When it comes to Bariloche, there are really only two possible explanations for how the area of Bariloche and the Argentina Lake District came to exist: whoever created the world either started with the Patagonia Lake District and then got lazy, or instead they created this area dead last and wanted to go out with an awe-inspiring bang. Whatever the explanation may be, the bottom line is that the entire area around Bariloche, Argentina is absolutely breathtaking.
Anyone thinking of heading to this area might want to read that last sentence a little closer. While the entire area around Bariloche is a lake-strewn wonderland straight out of a fairy tale, the actual town (city) of Bariloche is a festering concrete strewn dump. Sure, the downtown strip along Calle Mitre has its charm with delectable chocolate shops and a barrage of fine dining, but the rest of the city is your typical graffiti laden Latin American metropolis that is chock full of belching buses and littered streets. Add to that the overpriced accommodations that ride on the coattails of Bariloche’s resort status, and the city of Bariloche is about one of the last places I would recommend anyone base themselves in the region. You’ve been warned. (The one exception to this would be nightlife, of course). If you have to stay in town, check out Hostel 1004, which is on the 10th floor of a city building and features a panoramic view of the lake.
That being said, the entire lake region around Bariloche is pristine country that is literally jaw-dropping in its beauty. While the region bustles with Argentina’s most popular ski resort during the winter months (Cerro Catedral), the summertime ushers in long sunny days that beckon outdoor enthusiasts to a lakeshore, trail, or river of their choice. A great way to spend a day exploring the fabled 7 Lakes region 20 minutes outside of town is by renting a bike and riding the Circuito Chico, a winding 27km route that circles Lake Moreno and takes the rider through some of the more picturesque scenery of surrounding Nahuel Huapi National Park. A great detour for anyone on the route is to head down into the Swiss Village, a simple hamlet where towering pine trees provide shade and shelter for tucked away restaurants and handspun artisan markets. Well worth the sidetrip, especially on market days (usually Sunday).
Inevitably, anyone who rides the Circuito Chico will notice the 5-star resort that stands stoically on the lakeshore in plain sight for all to see. If you are European royalty or happened upon a cache of gold bars while out hiking, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to afford a room here at Hotel Llao Llao, but if you’re a middle-class dweller like the Vagabond the closest you’ll get is to snap a photo from across the lake and ride a bike up the vaulted driveway. Nonetheless, the Hotel Llao Llao is one of the most famous attractions in all of Bariloches and is well worth the 2 calories exerted to snap a photo of it. Hey, you can always dream though can’t you?
While Bariloche is the epicenter for booking activities such as horseback riding or rafting, anyone who just wants to relax in the simplicity of nature for a couple of days has a much better chance of doing so in other Lake District towns such as Villa La Angostura or San Martin de Los Andes. Far more laidback and relaxed than bustling Bariloches, visitors to Villa La Angostura can spend their mornings sipping coffee at a corner café on mainstreet and pass the afternoon either hiking to a waterfall, canoeing the waters around Los Arrayanes National Park (available in peak summer only) or fly-fishing the mouth of one of the world’s shortest river (the Correntoso…trivia points!). An absolute jewel of the Argentina Lake region, I would actually recommend a stay in Villa La Angostura over the more popular, dirtier, and better known Bariloche (only 1.5 hours by bus between the two).
Finally, no trip to Bariloches would be complete without sampling somewhere between 2 and 12 pounds of the handmade chocolate that the region is infamously known for. Chocolate shops dominate virtually every street corner, and the combination of dulce de leche with dark chocolate mousse are nearly criminal in their ability to invade and conquer a palate. Tough to get enough of, the chocolates are a fitting end to a meal of Argentinian steak washed down with some quality Mendoza wine.
Bike, lake, steak, wine, chocolate, repeat. Welcome to Bariloches. Good luck trying to leave.