My travel companions and I had dreams of visiting Patagonia; we envisioned snow-capped mountains, glaciers, valleys and night skies bursting with stars,.
We had dreams of hikes, bikes and long nature trails through southern Argentina’s pristine landscape.
I, personally, relished the break from the relentless heat of north Argentina and welcomed thoughts of thermal leggings, hiking boots, hot chocolates and endless fondue.
However, we were unfortunately on a budget.
So when we elaborately planned a dream excursion to the landscapes of El Calafate, replete with glaciers and valleys, we quickly realised our trip was just that; a dream. On our budget, we simply could not afford the luscious day trips to glaciers, the cost of accommodation and the flights in and out of this amazing region.
Dejected, we decided Patagonia was something we would have to do later in life when we could afford everything this trip entailed, not as the economical backpackers we were trying to be.
Why not Bariloche?
With our dreams of visiting Patagonia dwindling we stumbled across San Carlos de Bariloche (also known as just Bariloche), a small town and ski resort nestled just within Patagonia but not as far south as other destinations in the region. Internal flights were reasonable and it seemed to offer everything we had wanted of Patagonia; a large national park for walks, many mountains to hike and vistas to behold.
Bariloche is a lively town nestled within the large Nahuel Huapi National Park that enjoys snowfall annually from June to September. We arrived in late February and while the temperature made it necessary to dress warm, the weather was idyllic for our myriad of planned activities.
The town looks exactly how you would imagine a snow-less ski resort to look; stone and timber buildings in the style of chalets, roads tiered up sloped hills and markets selling wooly hats and leather goods.
And then there was the chocolate.
Stores emanated with the smell of varieties of chocolate and having been bereft of a good dose on my travels (chocolate in hotter climates tends to reduce in quality as they are required to use different milk to keep it from becoming a melted mess), it seemed I had reached my own personal cocoa haven.
Hot chocolates were as thick as lava and I devoured endless amounts of a local delicacy, the ‘roma’, a sinful treat of chocolate that was melted on hot plates and rolled into giant bars of large, flakey bars.
And then, of course, Bariloche offered views. The town is situated within a National Park so of course every where you look is a sight to capture. However, to explore many of the local attractions, it was necessary to take the public buses which thankfully were frequent, cheap and easy to navigate.
What to do?
There is lots to do in this region of the world, even if it is not the main destination for Patagonian travellers. There are several mountains that can be climbed or viewed by cable car, most notable of which is Cerro Campanario that offers a 360-degree view of the entire park.
About a forty minute bus journey from the centre of town (route 20) will take you to Parque Municipal Llao Llao which boasts hikes from 4k up to 40k depending on how much you want to torture (or treat!) yourself.
For those eager to cram in the entire 60k route around the Bariloche peninsula, it is recommended you rent a car and stop at all the view points before hitting the national park for a hike.
Other options is to bike; bikes can be rented for about twenty euro a day and you can hop off the 20 bus at the stop just after Cerro Campanario for a bike rental shop; Circuito Chico Adventure. From here it will take about four to six hours to bike the entire Circuito Chico (a route that takes you through the national park). This is a mountainous region so rest assured it’s not a simple bike journey.
A must-visit along this route whether you visit by bike or car is the modern and stylish Cerveca Patagonia (Patagonia Brewery).
Offering a vista out over the stunning lakes of Nahuel Huapi, enjoy a well-earned burger and local craft beer from as little as €15. You can sit out under the heater of the decked terrace or lounge in a lake-side sun chair and take in the views and atmosphere of this special destination.
Activities on offer in the region also include kayaking, boat tours around the peninsula and white water rafting (though these could set you back anything from thirty to sixty euro per day).
Bariloche can even offer you the stunning vista of mountains and glaciers synonymous with Patagonia if you choose to visit Cerro Tronodor, located about a three hour drive from Bariloche. Though it is advised to use an authorised tour company for this you can also drive the route (note that roads are reportedly difficult and have strict entry and return times).
Having decided against spending potentially over a grand for a few days in Patagonia, we spent four days in Bariloche for less than five hundred. And we saw and witnessed everything we had wanted from this stunning part of the world.