Buzzing Bariloche

11 Jun

San Carlos de Bariloche is a resort that buzzes all year round with world class skiing during the Winter and a whole host of lakeside and hiking opportunities during the warm Summer months. The town has a distinct alpine feel to it with wooden chalets, chocolate and ice-cream shops and even Saint Bernard dogs patrolling the plaza looking for tourists to have their picture taken with.

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Bariloche is surrounded by Argentina’s oldest park, Nahuel Huapi National Park which covers 700,000 hectares and is crammed full with lakes, valleys filled with wildflowers and dramatic mountain scenery. We were here mid-April when Autumn had just taken control of the land and the trees and foliage had started to turn magnificent shades of red, purple and yellow.

Day 1

It’s possible to hire bikes and use pedal power to explore the 60km Circuito Chico or there are regular buses that complete the route every 30 minutes or so (remember to purchase your ticket before getting on the bus – trust us, its highly annoying to wait for the bus only to find they won’t let you on without your pre-paid ticket!) We took a bus to Puerto Panuelos and hiked around the woodland peninsula Brazo de la Tristeza. Scenic trails wound through the forest with arches of bamboo hanging above our heads.

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The trail was teeming with small birds and dotted with wonderful hidden lakes with perfect reflections on their still surfaces.

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The hike to Villa Tacual was well worth the effort with its beautiful secluded beach, crystal clear lake and mountain views.

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A 15 minute bus ride out of Bariloche, Cerro Campanario is considered to be one of the top 10 views in the world by National Geographic and we certainly didn’t disagree with them.

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It’s possible to make a steep 30 minute hike to the top of Cerro Campanario but we decided to treat ourselves to the scenic (but expensive) chairlift.

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At the top a series of small walkways link viewing platforms around the summit, the highest of which offers gobsmacking 360 degree views.

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Even though the area is aptly named the Lakes District its hard to imagine so many lakes in one area.

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We indulged in an ice-cream from the cafe at the top and we agreed that our eyes and our taste buds couldn’t be happier at that moment.

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Day 2

Twenty minutes drive South of Bariloche is glorious Lake Gutierrez. When the evenings are cold and the days hot, we found there was often a layer of mist in the air during the early mornings whilst it warmed up. As we approached the lake the sun was just beginning to break through and patches of blue sky looked like they’d been painted with water colours on canvas. The mist circled around the mountain tops and patches floated on the lake’s calm surface making it look otherworldly.

The bus dropped us off at the Northern edge of the lake and from there we spent the day exploring the area. To give us some perspective of the park we made a steep 30 minute climb uphill initially through forest and then over a rocky path to a viewing point.

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The climb certainly woke us up and made our legs go wobbly but we were rewarded with great views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

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On our way back down we took a refreshing stop at two small but perfectly formed cascading waterfalls which fed into the lake.

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Dan reclined on a chair made out of a tree trunk and took in the views.

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A further 5km walk through the forest took us to Playa Munoz.

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We hadn’t expected to find the beach that we did – with small, fine stones and clear, calm waters we could have been on a Mediterranean island rather than in the notoriously rainy Patagonian Lakes District.

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The skies were blue and we closed our eyes enjoying the warmth of the sun on our faces. We had the whole beach to ourselves and we paddled our feet in the somewhat fresh water!

Day 3

It’s possible to hike to Refugio Frey from Lago Gutierrez however we started our climb from the Catedral ski resort and planned to complete a full day circuit back to that point.

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The path to Frey is clearly marked and steadily climbs around the base of Catedral and up the back of the mountain through a forested gorge. We passed a small Refugio that had been built into a giant boulder like something out of the Flintstones.

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The fabulous views when we climbed out of the trees about 20 minutes before Frey gave us a sense of how high we had hiked.

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Striking red trees were a beautiful contrast to the deep blue skies. Prickly mountains stretched upward in irregular beats.

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On our way up we met a group of school children around 10 years old with their teachers who were heading down after spending a night at Refugio Frey – what an adventure they must have been on!

Our first glance of Refugio Frey and the surrounding landscape reassured us that all of the sweat and leg burn was worth it.

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The Refugio was a typical mountain hut made from grey stone and its wooden windows were painted bright red. Camping is allowed here or for a small charge trekkers can use the shelter’s bunk beds with their sleeping bags. On a clear night the stargazing here must be fabulous.

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We were in awe of the small but beautiful lake and mountains which seemed to cradle the Refugio.

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A decked area had been constructed on the lake shore and weary trekkers soaked up the warm sunshine in wooden deck chairs – bliss!

It took us nearly 3 hours to reach the Refugio from Catedral so after a quick stop for lunch we pushed on as we still had the most difficult part of the trek to complete.

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We walked along the edge of the lake and to the opposite corner from the Refugio. We’d been pointed in this direction by a lady working in the Refugio but from a distance it looked like it would be impossible to scale those cliffs without a harness and ropes. Our route up was very steep and not too dissimilar to mountain climbing in places as we tentatively felt for a secure hand hold and foot rest to pull and push ourselves up from.

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Slowly and steadily we made our way higher until we reached a marvellous plateau with a hidden lake.

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A further 30 minute climb straight up took us to the roof of the mountains and we walked amongst the lofty peaks admiring the views and unusual rock formations.

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After climbing a small crest we stopped dead in our tracks not prepared for what unfolded before our eyes. Mount Tronador, an active volcano with a height of 3,554 metres loomed ominously to our left.

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A deep valley cut through the mountains in front of us and sparkling blue lakes spilled out to our right. The sun was still high and bright in the sky but a light breeze from the valley floor refreshed us.

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We stood still for what felt like a long time just admiring the view and pinching each other to make sure we were really there.

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From the viewing point trekkers can continue to Refugio Jacob to spend another night, or they can, as we did, take the challenging route which leads back to Cerro Catedral.

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With the top of the ski lifts in sight we edged ourselves along the mountain side clambering over large rocks and carefully placing our feet where loose scree could cause us to take a tumble.

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It took a further 2 hours to reach the lifts which looked so close for such a long time.

It was interesting to see the mountain all set up for skiing with gondolas, chair lifts and small mountain-side cafes (all closed) but without any hint of snow.

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We zig-zagged down what in the winter would be ski runs but now were more like gravel roads following small signs pointing us down to the centre of the village so we could take the last bus back to Bariloche. We reached the bottom with only 10 minutes to spare and indulged in a can of beer between us to quench our thirst and savor what an excellent day of trekking it had been.

2 Responses to “Buzzing Bariloche”

  1. Anna June 12, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Looks stunning guys x

    • latinchattin June 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

      Thanks Anna! We’ll try to keep brightening up your day with beautiful pictures xx

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