El Bolsón is a laid back town in southern Argentina known for its agriculture, artisan crafts, beautiful landscapes, and hippie vibes. Located in what they refer to as the Andean shire, people flock to this bohemian tourist spot for the relaxing atmosphere as well as great hiking along the crystal clear emerald waters of the Río Azul.
The largest hop-producing region in Argentina, El Bolsón is naturally a hub for craft beer brewing too. This friendly town boasts a big artisan fair, lots of great food, and multiple microbreweries. And just outside, you can walk to waterfalls, mountains, and viewpoints of pristine valleys and fruit orchards.
Let’s explore the best things to do in El Bolsón:
1. Visit the Feria Artesanal
One of the most popular activities in El Bolsón, check out this vibrant local market every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday on the edge of the central Plaza Pagano.
It’s a great place for handicraft shopping, cheap meals, and sampling local beers.
You can buy anything from handmade textiles and leather goods to homemade jams and other sweets.
The fair is a great opportunity to meet local craftsmen (and a few hippies) while catching some live entertainment and music in the street.
Everything at the market – food included – must be handmade, so grab waffles with fresh fruits and cream, empanadas, and milanesas in addition to your souvenirs of handcrafted musical instruments and wooden cutting boards.
2. Hike the Río Azul and Cajon Azul
Head out of town for some hiking in the beautiful surrounding area that’s often been called “The Andean Shire.” The trails around the Río Azul make for great day treks or you can walk the entire loop over the course of about three days, staying in cheap refugios (shelters for hikers) along the way.
You’ll see the clear mountain streams, diverse species of birds, and thick forests filled with native plants and blackberry bushes.
Take a day hike to the first refugio on a well-marked trails, visit the Mirador del Río Azul in a couple hours, or make it to the most gorgeous spot, El Cajón Azul, for day hike and a dip in the clear emerald waters (or you can spend the night there). Most treks start from Wharton, which is easily reached by bus from the center of El Bolsón.
3. Drink Craft Beer
El Bolsón is known for its hop-growing and beer production so be sure to try a few cold ones at a microbrewery or the artisan market while you’re here! Cervecería Otto Tipp is a local favorite spot, named for the German immigrant who introduced hops to the area.
Drink a pint and have a plate of picadas or try regional specialties like lamb and smoked trout.
They’ve got all sorts of brews, from berry-infused ales to dark beers and IPAs, all made with Patagonian water from their well.
Or try other breweries like Cervecería El Bolsón, Parapapoto, and Piltri.
If you’re around town in February, take part in the Festival Cosecha de Lúpulo (Festival of the Hop Harvest) to celebrate the hops and the products they produce!
4. El Bosque Tallado
“The Carved Forest” is a sculpture park on the mountainside where you’ll find striking art combined with a short hike.
Get a ride up to the trailhead and start the path to these traditional carvings made out of trees which remained after a forest fire in the 1980s.
It’s a pretty impressive and magical art installation set in the wilderness, having been carved by artists from all over South America.
If you fancy a longer walk and even better views, keep going and you’ll reach a refugio where you can have a drink and a snack (or even spend the night). Or keep going all the way up for a long but worthwhile hike to the summit of Cerro Piltriquitrón.
5. Go Paragliding
Another activity you can do from the heights of Cerro Piltriquitrón – or “Piltri” as the locals call it – is the adrenaline-packed airborne sport of paragliding (parapente). In the summer, get unbeatable views of the Andean shire and El Bolsón below by after jumping from the takeoff site at a height of about 3,775 feet (1,150 meters). You’ll be hauled up the hill in a 4×4 vehicle and strapped to a professional guide so no experience is needed before taking flight.
Some tour companies even provide video footage and photos of your time in the air.
6. Cascada Escondida and Cascada Mallín Ahogado
Trek out to a couple of pristine waterfalls close to El Bolsón for the day.
Bring a picnic and go for a swim in the cold, clear plunging waters of Cascada Escondida and (a little farther north) Mallín Ahogado after making the hike along a well-marked trail.
You’ll take a pleasant walk through lush vegetation and farmland where berries and hops are grown before arriving at your destination.
Along the way you can make a stop at the Botanical Gardens or extend your trek to hit three more waterfalls that lie farther from town.
Try to grow with a group of people as the occasional thief has been known to target solo travelers or couples walking alone through the woods.
7. Hike Cerro Amigo
For an easy walk (or a quick run), venture to Cerro Amigo where you can head up a trail that leads you to great views of El Bolsón and the valley below.
It’s walkable from the city center, it’s free, and you can stop at three viewpoints along the way.
Lots of locals go at sunset for small picnics or even at night for stargazing, but be sure to bring a flashlight if you do! You can also go most of the way up in a car (it’s located right off of Ruta 40), but why not pack some snacks and do this leisurely 20 to 30 minute walk on foot?
