San Carlos de Bariloche – or just Bariloche – is in northern Patagonia, in what’s known as Argentina’s Lake District. The area, close to the Andes, is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts and offers a wealth of summer and winter activities. It also acts as an ideal starting point for hikers looking to head farther south to El Chaltén, El Calafate and Torres del Paine.
The city of more than 110,000 residents was founded in 1902, and its name means “people on the other side of the mountain” in the Mapuche language. Tourism took off in the early 1930s, with several of the city’s more notable buildings constructed towards the end of the decade, including the Centro Cívico (Civic Centre) and the Catedral de San Carlos de Bariloche.
In the past 20 years, the city has seen a new surge in tourism. And while Argentina has become increasingly expensive, by South American standards – particular in Mendoza and Buenos Aires – Bariloche remains comfortably affordable.
A comfortable bed
Soft Bariloche (www.softhotelesbariloche.com) features basic yet comfortable rooms and an excellent location in the heart of the city. Rooms cost from 1,064 Argentine pesos [Dh250] per night, including breakfast and taxes.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the luxurious Llao Llao Hotel & Resort (www.llaollao.com) was one of the city’s first hotels. Rooms cost from 5,244 pesos [Dh1,230] per night, including taxes.
The high-end Charming Luxury Lodge & Private Spa (www.charming-bariloche.com) overlooks Lake Nahuel Huapi, and is a 15-minute taxi ride west of the city centre. Double rooms cost from 1,690 pesos (Dh397) per night, including use of the spa, breakfast and taxes.
When booking rooms in Argentina, be mindful of your payment method. Recent legislation means the 21 per cent VAT for tourists, typically tacked onto hotel rates, is now waived when paying via debit or credit card.
Find your feet
Explore Centro Cívico, which offers prime views of Lake Nahuel Huapi and the surrounding Central European- and Alpine-inspired architecture. The square is home to the statue of General Julio Roca, which along with the Saint Bernard dogs found wandering the square, have become a major attraction.
A 40-minute taxi ride south-west out of the city is the Cerro Catedral mountain (www.catedralaltapatagonia.com), a ski resort that offers challenging day hikes, such as Refugio Frey, during the summer.
Farther north-west, Circuito Chico (www.circuitochicoadventure.com), a 27-kilometre paved road loop, allows cyclists to enjoy scenes of Lake Moreno and Lake Nahuel Huapi, and takes about four hours to complete.
Meet the locals
Stroll down Avenue Ezequiel Bustillo, the winding path that stretches along the lake on the edge of the city. The area is often packed with families and couples out for a walk or picnicking on the beach.
Book a table
Before hitting the trails, fuel up with the healthy breakfast – eggs, toast, coffee and juice (195 pesos [Dh46]) – at the 24-hour, antique ornament-decorated Friends cafe, on Bartolome Mitre, or simply Mitre.
On your return, head to El Mundo Pizzas y Pastas, on the same street. Argentina’s large Italian community means there’s no shortage of good Italian restaurants, but El Mundo’s menu offers more than 90 pizzas, with toppings including chicken, mushroom, venison and salmon. Pizzas cost from 185 pesos (Dh43).
In a country that loves its steak, vegetarians will be relieved that Bariloche has them covered. Ren Vegetariano serves excellent buffet-style food, priced by weight, which costs about 18 pesos (Dh4) per 100 grams, with an 18 per cent tax if you eat in. Try the fried squash patties or spinach quiche.
Mitre is the main shopping drag and an ideal stop for outdoor gear. Alternative Outdoor Equipment offers a real hotchpotch, from down jackets to knitted hats, while Patagonia Showroom offers camping, fishing and hunting supplies. Brands such as Columbia, Mountain Hard Wear and Salomon all have stand-alone stores.
For general shopping, several galleries, such as Paseo de la Catedral, house everything from jewellery kiosks and electronic shops to ready-to-wear shops for men and women. One-off boutiques are available, almost always offering sales. Yolo sells fast-fashion women’s attire, including T-shirts and cotton sundresses.
What to avoid
Though it’s tempting to walk into one of the many tour companies that line the city’s streets and book an excursion on the spot, don’t do so. It might seem easier and cheaper, but poor organisation and misrepresentation by many of these companies can cost you dearly in the end. Instead, take time to do your research and find the best company for you and your wallet.
The chocolate. Bariloche is known for it, and it’s nearly impossible to walk the city without stumbling upon one of these delightful confectionery shops. At the Russian-themed chocolatier Mamushka (www.mamushka.com), next door to Friends cafe, try a box of 24 artisan chocolates for 325 pesos (Dh76). Also stop at Fenoglio – the first chocolatier in the city – and the popular Del Turista.
Return flights with Emirates (www.emirates.com) from Dubai to Buenos Aires, via Rio de Janeiro, cost from Dh6,940 per person, including taxes. Return flights with Aerolineas Argentinas (www.aerolineas.com) from Buenos Aires to Bariloche cost from Dh1,767 per person, including taxes.