Bariloche

Overview

Introduction

One of the must-see sights in Argentina is the lakeside ski-resort town of San Carlos de Bariloche, generally known as Bariloche. This Andean village looks like it belongs in Switzerland, even though it's 830 mi/1,335 km southwest of Buenos Aires. Like a Swiss ski resort, Bariloche can be quite crowded—and phenomenally expensive—in high season (though it's a bit run-down in comparison with its European counterparts). Its popularity with Brazilian tourists has earned it the nickname "Braziloche."

It's easy to see why so many people go: The area, on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, in the midst of Nahuel Huapi National Park, is unbelievably beautiful. Bariloche is surrounded by dense forests, alpine lakes and 12,000-ft/3,660-m mountains that are snowcapped most of the year.

Bariloche itself is filled with Swiss chalet-type hotels and has a number of sights worth seeing, including a small museum with displays about the area's founder, Francisco Moreno (Museo de la Patagonia; http://www.museodelapatagonia.nahuelhuapi.gov.ar); it also has information about the indigenous population and the early settlements. But our favorite activities (and everyone else's) can be found on the main street and the slopes—shopping and skiing. Skiing sometimes starts in June at Cerro Catedral, 12 mi/20 km from town and named for its cathedral-like spires, but the best time to hit the slopes is July-October.

Shopping is a year-round activity. You can sample some of the many varieties of jellies and jams made from native fruits found nowhere else in the world—each day you're there, stop in a different chocolate shop or see whose version of the local specialty, papas de Bariloche, you like best.

During the warm months, you can fish for salmon in clear mountain streams, take a boat ride to pretty Isla Victoria (to see pudu deer) or take in a great view from atop Otto Hill (reached by aerial gondolas). Other impressive sights are towering Mount Tronador (a great climb in summer) and the nearby black glacier field.

A trip to Bariloche can be combined with an excursion to Chile. If traveling by car, try to take a tour that overnights along the way—a nonstop trip to Puerto Montt, Chile, is complicated and tiring (although feasible). Alternatively, a trip from Bariloche to Puerto Blest can be made by boat (past waterfalls), by bus, by boat again, then by bus again through some of the most beautiful, peaceful scenery in South America, including dormant volcanoes and milky green water. It's not to be missed. We especially enjoyed the all-day boat and bus trip across Lago Nahuel Huapi. (Keep your eyes open for condors carrying food to their nests in the cliffs overhead.)

Other ski resorts in the Argentine Andes include Mendoza, Villavicencio and Las Lenas. Villavicencio has very good facilities, is in a beautiful setting and is near some interesting ruins. Valle de Las Lenas is a world-class resort with excellent powder skiing.

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