San Carlos de Bariloche, a town located at the foot of the Andes in the Rio Negro Province Argentina. This charming town is known for its chocolates and spectacular hikes. My original plan was to spend two days but I ended up staying eight thanks the enchanting scenery and wonderful hikes.
Words do not do justice to this place’s’ great hikes, but I will try anyway. Here is a small overview of the various hikes I partook in with some dramatic pictures to convince you it’s well worth the sore legs in the end.
Before reading on please take note of the following:
The distances mentioned below are one way.
I am a novice at hiking but lead an active lifestyle. The timeframe mention below should be taken solely as indicative.
1. Refugio Frey 12K – Easy – Day Trek
This hike is easy with a moderate incline of 750 meters. The trail is well indicated with big red dots, and due to its relative ease and proximity to town, it is a big hit with both locals and tourists. This means you will frequently come across fellow hikers but not to the same extent as the more popular treks further down south in Patagonia.
The trek starts at the carpark of the Cerro Catedral ski resort, which can be accessed easily through bus number 55. Watch out, the bus only runs once an hour. If you miss it, try and hitchhike to the starting location.
The trek offers stunning views of lago Gutierrez, so you will want to keep your camera handy as there are many photo opportunities along the way. The end of this trek is not surprisingly at the refugio (cabin) Frey, which is perched on a very small but picturesque lake called lago Toncek.
The refugio offers the opportunity to buy food and beverages, although they do not come cheap. We opted to pack a lunch and enjoy it while overlooking the lake. Should you have plenty of energy left over you can add onto this trek by walking upwards in the direction of the San Martin Jakob refugio. I have been told the views are worth the additional few kilometers. Unfortunately, there was just too much wind on the day we trekked up to contemplate going any higher.
We ended up doing the trek in about 5 hours. You can do the trek in sneakers, many locals did, however my advice would be to have hiking boots as they offer more grip on the loose sand you will encounter along the way.
2. Laguna Negra 14K- Moderate- Day Trek
This trek is a little more strenuous than the Frey trek due to its length but also due to the sharp ascent in the last couple of kilometres. The start of the trek is located in Colonia Suiza, which can be reached by taking the bus number 10 from downtown. Check out the link below for the bus schedule
The path starts off as a relaxed stroll in the forest, all the while following a gentle stream. The most strenuous part is to avoid catching your feet on one of the many tree roots sticking out. I did and ended up having bruised knees for a week (bit of a clumsy soul I am).
The stream turns into a waterfall, a first short ascent on loose sand starts. Grab a snack before you go up and brace yourself for a steep short hike up. Once you get to the top of the waterfall, the path continues to ascend very gently. The most strenuous part of the hike is in for the last couple of kilometres where you are treated to a steep climb up over loose stones.
The trek ends on the Laguna Negra at the refugio, which is perched on the edge of this lake. The refugio is a perfect spot to have a rest and eat a spot of lunch. Once you have replenished your energy reserves, you can either start your way back down or continue up to the mirador. There is only one path up, it snakes around the lake and up the mountain facing the refuge. Best to give a good hour to get up and back down to the refuge
Getting around the lake is a bit challenging and will require you to climb over rocks and boulders, and trudge through many loose stones. Trust me on this one, I cursed all the way around the lack and pretty much all the way up to the viewpoint but was so grateful for having gone all the way up. Once you are up on the mountain ridge you will be treated to unbelievable views of Cerro Tronador, the highest mountain of Bariloche.
It took us about 7 hours to complete this track from start to end. It is definitely a great hike, but not for the faint hearted, especially if you want to hike up to the mirador. I would definitely recommend wearing hiking boots on this hike as the terrain contains a lot of loose sand and rocks.
3. Otto Meling – El Tronador -14K – Moderate- Overnight Stay
This trek is best done in two days due to the length it takes to get to the start of the trek. This beautiful trek starts in Pampa Linda, 50km inside the Nahuel Huapi National park and ends at the Otto Meling Refugio located right under the Castaño Overa Glacier.
