The colours are just incredible and it’s without a doubt one of the best viewpoints in Bariloche so make sure you find a way to visit here.
3. Visit Cerveceria Patagonia
Another possible stop along the Chico Circuit, Cerveceria Patagonia is famous not just for its delicious craft beer, but also for having the perfect view of the mountains that inspired the Patagonia brand logo.
With indoor and outdoor seating it’s the perfect spot to spend a day with amazing views of Bariloche and the surrounding mountains. You can also do a tour and beer tasting here where you’ll learn about how the beer is made and the ingredients which influence the taste, colour and aroma, before tasting 5 different types.
As well as craft beer and cider they also offer food although make sure to book ahead if you want to eat here.
4. Hike up to Cerro Campanario
One of the best views in Bariloche can be seen from Cerro Campanario. The start of the walk is only 10 minutes from the Chico Circuit and also the bike rental shops, so if you’re not too tired you can do this after you’ve done the Chico Circuit. The hike takes about 30 minutes up and like Cerro Llao Llao it’s very steep and tiring, but the views at the top are amazing. You’ll also find a little cafe serving coffee and cakes where you can take a break before heading back down.
5. Hike to Refugio Frey
A great day hike to do from Bariloche is the hike to Refugio Frey. Take bus number 55 from the centre to Villa Cerro Catedral. Buses are every hour and the journey there takes around 40-50 minutes. Once you arrive in the Cerro Catedral car park don’t head towards the shops but look across the car park and you’ll see a big “Frey” sign which is the start of the trail. From here it’s pretty straightforward. The hike is one of the easier ones with a bit of general incline and a few steep hills, with only the last 1km being a straight up hill climb over large boulders.
Although the hike is relatively easy, the rewards are high as there’s pretty much something to see along the whole route. The first part of the hike is along the side of Lago Gutierrez so you’ll get amazing views, then it’s through the forest past small streams and waterfalls, before finally coming out above the tree tops and reaching Refugio Frey and the laguna surrounded by the mountains. Here you can take a further walk around the laguna, chill and eat your lunch, or even go for a swim.
6. Go kayaking
If you want to do something other than hiking then why not try kayaking? Bariloche is surrounded by water but the lakes of Lago Gutierrez close to town or Lago Moreno by the Chico Circuit are the best places to head. You can rent kayaks and paddleboards from both of these for a low price, just make sure to negotiate the price upfront. The lakes also have little pebbly beaches so if the sun is out you can even just have a “beach” day chilling by the lake.
7. Take a trip to El Bolson
El Bolson is a small town approximately 2 hours drive south from Bariloche. Via Bariloche (bus company) has a number of buses a day doing this route but buses get booked up quickly so it’s worth buying your ticket a day in advance and your return ticket as soon as you arrive in El Bolson.
You’ll need to stay the night in order to be able to get up early the next day and do one of the day hikes in the area. One of the most popular hikes is the hike to Cajon del Azul. To get to the trailhead you’ll need to take the bus to Wharton. The only bus is at 8am but there are usually multiple buses departing at that time to cater for the demand. Once in Wharton you register at the park office and then start the hike.
The hike takes you along the river with its crystal-clear water. You’ll walk over various bridges and then start the climb up where there are excellent views of the snow-capped mountains. After about 3 hours you’ll reach Refugio Cajon del Azul which you can camp if you wish or simply grab lunch. From the Refugio there is then a further 1-hour loop where you’ll see the actual Cajon itself before starting the walk back.
The hike is generally uphill but isn’t too tough and the views are amazing. The walk back is quicker and if you have time before the bus leaves (return buses are at 5.30pm or 8.30pm) there is a cute little bar along the river, about half an hour from the start of the trek, which you can stop at for a beer before heading back.
8. Eat chocolate
Finally, Bariloche is famous for its chocolate and you really shouldn’t leave town without trying some. The town is littered with various chocolate shops (some of which give free samples!) but one of the most popular is Rapu Nui. Selling individual or boxes of chocolates plus amazing ice cream, you’ll find this place is full from morning to midnight.
If it’s a rainy day you can also visit the Havanna Chocolate Museum. Tours cost approx 400 Argentine Pesos (~ $2 USD) and include a taster of hot chocolate as well as a 50% discount for their shop, but note that the tours are only in Spanish.
Bariloche is a beautiful town with lots to do. The views in and around it are simply stunning and with pretty European ski town architecture, calm lakes and, being Argentina, amazing food and wine on offer, it’s a great place to visit in itself or as the start of a trip south to Patagonia. Add some of the suggestions above for the best Bariloche activities which will be sure to give you top experiences.
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