Known as the Tahoe of South America — and the portal to glorious Patagonia — San Carlos de Bariloche is worth spending a few kick-ass days in before continuing on to El Bolsón or Villa Angostura. Get a place, drop your stuff, and eat some good nourishment before grabbing a city bus to any of these adventures, except for El Tronador.
And get ready to bust out some Español Argentina-style!
Bariloche's Top 10 for the outdoorist
1) Rent a bike and ride the Circuito Chico, a road loop that covers miles of stunning landscape through dense woods and jaw-dropping views with plenty of refreshments along the way. Bike shops on both sides of the road at km 18 will provide wheels, directions, and pointers on where to ride.
2) Rent a kayak or SUP and paddle on the mesmerizing giant lake Nahuel Huapí, full of coves, inlets, and connected to other smaller lakes equally as impressive. Boat shops abound, especially directly on the lake at Playa Bonita, km 8, and playa Serena, km 12.
￼3) Hike around the Llao Llao municipal park through groves of giants, with loads of serene places to stop, look, and ponder the spectacle of this sublime forest playground, a short stroll from km 25.5.
4) Climb the legendary and imposing El Tronador (the Thunderer), covered in snow much of the year and a monumental landmark in these parts. This is an adventure for accomplished alpiners and extremists only, and accessed from the end of Highway 82, 50 miles from the center of Bariloche.
5) In the southern winter of August and September, ski, board, or sled the massive, majestic Cerro Catedral, the largest alpine fun area in South America. The views from the top are incomparable. Nineteen kilometers off the main lake road via bus 55.
6) Hike up to Refugio Frey, a mountain hostel on the slopes of Catedral, and spend the night to wake up in an eye-popping mountain wonderland. This can also be day hiked in order to make it back to town in time for happy hour. The trailhead is on Hwy. 77 at km 26.8, riding bus 10.
7) If energy level is a bit sketchy, ride the chairlift up Catedral and wander around on top of the Andes for a while. This huge peak is reminiscent of Jackson Hole in Wyoming, with a slew of wicked-looking pinnacles and spires that attract rock climbers from all over.
8) Play golf at the tricky, beautiful, and very entertaining course at the Llao Llao Hotel. Just make sure you bring enough balls... you're going to need them. The more open front nine is a fine sidehill warmup for the back side, which features several holes cut into the deep woods, and a superb finishing hole across an inlet of the lake. $45 to walk, and good rental clubs another $40. The pro shop is on the main road beneath the hotel and next door to Puerto Panuelo at km 25.5.
9) Take a boat ride from Porto Panuelo across Nahuel Huapí to visit the fetching village of Villa Angostura, a trout fishing paradise. You'll ride past islands of arrayán trees and get hypnotized by miles of smooth blue water and snowcapped peaks.
10) Last but much closer to first, conduct your own craft beer pub crawl, by wandering from one end of Juramento to the other, stopping and sampling at each of the half dozen pubs. When you reach the end after knocking out your last pint at Stradibar, continue another 50 feet across Salta St. to Huacho, acclaimed for virtuoso steaks and lamb.
Congratulations, you are now qualified for El Bolsón!