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Our next stop was in Little Switzerland.
No, we didn’t actually go to Europe! I’m referring to the city of San Carlos de Bariloche or simply just Bariloche. This city is located in the Lake District, found in the northwestern part of Patagonia.
Bariloche has a very European feel and its popular for its natural beauty. Sitting at the foothills of the Andes mountains, surrounded by stunning crystal-clear lakes, meltwater rivers and ancient forests – it really takes your breath away!
City Within a Park
What’s interesting is this city is located within a national park, called Nahuel Huapi. This was the first national park created in Argentina, thanks to Francisco ‘Perito’ Moreno, who donated this land to the Argentinian government. Moreno is the explorer I wrote about in my Patagonia, Part 2 post, who has the infamous glacier named after him.
Why does Bariloche have the nickname of Little Switzerland?
When you arrive here, it’s not hard to see why. Many Europeans from Switzerland, Germany and Austria settled in Bariloche in the 20th century. They felt right at home here with the alpine air, picturesque lakes and snow-capped mountains.
These immigrants definitely had a cultural influence on Bariloche. As you meander through the town, you’ll notice alpine style structures, with rustic wooden chalets, Swiss restaurants serving cheese fondue and numerous artisanal chocolate shops.
There is even a nearby Swiss Colony or Colonia Suiza just 25 kilometres outside of Bariloche. This village was first settled by several Swiss families that came from Valais canton of Switzerland.
Things to Do in Bariloche, Argentina
Bariloche has all four seasons, so the activities you can do here will depend on the timing of your visit.
For instance, if you visit between July to October, which is their winter season, the most popular activities will be skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports/activities. In fact, Bariloche is one of the most popular destinations in South America for skiing.
In our case, we were visiting in January, which is the height of their summer season. Popular activities during this season include hiking, biking, kayaking and lake cruises.
We only had two nights in Bariloche, so we only had time to do a couple of the highlights. I’ll also cover additional activities that you can do here if your travels bring you to Patagonia’s charming Lake District.
- Lake Tour to Victoria Island and Los Arrayanes National Park
Since we were in the Lake District, it was only natural that we would sign up for a lake tour. We purchased a boat tour to see Victoria Island and to also visit the Arrayanes Forest in Los Arrayanes National Park.
The morning tour for the next day was already sold out, so we purchased tickets for the early afternoon tour. Unlike tours we took in Ushuaia and in El Calafate, we had to pay a bit extra to get the hotel pickup/drop-off option. We decided to go ahead with this option because it would have been more expensive if we took a cab to go to the port.
Our bus arrived in the early afternoon and picked us up to take us to the port, which is located in Puerto Pañuelo. This is around 25 kilometers from downtown Bariloche.
Before boarding our ship, we had to go into the building adjacent to the port to pay the port tax and the park entrance fee for Los Arrayanes National Park.
We then joined a massive lineup to board our ship, named Modesta Victoria. The first thing we noticed is how old this ship is!
Once we boarded, we noticed that the lower deck was like a museum that had memorabilia from years past.
I learned that that this ship was built in 1937 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It was then dissembled to be shipped to Buenos Aires by sea and then by rail to Bariloche. Next, they re-assembled it at a dock near the rail station. The Modesta Victoria made its debut in Nahuel Haupi Lake in November 1938.
Che Guevara and Former US Presidents
Not only is this ship historic, but several famous personalities have boarded the Modesta Victoria. This includes Che Guevara and former US presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
Los Arrayanes National Park
After sailing for an hour on Lake Nahuel Huapi, our cruise made its way to Quetrihue peninsula. Once there, we disembarked the ship to make our way into the Los Arrayanes National Park.
This park used to be part of the greater Nahuel Huapi National Park. Then in the 1970s, it was decided to separate the Arrayanes Forest into its own National Park to protect its special trees. These trees range from 300 to 600 years in age!
Arrayanes trees are not used in Argentina to preserve them. They are flowering trees and they’re part of the myrtle family. What stands out about them is their rich, cinnamon colour. They also happen to be rare and are native to Argentina and Chile.
