Part of Argentina’s Lake District and northern Patagonia, the popular tourist destination of San Carlos de Bariloche (or just “Bariloche”) is filled with magnificent scenery, lots of hiking, and tons of outdoor adventure activities.
Known as Patagonia “light,” the town is definitely a year-round travel destination, but visitors can also go skiing at the nearby Cerro Catedral in the wintertime.
Located right on the nature-packed Nahuel Huapi National Park, there are plenty of trails to trek, mountain views to photograph, and pristine lakes to visit.
With its Swiss-inspired downtown, Bariloche is filled with Alpine architecture, numerous chocolatiers, and fantastic craft breweries, so there’s plenty to keep you busy inside the town and out.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Bariloche:
1. Cerro Campanario
Cerro Campanario is a quick hike up for sweeping views of Nahuel Huapi National Park, and you can either walk (it takes about 30 minutes) or take the chairlift up (for a fee). Better yet, do each of those one way.
Along with the panoramic viewpoint, there’s a little cafe at the top where you can have a coffee, hot chocolate, or pastry.
To get here, just take one of the regular buses from Bariloche along Avenida Bustillo about 20 minutes to the trailhead and chairlift.
Arrive early before all the tour groups get there for the afternoon! If the weather is good, you can also ride a horse through the forests up to the top of Cerro Campanario.
2. Visit the Lakes
Bariloche sits right on Nahuel Huapi Lake and the town is pretty your the gateway to the Lake District of Argentina.
So while you’re here, see los Siete Lagos (the Seven Lakes) or at least a few of them! To do this, you can either drive the Ruta de los Siete Lagos from Bariloche to San Martín de los Andes (along Rutas 40 and 63), or you can take an all-day bus tour that will stop along the way for you to sightsee and take photos.
You’ll see each of the 7 lakes – Machónico, Escondido, Correntoso, Espejo, Lácar, Falkner, and Villarino – set amidst the snow-capped Andes before arriving in San Martín.
There, you’ll be able to stroll the shores of the dreamy Lácar Lake and the city’s downtown streets.
You can easily throw in a trip to the picturesque Villa La Angostura while doing this route as well.
3. Refugio Frey
One of the best hikes in the area, start by taking the bus to the parking lot of Cerro Catedral and head up the trail for some spectacular mountain views.
It’s about six hours round trip, but be aware there are two routes uphill – the standard way and the “por el filo” path which is the more adventurous option.
Either way, trekkers will be rewarded for their efforts with jagged mountain vistas, leafy forests, and stunning views of the lagoon at the top just next to the refugio.
You can even stay here in this quaint granite lodge if you plan ahead and want to do something really original – it’s picturesque and has a kitchen and dorms for up to 40 people.
4. Drink Craft Beer at a Local Brewery
Turns out Bariloche is pretty much the center for craft beer in Patagonia.
The town has a pleasantly chill nightlife, if not as crazy as the big Buenos Aires, and many of the bars here are also craft breweries.
Serving up several types of beers on tap that are made right here, along with great food and happy hour specials, many of them will let you try a flight or tasting of their beers to decide which one you like best.
Manush, Konna, Cervecería Bachmann, and Wesley Brewery are all popular bars and microbreweries located right within the city center (but there are plenty more!). Be sure to order some picadas (platters of assorted snacks) which usually include some locally smoked meats and fish here.
5. Go Skiing!
If the timing of your trip is right – June to October is ski season – hit the slopes on the mountains just next to Bariloche.
Cerro Catedral is the most popular ski resort in the area and it’s just a quick bus ride from the city center.
There’s an Alpine-inspired village at the bottom with bars, restaurants, hotels, and hostels, so you can even choose to stay here if you fancy having ski-in/ski-out accommodation.
They’ve got 53 trails and slopes for all skill levels, including wide open snow fields, backcountry bowls, and off-piste areas.
You’ll be skiing against some dramatic backdrops with constant views of the surrounding national park and mountains at what’s been widely acclaimed as the most complete and modern ski resort in South America.
6. Hit the Trails, the Restaurant, or the Golf Course at Llao Llao
Hotel Llao Llao is one of the most famous and swanky hotels in the area surrounding Bariloche.
Whether or not you spend the night at this historic and luxury property, you can still dine or play a round of golf here.
Surrounded by fantastic scenery on its position high on a hill between Lake Moreno and Nahuel Huapi, sip a glass of Malbec while you watch the sun set on the snow-capped Andes with views of Mount Tronador.
Outside of its elegant, lodge-like wood and stone walls, you can also visit the adjacent municipal park which contains lots of great hiking trails and local flora and fauna.
There are easy buses to the Llao Llao area from Bariloche.
7. Sample, Buy, and Eat Chocolate
They don’t call it “Little Switzerland” for nothing! Chocolate shops line the street of Avenida de Bartolomé Mitre near the city center in Bariloche.
There are family-run artisanal stores like Torres where the chocolate is handmade, and there are giant chains like Chocolates del Turista where you can see the vats of chocolate churning.
Rapa Nui is a popular store that was started by Italian immigrants many generations ago, and Mamushka serves super high quality stuff.
But wherever you choose, just be sure to roam around and sample as much as possible! There’s even a National Chocolate Festival in Bariloche around Easter week.
