Week 17 – Bariloche, Argentina
Hi everybody! We’ve had a brilliant week in beautiful Bariloche and are bursting to tell you all about it! (I got on a roll with the alliteration there…).
Today we bid farewell to Buenos Aires and boarded a flight to Bariloche. Bariloche is around half way down the length of Argentina, on the western border near the Andes. It lies in the north of an area of Argentina and Chile called Patagonia, and it’s in the Nahuel Huapi National Park. In the winter it’s a great destination for skiing, and the whole year round it’s known for its stunning lakes and views.
We’re staying in a hostel called ‘Penthouse 1004‘. It’s on the 10th floor of a building in the centre of Bariloche and the view is just gorgeous! The town is right on the edge of a lake, and from the windows of the hostel you can see across the lake to the distant mountains. It’s amazing – as my Mum said, we could just stay in bed and enjoy the view all week!
As tempting as that thought was, we headed out in the afternoon to explore. Bariloche is a very strange town. In the late 1800s it became a town of primarily German speaking immigrants from Germany, Austria and Slovenia, and so the town has European style architecture, reminiscent of a place in the Alps. The town square in particular feels more Swiss than Argentinian. We wandered down the main street and were excited to see all of the chocolate shops – another thing that Bariloche is famous for, apparently. They were quite expensive so we didn’t buy anything, although we did get offered two free samples so we considered it successful window shopping. We also looked inside the town’s pretty church – it too was more European in its style with exposed stone and beautiful stained glass windows.
We went down to the lakeside and enjoyed sitting on a rock and admiring the sun on the water. We watched some people attempt to swim but they came out very quickly – apparently it was freezing. I seem to have developed a strange desire to swim in every available body of water recently (or so Ben says), so I’m still a bit tempted to try it out later in the week.
Today we went on a hike known as the Refugio Frey trek. We caught the bus to a ski resort called Cerro Catedral, the starting point of the walk. It was quite funny seeing all the shops filled with skiing gear when we were wearing shorts and our sunglasses! The hike was a 24km round trip, and for the most part it was relatively flat, or at least a very gentle ascent. At first we were walking alongside a lake, although part way up the hillside. The views over the lake to Bariloche town in the distance were beautiful. The path then curved around the other side of the hill and through a wood. It was really beautiful walking through the trees. There were wild orange alstromeria growing, it was really nice. As we were walking we kept meeting runners coming down the opposite way. It turns out that this was an insane mountain race called ‘the four refugios’. It’s 45km long, goes through the mountains and the winner this year did it in 6 hours and 38 minutes. There were so many competitors as well… people are crazy!
The last hour of the way up was slightly steeper, and towards the end it became quite rocky. The views were very dramatic – there were mountains on both sides and we could even see some patches of snow in the shade. We finally saw the Refugio (a refugio is essentially like a small hostel in the mountains by the way), and ten minutes later we’d reached it. It is situated right on the edge of a lake, and the view of all the mountain peaks behind it were absolutely gorgeous. I couldn’t resist going paddling but it was absolutely freezing – I only lasted a couple of minutes before retreating back out to shore.
We enjoyed the view for about half an hour and finished off our lunch before beginning the 12km walk back the way we’d come. We both agreed that we prefer circular walks – the feeling of backtracking isn’t so fun. The area was still beautiful though and the weather was amazing and sunny so it was still lovely.
We had dinner this evening sitting on the balcony overlooking the lake – what a great end to the day.
We compensated for our very active yesterday by having a very relaxed today. I spent most of it writing last week’s blog or trying to read Harry Potter in Spanish. I started the first book ages ago as part of my plan to immerse myself in the language, but then forgot about it until just recently. It’s slow progress because I have to stop every few words to look one up, but it is getting easier. I can’t tell if the bits I’m able to read are because my Spanish is improving or because I know the book so well that I know what it’s supposed to say! It was lovely to have a chilled out day in a place with such a beautiful view.
Today we hired bikes in order to explore more of the countryside around Bariloche. We caught a bus to the bike hire and were given directions for a route called Circuito Chico. Ben was really happy to be back on a bike – he’s been missing his daily cycle to work. I was slightly more apprehensive as I’m not a big cyclist, but the prospect of stunning views and shimmering lakes was enough to persuade me!
Circuito Chico is a 24km loop. It takes you past views of the Nahuel Huapi lake, as well as another lake called Perito Moreno. It has some amazing downhills where we could freewheel and feel the wind in our hair, but that meant there were also uphills which I wasn’t so keen about! I had to get off at a few steep parts and push, while Ben persisted to the top and then would patiently wait for me.
The views were stunning. We stopped off at one point and locked up our bikes so that we could hike for an hour to a viewpoint over Lake Nahuel Huapi. It was absolutely beautiful! We sat and ate our lunch there and didn’t want to leave. We agreed that it was probably our favourite holiday view to date – not an easy choice!
On the way back from the viewpoint we followed a second trail to ‘Lago Escondio’ – the hidden lake. This one was also beautiful, and it was surrounded on all sides by trees. The man in the bike hire had told us that we’d be able to swim here but we couldn’t see any easy way of getting out of the lake if we’d jumped in. I was sad to pass up the opportunity but we hoped that there would be another one further on.
