Bariloche is an all-season town in the Patagonia region of Argentina, next to the glacial lake Nahuel Huapi, which is surrounded by the Andes Mountains. With such scenic beauty, the town formally known as San Carlos de Bariloche has been called the "Switzerland of South America" and offers some quiet, out-of-the-way retreats and views galore.
Tourists also come for sports and adventures like skiing, hiking, biking, ziplining, and additional recreational activities. Plus, visitors love to see Bariloche's top nightspots and taste its world-famous chocolate—there is even a chocolate museum in town. With so much to offer, Bariloche is an ideal place from which to enjoy the country's Lake District.
Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, one of Argentina's most popular parks, is nearly 2 million acres and spans both Neuquén and Río Negro provinces. This park surrounding Bariloche boasts the spectacular glacial lake known as Lago Nahuel Huapi and offers views of mountain peaks, rushing rivers, and verdant forests with trees like the Chilean cedar and Winter’s bark. You'll see wildlife ranging from river otters to ducks to cougars and foxes, and enjoy all-year recreational activities such as hiking, rafting, and kayaking.
Cerro Otto offers not only skiing and snowboarding, among other snow activities, but also short-distance trails for mountain biking or hiking. The mountain's base is just 3 miles (5 kilometers) from Bariloche, and visitors may enjoy taking the cable car up to the country's only revolving restaurant with an amazing view of Gutiérrez Lake and Nahuel Huapi Lake, Mount Leones, and other mountains.
Cerro Catedral, located 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Bariloche, is the biggest ski resort in the southern hemisphere and international tourists visit for its range of activities. Onsite are more than 30 ski lifts, a shopping center, internet cafes, diverse restaurants, and a bike park with trails for everyone from beginners to experts.
Cerro Campanario, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) from downtown Bariloche, is where you'll find spectacular panoramic views of the Andes and nearby lakes, hiking opportunities, and a mountain-top cafeteria. Hike or take the chairlift up for some great vistas.
Bariloche has a reputation as being the chocolate hub of Argentina. After World War II, European immigrants moved to the town and would warm up with homemade hot chocolates. Argentinian chocolate became popular, and the plentiful shops and cafes in town offer enough variety to please the chocoholic.
Many chocolatiers are located on Avenida Miter, known by locals as “The Avenue of Chocolate Dreams.” Frantom will whet your appetite for more treats, and you'll find plenty to savor at Mamushka, Rapa Nui, Abuela Goye, and Chocolates Tante Frida. The town even has a museum called Museo de Chocolate, which offers guided tours and exhibits about the history of chocolate, along with a gift shop and cafe.
The Bariloche area has a wealth of outdoor activities providing scenic views. Visitors may choose to ride a horse, mountain bike, or hike. Adventurers can zipline through the woods on one of South America's longest trails or paraglide on a 5,000-foot descent through the forested hills, among other activities.
Another option is to hike in a lovely local spot such as Refugio Frey, which features lakes, mountains, and lush forests. Cerro Leones Park is the spot to see ancient caves and rock art, and Cerro Lopez has a great panoramic view of Lake Nahuel Huapi and its surroundings.
The lakes have a number of water sport possibilities; one of the more popular excursions is the Cruce de Lagos, the lake crossing between Chile and Argentina, which also involves road crossings and usually takes two days. You'll have a chance to glimpse at waterfalls at Saltos de Petrohué, Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes, and wildlife. Take this photographic tour in reverse for the crossing from Bariloche to Puerto Montt, Chile.
If you feel like splurging, the renovated and luxurious Llao Llao is a classic resort that first opened in 1938. There's a highly ranked 18-hole, par-70 golf course with a free shuttle, boating, restaurants, and much to see in this luxurious, lodge-like setting that boasts stone fireplaces and views of the lakes and Andes Mountains. Enter the spa for a massage or aromatherapy, or take fitness classes such as pilates and yoga.
Bike the half-day, 37-mile (60 kilometer) Circuito Chico mostly-paved route around the lakes, where you'll also view the woods, mountains, and city in the beautiful backdrop. At Villa Llao Llao, a wonderful viewpoint includes the Llao Llao Resort, and you can take a peaceful walk in the woods at the Parque Municipal Llao Llao. If cycling isn't for you, you can usually see most of the tour by bus and enjoy the views.
The longer Circuito Grande, which spans 150 miles (240 kilometers) and is also partially paved, features even more natural beauty, like waterfalls coming from the Coacó and Blanco streams, rock formations at Valle Encantado, rivers, and more.
The Francisco P. Moreno Museum of Patagonia, which focuses on natural science, cultural anthropology, and regional history, has both permanent and temporary exhibits such as one on aboriginal history related to the Mapuche, Selknam, Tehuelche, and Yámana cultures. The museum is located in the east wing of the Centro Cívico, a building complex declared a National Historical Monument.
Another good choice is the Museo Paleontológico, which educates visitors on the region's fossils and shows off an approximately 22-million-year-old shark jaw, along with dinosaur skeletons and other artifacts.
Bariloche has numerous choices for going out on the town at night and dining on some delicious food. Eateries range from parillas (steak restaurants) to international cuisine with European influences from Germany and Switzerland. Local specialties include Patagonian lamb, smoked cuts like deer and trout (from nearby lakes and rivers), and traditional mountain cuisine such as goulash, a Hungarian stew with meat and vegetables.
Check out the many bars, brewpubs like Cervecería Mandela with daily happy hours, and the Casino de Bariloche. Dance clubs offer a diversity of entertainment for all budgets.
Located 80 miles (129 kilometers) south of Bariloche in Argentina's Patagonia, the town of El Bolsón has not only the Quemquemtreu river running through it but is situated at the base of Mount Piltriquitrón. The area's bounty offers mountain scenery, sports, fishing, and a peaceful, restful vacation. The town also has one of South America's best craft fairs downtown at Plaza Pagano on Thursdays and Saturdays. Experience artists creating everything from pottery to stained glass to jewelry and metal pieces while you drink a craft beer and listen to live music.