And there’s a Museo de Chocolate where you can learn all about the discovery of chocolate in South America, its use by the Mayans and Aztecs, and how European immigrants brought chocolate-making techniques to Argentina after World War II.
8. Villa La Angostura
Villa La Angostura is a great village to visit if you fancy a little day trip from Bariloche or want to add it as a stop on your tour of the Seven Lakes (lots of organized tours will actually include it already). Located on the north end of Nahuel Huapi Lake, it’s a beautiful town that’s popular with wealthy, vacationing Argentines.
It’s about an hour and 15 minute drive from Bariloche, and there’s plenty of outdoor activities you can do here outside the upmarket town center.
Take a stroll through Los Arrayanes National Park or jump on a catamaran cruise around the lake.
Go horseback riding, cycling, fishing, or hiking along the many trails nearby to Laguna Verde or Mirador Belvedere.
9. Explore Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi
Bariloche sits right on the edge of Nahuel Huapi, so you’ve got no excuse if you don’t walk, drive, camp, or boat through this beautiful national park with its many lakes, waterfalls, mountains, and forests.
If you hike the Circuito Chico (the short loop) around Lago Nahuel Huapi – from Bariloche to Llao Llao – you’ll see rocky peaks, racing rivers, exquisite glaciers, and wildlife.
If you’d prefer to hop on a boat, you can depart from Puerto Pañuelo and visit Puerto Blest, where you can disembark, hike through the forests, and visit Laguna and Cascada Los Cántaros.
You can even go kayaking on the lake, which is actually the remnant of a glacier, or take a boat trip out to Victoria Island, a natural reserve right in the middle.
10. Cerro Tronador and the Black Glacier
Named for the thunderous avalanches that pound down the mountainside, Mount Tronador is the highest peak within Nahuel Huapi National Park.
It actually has three peaks – one Argentine, one Chilean, and one that’s in international territory, with multiple glaciers which people attempt to trek with ice axes and crampons.
Tours of the mountain, along with hikes, start with a winding drive along paved and gravel roads, and usually include stops at waterfalls, lunch at a refugio (a restaurant that offers shelter to hikers at night), and visits to the Ventisquero Negro (Black Glacier) at the base of Mount Tronador.
If you do it yourself, spend the day at Pampa Linda admiring the views from the valley, or hike up to one of the refugios or huts for a little adventure.
11. Wander Around the City Center and Cathedral
Aside from all the brilliant nature surrounding it, Bariloche is famous for the Swiss-inspired architecture of the town.
Be sure to wander amongst its Alpine-style buildings made of wood and stone in the centro cívico – they were designed to give the city a European look and attract tourists.
You’ll find the tourism office here as well as the Museo de la Patagonia where you can learn more about the history of Bariloche.
Wander until you arrive at the massive stone cathedral next to the lake, La Catedral de San Carlos de Bariloche, with a beautiful interior and stained glass windows.
Occasionally you’ll catch a street market full of handicrafts or see a few St.
Bernard dogs there for taking photos with tourists.
12. Go Fly Fishing
Bariloche provides an excellent base for fly-fishing whether you’re a beginner or a master angler.
Tour companies can arrange tailor-made, one-day fishing trips or elaborate, multi-day float trips and camping experiences along the Río Manso or Río Limay.
Guides here are incredibly knowledgeable and professional, so you’re sure to get your hands on some trout.
They can help you practice your cast, learn about the different flies, and arrange all your transportation from Bariloche (or even the airport) to the river.
Typically the trips are all-inclusive, and they’ll usually include meals of grilled steak or lamb, served with Malbec wine of course, during your days of fishing.
13. Try White Water Rafting or Kayaking
Another exciting thing you can do along the Río Manso and Río Limay while also taking in the dramatic Patagonian scenery is plan a white water rafting or kayaking adventure.
Take a half-day or full-day rafting trip, or plan a multi-day rafting trip combined with hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding.
Aguas Blancas and Extremo Sur are the main companies offering trip planning and guide services, and they’ll provide all the equipment you might need to hit these class III and IV rapids.
You can also arrange to kayak these rivers alongside a paddling guide who’ll ensure your safety.
14. Horseback Riding and Ziplining
There are so many outdoor activities you can do in Bariloche that it’s really hard to decide between these two activities once you’ve had your fill of hiking.
Explore the foothills of the Andes, the rivers, and the Patagonian steppe on horseback with guides and horses from a nearby estancia (ranch). They’ll tell you all about the landscapes, and most companies arrange for riders to have an afternoon asado, a traditional Argentine barbecue of grilled meats, accompanied by wine.
Or head out to Cerro Lopez for a thrilling canopy adventure featuring 10 platforms along an Alpine peak.
You can even go ziplining in the winter months and experience snow-covered trees and magical scenery.
15. El Bolsón
About two hours from Bariloche, this small hippie town is close enough to make it a day trip.
Argentine tourists flock here in the summer and lots of backpackers come to experience the mellow and ecologically-focused village.
Filled with hiking trails, Mediterranean poplars, and farms, the scenery is gorgeous but the food and drink here is even better.
Known for making local cheese and beer (because of its German roots), El Bolsón produces almost three-quarters of the country’s hops.
Visit the artisanal market at Pagano Square for handmade goods, or just eat your fill of all the vegetarian food, fruits, jams, and honeys made here.