Luckily I got my wish. A little bit further around the loop was a point where the two lakes connected. We stopped on the bridge and saw that there were loads of people by the lakeside. The channel between the two was fairly shallow and lots of people were paddling there. We went down to join in. Ben was sensible and only paddled, whereas I decided to swim. It was quite chilly at first but once I got used to it, it was quite refreshing. The lake bed was very stony though so getting in and out wasn’t very fun.
We were quite conscious of the time, so after we’d enjoyed the water for a bit we got back on our bikes and continued with the loop. The saddles were quite uncomfortable – I can see why Ben wears padded cycling shorts normally! The road through the woods around the lake was really beautiful, if a bit tiring. We stopped off at one more gorgeous viewpoint before the end and could see across both lakes. It was amazing.
I was super excited for today but also slightly nervous. We decided to brave the wrong side of the road and hire a car to drive around ‘La Ruta de los Siete Lagos’ (the route of the seven lakes). We’ve both only ever driven on the right once, and that was in Iceland where the roads were mostly clear. After being introduced to our VW Golf, I took the driving seat, and with Ben’s help reminding me which side of the road to drive on and how to navigate roundabouts, we were off!
The drive was actually very straightforward. Once we’d got out of Bariloche, we joined part of Argentina’s famous Ruta 40. Sort of like Route 66 in America, Ruta 40 is a famous long distance road that basically goes from the north to the south of the country. We were only driving a tiny portion of it, but I still thought that it was really cool.
The route of the seven lakes takes you past eight lakes. I know – I didn’t get it either. The only explanation I’ve found online is that either Lácar or Nahuel Huapi doesn’t count (depending on which way you drive the route) because you start there and have already seen it. I still think it’s a bit weird though! The lakes you drive past are Nahuel Huapi, Correntoso, Espejo, Escondido, Villarino, Falkner, Machónico, and Lácar, respectively.
It was a beautiful sunny day and there wasn’t much traffic on the road. From one end to the other the route is pretty long (190km/118 miles each way), but because we stopped at each lake it divided the drive and didn’t feel too bad.
I won’t write about every lake in detail, particularly as the latter few were mostly roadside viewpoints without any way down to the lake, but there were three that stood out in my mind. The first one was Nahuel Huapi, the lake that ‘didn’t count’ for us. We’d already seen it from Bariloche and also on our cycle ride, but today we were on its other shore. It was so beautiful. We walked down to a small beach where we sat and had our lunch. There were people standing waist deep in the water fly fishing. It was very peaceful.
The second lake, Lake Correntoso, was by far and away our favourite. It was connected to Nahuel Huapi by ‘Rio Correntoso’ – apparently the shortest river in the world. It was extremely short – we just had to walk under a bridge and we were at the second lake. Correntoso was absolutely beautiful. The water around the river was a brilliant turquoise, and then the colour deepened further out. The sun was sparkling on the top, and the water was just so clear that we could see every stone beneath the surface. We both paddled and would have been tempted to swim, but there were signs warning against it. Apparently Correntoso was named for its strong currents. We were really reluctant to leave, but with a 380km/236 mile round trip, we couldn’t afford to spend too long in any one place. Retrospectively it would have been lovely to have hired the car for two days and stopped along the way so that we could have taken our time.
Espejo, Escondido, Villarino were all beautiful too. We missed Villarino on the drive there and had to find it on the way back so that we’d seen all of the lakes.
The other lake that I loved was Lake Falkner. There was more of a beach here, and there were a few families on the shore having picnics. What I liked about this lake is that I could paddle out quite far before it started to become deeper. I made it a good distance away from the shoreline without the water getting any higher than my knees.
Machónico and Lácar were also beautiful, although we were very confused to find an eighth lake! The official endpoint of the Siete Lagos route was the town of San Martín de los Andes. We saw it across the final lake, but we didn’t drive all the way there as we were short on time.
The scenery as we were driving along was beautiful. There were hills and trees and the road curved away ahead of us – it was lovely. When it was Ben’s turn to drive I tried to take photos while we were moving just to capture the feel of the day. On the way back Ben managed to get some fast-motion videos of the road which I think capture it even better. The video shows loads of people overtaking me though – I was driving at the speed limit! Obviously drivers here are just crazy.
Today we had another relaxed day. I spent mine trying to make a bracelet to replace my Uruguay one, which I lost somewhere yesterday. We’d also bought a chunky bracelet in the colours of the Uruguayan flag to put in our holiday scrapbook, so I deconstructed this one to make a new slimmer one. At least I can say that it still technically came from Uruguay!
Today was another travel day. We are heading further south into Patagonia, to a place called El Chaltén. This town is located in the Los Glaciares National Park and is known as Argentina’s hiking capital. We caught a flight down to El Calafate, and then a shuttle bus to El Chaltén. The bus ride took us along part of Ruta 40. The landscape was huge and slightly desolate, with wide fields of yellow and grey grass. We passed some gorgeous mountains and some lakes that were an incredibly bright blue colour. At one point we stopped for a break at a restaurant by the side of a river. The water was a milky blue colour. The wind was so strong, we were almost blown over. Apparently Patagonia is famous for its strong winds – that will be fun when hiking!
I’m going to leave you in suspense and save describing El Chaltén until next week’s post. By then we’ll have moved on to El Calafate, and I’ll be able to tell you about both places!