We had about 40 minutes at this park to do a short hike. There’s a wooden walking path that we as a group used to explore this one-of-a-kind forest.
At the end of the walking path, just before you exit the park, there is a tea house called Bambi. There’s a local folklore that claims that Walt Disney’s inspiration for the animated film Bambi came from this forest. This is why this park is referred to as the “Magical Forest.”
After our short time in the Los Arrayanes National Park, we hopped back on the ship to continue sailing to head to Puerto Anchorena. Our next stop was in Victoria Island.
Once we arrived, there were several marked trails to explore this island. There was an option to do a guided hike with our tour guide, but it was in Spanish. We decided to hike and explore it on our own, similar to others in our group.
We walked around the forest in the island and saw some all kinds of interesting looking trees.
We enjoyed the moderate hike in the forest and were rewarded with picturesque views of the lakes.
There’s even a white sand beach nearby where we saw some people there swimming, despite the water being a bit chilly!
We then met the guide at the port and boarded our ship to sail back to Puerto Pañuelo and then catch our bus back to Bariloche. We arrived at our hotel just past 9PM.
Although we enjoyed the Arrayanes National Park and Victoria Island, this was our least favourite tour that we did in Patagonia. We found the ship was overcrowded and we were packed in like sardines. The tour guide was unfriendly and we spent too much time on the ship between the two stops.
Tip: if you’re interested in a similar lake tour, try to find one that offers either small group or private tours. This way you enjoy your time there, without the large crowd taking away from the experience.
- Puerto Blest, Los Contros Fall and Frias Lake Tour
While going to Los Arrayanes National Park and Victoria Island is the most popular lake tour, there’s another lake tour you can do to visit other islands in Bariloche.
This lake tour stops at Centinela Island, and is also where Francisco Perito Moreno is buried. After this stop, you sail to Cascada de los Cántaros, which is a rainforest and there’s also a beautiful waterfall there to see. As you walk through this rainforest, you can visit Best Bay and Ferias Lake, which is fed by glacial water.
- Circuito Chico
The next morning, we took a half-day tour to go and see the different picturesque viewpoints in Bariloche. Thankfully, it was a small group tour and our bus arrived to pick us up from our hotel at 8:30 in the morning.
This tour took us on a scenic route and stopped at a few places along the way for us to admire Bariloche’s beautiful landscapes.
Cerro Companario Chairlift
We first stopped at Cerro Companario, where we paid to take a chairlift to go up to the top to see panoramic views of Bariloche. The chairlift ticket was not included in the tour cost.
After taking at the chairlift, we arrived at the top and then climbed some stairs to be greeted by the most stunning lake views. This included viewpoints of Lake Nahuel Huapi, Lake Moreno and Lagoon El Trébol.
This stop is by far the one with the best views of Bariloche’s lakes as you can see in the photos.
There’s also a restaurant there with the same beautiful views, so it’s a great place to stop here for a snack. We had around 30 minutes of free time here to take in the views.
Next, we took the chairlift down and were back on the bus to arrive at another area with a bridge to take additional photos of Bariloche’s lakes from a different viewpoint.
Afterwards, we arrived at our next stop in San Pedro Peninsula, where we took a short hike to a trail down leading to a lake surrounded by mountains.
Our final stop was at hill overlooking the Llao Llao hotel, which is a 5-star resort surrounded by the Andes mountains and sits on a hill between Nahuel Huapi Lake and Moreno Lake. There’s also Cerro Cathedral nearby.
If there’s only one tour you can do in Bariloche, it would be this one. We loved all the stops and taking in all the different panoramic views, that really showcased the Lake District’s stunning beauty.
Our tour guide was also amazing! There was a difference of day and night between the guide we had for the lake tour versus the one we had for the Circuito Chico tour.
- Take a Nazi Presence and German Footprint Walking Tour
I mentioned earlier that a lot of Europeans immigrated to Bariloche, including Germans. This tour highlights the German immigrants’ influence on Bariloche from the architecture to their influence on mountain sports.