To get to the park there are two options: option one is to take the tourist bus, which Blogtakes you right up to the start of the trek (Pampa Linda). This option, while very practical, will set you back 600 Argentinian Pesos.
Option two is a slightly more complicated but only set us back 165 Argentinian Pesos.
- Step one: Take a bus from the local bus station in the direction of El Bolson. The ticket from Bariloche to the entrance of the national park is 40 Argentinian Pesos. Be sure to tell the bus driver you want to go to Cerro Tronador. As far as I could tell, there was no real official bus stop but as it is along the way, the drivers are used to stopping and letting people off.
- Step two: Once you get off the bus, it is a short walk to the entrance of the park where you pay a 250 Argentinian pesos entrance fee. We lucked out by speaking Spanish and were given the local ticket price, which is 125 Argentinian Pesos.
- Step three: Hitchhike from the entrance of the park to Pampa Linda. Cars are obliged to stop at the park entrance to purchase a ticket, and it is very easy to get a ride into the park with someone. We waited for a total of 10 minute before catching a ride. The roads in the park are narrow and only allow for one-way traffic. This means that the park has strict hours within which cars are allowed to drive into the park (between 09.00 and 14.00) and out of the park (starting at 16.00). Therefore, your best bet is to come early as this is the time most people will be driving into the park.
- To come back, we met a lovely family that took us all the way from Pampa Linda to Bariloche center. There are plenty of people leaving from Pampa Linda to the entrance of the park so hitchhiking out of the park is very easy. Be sure to be by the road at no later than 16.00 as this is the time the road opens and many people start leaving.
The trek itself is well marked with white circular markings and wooden posts.
The first couple of kilometers are through forest areas with a continuous slight sloping ascent. After about 1.5 hours, you will come across a short, burst of steep ascent which is marked by a sign saying “ beginning of caracol”. The caracol, while steep, is not that long, so grab a drink of water and trudge up. After finishing the caracol, the path continues sloping up gradually with sandy footing.
The next tricky part is when you reach a certain altitude and the treeline stops . You are now exposed open to the elements. When we were hiking, this meant strong gusts of cold wind. Don’t fret, the view will take your mind off the cold wind and your wobbly legs. Once you get to the refugio, warm up with some nice Maté or a hot chocolate.
In terms of sleeping, there are a couple of options:
- For those of you who do not want to lug up a tent and sleeping equipment, the refugio offers basic accommodation for a price of around 550 pesos a night. A sleeping bag and meals are an additional cost.
- Sleep outside in your tent. This option is free, but will require you to bring up all your equipment (sleeping bags, tents, mats)
We opted to sleep outside in the tent, which was a first for me. The greatest part was the sense of adventure and being so close to the glacier. Unfortunately, when I went, it rained all night and I was treated to one of the coldest night’s sleep in my life. Despite the lack of sleep and my blue toes, it was well worth it to open the tent in the morning and be greeted by sunshine and glacier views.
This trek was by far my favourite due to the variety in landscapes, the majestic view of the glacier , the cozyness of huddling together in a mountain hut with strangers for dinner and the adventure to get to the start of the trek. For this trek, you need to wear hiking boots and invest in a good windproof jacket to have a modicum of comfort. Personally I would also bring gloves and a hat, specially if you plan to sleep in a tent.
At the time of writing, 1 Euro is 24,96 Argentinian Pesos
Getting into town from the airport:
- Take the city bus
- Take a minivan for around 100 pesos. The minivan will drop you off outside the centro civico
- The bus system in Bariloche is very straightforward. Check out the routes and schedules here: http://www.mibus.com.ar/bariloche/
- Payment of the bus ride is done via a sube card. Go to any local kiosk to buy the card and to put credit on the card. This card can also be used in Buenos Aires and Ushuai.