Bariloche, Argentina is the jewel of the Lakes District of northern Patagonia. Upon arrival, you will believe that you’re in Switzerland, with the lakes, the mountains, the St. Bernards, and of course, all the CHOCOLATE!
More on that later! But first, once we got off the Cruce Andino from Chile, we found our remise (a hired driver) and arrived at the stunning Peninsula Petit Hotel http://www.peninsulapetithotel.com.ar , located 20 km out of the city of Bariloche, just off the Circuito Chico. With only 11 rooms, all facing the lake and mountains,
you get all kinds of personalized attention from staff. A terrific breakfast helped us start our days and we also had wonderful dinners in the on site restaurant including trout sorrentinos (like raviolis) with squid ink pasta, steak, empanadas, pasta with frutos del mar, stuffed squash cakes, and flan.
Our reason for staying out of town was to be near all of the area hiking trails. On our first morning, we planned to get Sube bus passes at the nearby Lo de María convenience store. The hotel was kind enough to send us off with two cards that still had one ride each on them; we simply needed to recharge them. Simply…
When we got to the store, we found out the system was down so we decided to use the last ride to go to Cerro Campanario, a huge hill with a ski lift and panoramic views from the top (the first photo of this post). There were plenty of visitors here so I assumed they would have a Sube bus pass recharging station or at least some taxis or remises available.
And so we found ourselves walking along the road all the way back to the bus stop at Lo de Maria convenience store, where the system was still down. We continued on up the road toward the Llao Llao Peninsula where the trails we wanted to take were. Although to be fair, we were getting plenty of hiking along the road to actually get there!
We were getting hungry for lunch and we saw a restaurant ahead that turned out to be closed (not our lucky day, for sure!), but I went into an adjoining market to see if they had bus passes or could call a remise while Russell waited outside. As I was explaining my string of bad luck to the clerk, an older man inside heard and asked me where I was trying to get to. When I responded the Llao Llao trails, he said he lived close by and would give me a ride. We walked outside and I introduced him to Russell and we followed him to his white van. That’s right, boys and girls, I followed a stranger to his van. And got in with him!
He cleared the junk off his passenger seats and Russell rode shotgun while I got in the backseat. Oh, did I mention there was a MATTRESS propped up in the back of the van??? Nice. I shot a video (click on it at the bottom of this post) while chatting with him about politics and dysfunctional government. He referred to his local government as “fifth world”. Funny guy.
As promised he dropped us near the trails and said farewell. Sometimes what seems like a TERRIBLE idea turns out to be a fun adventure! Sometimes.
After all that excitement we decided it was time for some luxury so we strolled over to the golf course at the Llao Llao Hotel, one of the finest hotels in the country, and got some overpriced lunch overlooking the first hole, a lake, and the mountains before our hike.
Finally after another several kilometer hike from the golf course uphill to the trail head, we could “start” our hike! The beautiful Sendero de Los Arrayanes trail weaves through unique Chilean myrtle trees and includes the standard lake and mountain views that have become the norm around here.
After this gorgeous hike, we prepared ourselves for the inevitable: getting back to our hotel with an empty Sube bus card and no remises or taxis in sight. Our plan was to walk all the way back to the golf course, then up a huge hill to the Llao Llao Hotel, thinking we could get a driver from there. On the way to the hotel though, we passed a bus stop with several people waiting and noticed a bus approaching! Could this be the luck we were waiting for? We lined up to get on and after a conversation with the driver found we could not ride without a charged card, even though I explained the system failure. He could not accept money either. In our second bit of luck of the day, a passenger told me we could pay her and she would swipe her Sube card for us! God bless you, ma’am!! And so we enjoyed the 10 minute ride and got off at Km 20, near the now infamous Lo de María “convenience” store. After finding out the system was still down, I cursed the Sube and vowed to arrange remises for the duration of the trip. We walked another kilometer or two back to our hotel and had a much needed evening of relaxation there.
The next day, after another fantastic breakfast in this Patagonian paradise, we called a remise to bring us into the city of Bariloche for a day of exploring. I pride myself on my pre-trip research and my ability to often arrive at a destination just in time for some festival: Semana Santa in Mexico, The Running of the Bulls in Spain, St. Anthony Festival in Lisbon. However, I really dropped the ball this time. As the chocolate capital of Argentina, Bariloche hosts the Festival of Chocolate every Easter season to coincide with all of the chocolate eggs and bunnies. However, our flight leaving Bariloche was departing on the Thursday of Holy Week, the first day of the festival. So painful!
We did get to see the setting up of all the decorations including the Paseo de Chocolate that would eventually be home to the largest chocolate bar in the world and all of the preparations around the town square for the festivities.
We were able to spend a lot of time in the many chocolate and sweet shops lining this avenue. My favorite confection on display was this wonder of a churro filled with dulce de leche, the greatest of all Argentine liquids, after Malbec, of course.
And speaking of Malbec, no trip into Bariloche is complete without some while enjoying a fabulous steak dinner at El Boliche de Alberto. https://www.facebook.com/elbolichedealberto/ We stopped in for a late lunch and shared a “small portion” of tenderloin, which ended up being TWO steaks for each of us, a huge salad, and a mountain of French fries.
That with our bottle of Malbec and the sweet treats already consumed put us over the edge (thank God for yesterday’s mega-hike!) so we wandered back for a rest on the lawn overlooking the Centro Cívico. Then we spent some time in the incredible Museo de Patagonia featuring exhibits of regional animals and history of the indigenous and European people.
After the museum, we strolled back along the main drag and sipped some café con leche back at Rapa Hui chocolate shop where we people watched everyone coming in for “teatime”. While we were still hurting from lunch, a ridiculous amount of people were coming in for afternoon snacks of ice cream or fresh made waffles topped with chocolate or dulce de leche. What a city!
When ready to head back to the hotel I smartened up and tucked into a hotel near the museum and had the desk clerk call us a remise. I certainly wasn’t repeating yesterday’s debacle! A chatty driver transported us back to Peninsula Petit at nausea-inducing speed, making sure to regale us with tales of the military base en route and its famous visitors including Juan Perón. And Hitler. Okie dokie. Are we there yet?
We ended a great day, our last in Patagonia, nestled into the cozy lobby of the hotel, sipping beer and munching on empanadas. Although it would be hard to leave this place with its lakes and mountains, steak and chocolate, we knew our next adventure was waiting for us in our next stop, the wine country of Mendoza.