But did you know that several high-ranking Nazi officers sought refuge in Bariloche?
This tour also covers Nazi’s presence in this area since many fled Germany after World War II to escape being persecuted.
At the time, the Argentinian President, Juan Peron, was openly a Nazi sympathizer. He facilitated a safe passage for Nazi officers to move to Argentina and to other South American countries. If you’re a history buff, this tour is a must.
- Visit Colonia Suiza
If you have more time in Bariloche, you can take a detour and head to the Swiss Colony just outside of Bariloche.
They have an artisanal fair on Wednesdays and Sundays selling local handcraft items made by people from this village. However, I read that these days they mainly sell souvenirs that are mass produced, similar to what you can find in Bariloche.
The main draw for visiting this village is if you’re interested in trying out the Curanto dish. This is a traditional way of cooking meats and veggies under the ground on hot rocks that came from Indigenous people.
- Indulge in Chocolates
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ve arrived at the right place. Bariloche is Argentina’s capital of chocolates. As you walk in Bariloche’s downtown, you’ll find a chocolate shop in every block, concentrated in Mitre Avenue. Argentinians refer to this street as “Avenue of Chocolate Dreams.”
There was so many that we narrowed it down to two artisanal chocolate shops. We indulged in chocolates from Rapa Nui Chocolates and Mamuschka Chocolates. They were both delicious, but I personally liked Rapa Nui slightly more. You can also find a Rapa Nui shop in Bariloche’s airport.
We bought the Circuito Chico tour and the lake tour together from the same company called Turismo Bariloche. The costs were as follows per person:
- Victoria Island and Los Arrayanes National Park Lake tour $58 US
- Los Arrayanes National Park entrance fee $10 US
- Puerto Pañuelo port tax $1.50 US
- Circuito Chico tour $16 US
- Cerro Companario chairlift $8 US
The two tours were in Spanish. We inquired about the possibility of getting a tour in English and they told us they can only do it for the Cicuito Chico tour only. The cost? It was 15,000 pesos which is 3 times more than the tour in Spanish. No gracias!
Fortunately for us, our tour guide for the Circuito Chico spoke to us in English and explained the different sites at each stop, which we greatly appreciated.
The one thing that was noticeable to us about Bariloche is it attracts a lot of visitors from other parts of Argentina, especially Buenos Aires. Hence, many of the tours here were only in Spanish.
Tip: have pesos on hand because if you pay by credit card for these tours, they charge you a bit more. This wasn’t the case in Ushuaia and El Calafate, but in Bariloche cash is king.
Where to Stay in Bariloche, Argentina
Bariloche is the only city we visited in Patagonia that actually has a couple of hotel chains in the area. We stayed at the Panamericano Hotel Bariloche, which is part of Marriott Bonvoy. I’ll be doing a review of this property in a future post.
If you are looking for luxurious accommodations then you will want to stay at the most famous hotel in Bariloche, which is Llao Llao Hotel. This hotel is a resort with picturesque landscapes located on a hill overlooking lakes and surrounded by mountains.
They have a lot of indoor and outdoor activities including lake activities such as kayaking, canoeing and fishing. Other activities also include bird watching, horse-back riding, and even a guided archery class! This hotel also includes a 15-hectre park, so you can do additional activities like hiking and mountain biking.
Being a resort, they have an indoor and outdoor pool, jacuzzi, tennis court, 18-hole golf course, gym and a spa.
If you’re not staying at this hotel, but would like to visit it, you can make reservations at their Winter Garden restaurant to indulge in their high-tea experience or to simply have lunch there.
Bariloche was our final stop in Patagonia, and was a great way to end our Patagonia leg of our Argentina trip. It’s the biggest city we visited in Patagonia, with an endless number of activities to do.
Bariloche’s beauty is stunning, which in some ways I view as problematic because it attracts so many visitors that it gets very crowded! It’s definitely a place to you should visit if you love chocolates, nature and the outdoors.