8. Parque Nacional Lago Puelo
Just 9 miles (15 kilometers) south of El Bolsón, pay a visit to this wooded and leafy national park just to see the brilliant turquoise waters of Lake Puelo.
You can also rent mountain bikes and cycle here from town yourself.
Located on the Chilean border, you’ll see beech trees, snow-capped mountains, and wildlife like huemul and foxes (maybe!). Grab a map at the entrance because there are lots of easy walks, canoes for rent, and kayaking and boat trips out on the lake.
There’s also fabulous fly fishing here, partly because of the low elevation and mild microclimate, and the guardería of the park can put you in contact with fishing guides for a chance to land some Pacific Salmon.
9. Go Kayaking or Whitewater Rafting
If you’ve already hiked it, try rafting or kayaking down the Río Azul.
For a little adventure, arrange to paddle down the river and take on the rapids with one of the tour agencies in town.
With professional guides to ensure your safety, you can jump in an inflatable rubber raft with a group or paddle downstream individually in a kayak.
Lots of companies will take photos of your trip, let you enjoy a swim afterward, and provide a picnic of snacks and hot drinks like mate or coffee after you’re finished.
If the water levels of the Río Azul are too low, companies may arrange for you to hit another river for more excitement, and multi-day trips can be put together for those visitors who want more days out rafting.
10. Museo de Piedras Patagonicas
It might sound a little boring, but this geological museum filled with rocks and minerals will give you a some great background on the Patagonia region.
Located 8 miles (13 kilometers) from El Bolsón along the Mallín Ahogado circuit, Owners Eduardo and Isabel Lucio kindly receive visitors every day and take them on super informative walks around their indoor-outdoor facility that’s home to tons of stones.
They’ll teach you all about how minerals grow, how geodes are formed, and lead you around their collection of scientifically labeled stones.
There’s even a section for meteorites and an annex where you can buy cut and polished stones.
11. Try the Ice Cream at Helados Jauja
Some say it’s the best ice cream in all of Argentina (and this country has fantastic helado), so be sure to make a stop at Jauja.
They do other foods, but don’t bother ordering anything but ice cream.
Because of the organic milk and local fresh fruits available in El Bolsón, they’re able to make an array of amazing and original natural fruit flavors that change based on the season.
And they even have 14 types of chocolate, which they combine with things like caramelized cashews, hazelnut cream, and marsala wine.
It’s by far the most famous place for ice cream in town, and they have a beer flavored ice cream if you want to try something different!
12. Centro de Ski Perito Moreno
If you’re visiting El Bolsón in the wintertime and want to take the family skiing, head to this new family-owned ski resort located a short drive from El Bolsón.
It’s got three ski lifts, ski instructors, and nearly no wind on the slopes at the top of Cerro Perito Moreno.
So when there’s good snow (between June and October), drive over for some winter sports.
Ideal for beginners, it’s got no frills, but it’s also cheaper than many of the surrounding ski resorts.
There’s also cross-country skiing, snowboarding, mountain hiking, sledding, and snow games for kids.
When you need a break, there’s a confectionary where you can have a meal, hot chocolate, or beer.
13. Do Some Yoga or Get a Massage
There’s an abundance of holistic healing going on in El Bolsón.
You’ll find lots of health shops, yoga instructors, massage therapists, and Reiki specialists to help with all of your spiritual and physical needs.
Head to Centro Anahata for yoga classes – they offer Vinyasa, Ashtanga, yoga for kids, and even dancing sessions.
Perhaps the most popular hostel in town, La Casona de Odile offers yoga classes on their outdoor deck and reflexology massages in their garden.
Or pop into Lumina, a holistic space in a unique pink adobe building that offers all sorts of massages, therapies, acupuncture, reiki, and yoga.
14. Eat an Amazing Meal
With all of the fresh produce and organic foods available in this region, make sure to have a great meal at one of the favorite local spots.
Whether you want to partake in some of the quality vegetarian food that El Bolsón is known for, have tea and cake in an outdoor cafe, or eat a traditional steak dinner, they’ve got it here.
La Gorda is one of the most well-known and consistently great restaurants in town, with dishes ranging from veg-friendly to Asian-inspired to pizza and fine cuts of meat (try the ojo de bife or mixed parilla). If it’s nice outside, try to get a table in the garden patio of this stylish and popular restaurant.
15. Take a Ride on La Trochita
If you want to feel like you’ve been transported back to the time of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, hop onboard the Old Patagonian Express.
You can actually take a ride on La Trochita, an old school locomotive that first started making this journey in 1939. The train’s schedule is limited, but a travel agency in El Bolsón can help you get onboard.
They’ll shuttle you to the town of El Maitén where time seems to have stood still, and there’s a museum that displays original guard uniforms and other objects from the train’s past.
La Trochita is preserved in its original shape and doesn’t exceed 22 miles (35 kilometers) per hour as you depart and head through the rugged Andean landscapes.
The whole return trip is about two and a half hours, and there’s a dining car attached with a coffee shop and bakery.