Patagonia is one of those unique destinations that lingers in your imagination for an entire lifetime. With soaring glaciers, icy fjords, crystalline lakes, thick forests, and jagged mountaintops all settling in the same expanse, how could it not? If Chile or Argentina finds a spot on your bucket list, then Patagonia should secure its place as well.
Then there’s the question of what to do and where to go, which of course, begs a long-winded response given the vast nature of Patagonia. But the perfect jumping-off point can be found in the Argentine Lake District of Patagonia, and the picturesque city San Carlos de Bariloche, Bariloche for short, and known as “Little Switzerland.”
Where exactly is Bariloche?
Sitting on the southeastern shore of Lake Nahuel Huapí, Bariloche pertains to the Río Negro Province in Argentina. The city’s magnificent backdrop of Nahuel Huapí National Park even served as inspiration for the scenery of Disney’s iconic film Bambi.
Once you land in the sleepy haven of Bariloche, it isn’t difficult to imagine why. Reminiscent of the Swiss Alps, the snowy mountains surrounding pockets of clear blue water and expansive woodlands will take your breath away.
Suppose you don’t have the time to traverse the various corners of Patagonia. In that case, Bariloche will give you a complete experience in just a few days. From lake tours, skiing, mountain biking, sport fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, and many other adventurous activities, staying in Bariloche offers something for everyone.
Each season brings out a different side to Bariloche. Although there is no particularly “bad time of year” to visit, you will want to choose your arrival date based on what you hope to see and experience. For instance, if you wish to ski in Cerro Catedral, you will want to travel between June and September (Austral Winter). Whereas if you are hoping to bike some of the precious trails, like those found in Mount Cathedral Bike Park, then you will want to arrive in Austral Summer between December and March. However, year-round, you are sure to enjoy some of Argentina’s very best chocolate, juicy Argentine asados (grilled meat), and increasingly popular microbrews.
Bariloche accommodation ranges from simple and rustic to extremely luxurious; however, all of the lodging in the area guarantees a cozy atmosphere. Many lodges double as a full-blown resort with a spa, such as the Charming Luxury Lodge & Private Spa, where you can get a spa treatment right in your suite! Charming is also a proud LGBTQIA-friendly establishment, following suit with Argentina being one of the world’s first countries to legalize gay marriage.
Another top-ranked lodge not only in Bariloche, but rather in the entire world is the five-star Llao Llao Resort Golf & Spa. With eighteen holes of golf, group activities like yoga and hiking, and four outstanding restaurants, staying at the Llao Llao is an experience in itself. Distinguished guests of the Llao Llao over the years include the Obamas, Robert Duvall, Shakira, and Tommy Lee Jones, to name a few.
Crossing the Border into Chilean Patagonia
Bariloche can also be your jumping-off point into Chilean Patagonia. Starting in Bariloche, you can take a one-day cruise through three lakes connecting to Puerto Varas in Chile. This famous route is known as the Andean Lakes Crossing.
The three-ship journey lasts about 11-12 hours, taking you through Lake Nahuel Huapí first, then Lake Frías, and finally Lake Todos Los Santos; you will board a new cruise ship at each new port. The incredible changes in landscape dominate the trip from the rolling green forests of the Nahuel Huapí National Park, all the way to the volcanoes that begin to take over as you arrive in Chile.
Although Bariloche is affectionately known as “Little Switzerland,” the sights, smells, sounds, flavors, and experiences awaiting you are uniquely Argentine. Your trip to the heart of Patagonia simply won’t feel complete without passing through San Carlos de Bariloche.