Bariloche's Civic Center, Avenida Juan Manuel de Rosas and Panzoni, is a charming stone-and-wood complex that houses most municipal offices and tourism services, such as the information center and national park headquarters. The complex, built in 1940, was inspired by the architecture of Bern, Switzerland. Here you'll find the Museo de la Patagonia Perito Moreno (tel. 02944/422309), open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 12:30pm and 2 to 7pm, and Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Admission is $3 (£2). The museum has five salons dedicated to the natural science, history, and ethnography of the Bariloche region. The well-tended displays here are intriguing, notably the stuffed and mounted local fauna, such as pudú (miniature deer), puma, condor, and more. The second floor has displays of Mapuche artifacts such as weapons, art, and jewelry, and other artifacts from the colonial period. A small gift shop sells postcards, books, and crafts.
Tour Operators -- A plethora of travel agencies offer everything under the sun along the streets of Bariloche. Most tours do not include lunch, and all charge extra for a bilingual guide. The best of the lot includes Travelideas, Villegas 316 (tel. 02944/424659; www.travelideas.com.ar), and Limay Travel, V.A. O'Connor 710 (tel. 02944/420268; www.limaytravel.com.ar). Both offer a wide variety of land excursions to El Bolsón, Cerro Tronador, and circuit sightseeing routes. Huala Adventure Tourism, San Martín 86 (tel. 02944/522438; www.huala.com.ar), specializes in adventure sports such as white-water rafting, trekking, and horseback riding, as well as creative and fun multiday outings that combine activities. They can also help with car rentals and hotel accommodations.
Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi
Nahuel Huapi is Argentina's oldest and most popular national park, with a range of activities for any fitness level. It stretches from the Seven Lakes Road in the north to the Manso River in the south. The park also surrounds the city of Bariloche, and its headquarters are downtown in the Civic Center. The park's main feature is the 3,500m (11,480-ft.) extinct volcano Tronador (Thunderer), named for the rumbling produced by ice falling from the mountain's peak. But the park is also known for its glacial-formed Lake Nahuel Huapi (the largest of more than a dozen lakes), as well as its lovely forested peninsulas and its waterways, which are often compared to the channels of southern Chilean Patagonia or the fiords of Norway. During summertime, visitors can take part in day hikes or backpacking trips, with many trails to choose from, or boat out to one of the lake's islands. The park also has plenty of other outdoor activities such as rafting, horseback riding, and fishing; during the winter, the park's other dominant peak, Cerro Catedral, is a popular ski resort. Easy access to all regions of the park makes Nahuel Huapi popular with visitors seeking mellower activities, such as sightseeing drives and chairlifts to magnificent lookout points. The following information applies to all attractions within Nahuel Huapi and around Bariloche.
Nah-Well What? -- You're not the only one who has trouble pronouncing the name of Bariloche's stunning lake and national park, Nahuel Huapi -- that's nah-well wah-pee. It means Island of the Tiger in the native Mapuche language. With 524 sq. km (204 sq. miles), this stunning lake is more like an inland sea, connecting the lush forests and high peaks of the Andes with the rugged plains of the Patagonian Steppe.
The Road to the Llao Llao Peninsula
The Cerro Campanario provides possibly the best lookout point in the region, with exceptional views of Nahuel Huapi and Perito Moreno lakes, as well as the ravishing beauty of the Llao Llao Peninsula and the peaks surrounding it. The lookout point is accessed by a 7-minute chairlift ride located 18km (11 miles) outside Bariloche on the road to Llao Llao, meaning you'll have to arrange transportation with a tour, drive a rental car, or take the local bus no. 20, which departs from behind the Centro Civico on Calle San Martín. A restaurant here offers panoramic views. The office is at Belgrano 41, #B (tel. 02944/427274), open daily from 9am to noon and from 2 to 6pm; the cost for the chairlift is $6 (£4.05), and you don't need reservations. Just show up at the chairlift at Avenida Bustillo, Km 17.5, during operating hours. You can also hike up a dusty trail for free.
The Cerro Campanario is along a popular 60km (37-mile) drive around the Llao Llao Peninsula, commonly known as the Circuito Chico. This drive affords spectacular views of Nahuel Huapi and Perito Moreno lakes and the snowcapped peaks of Cerro Lopez, Capilla, and Catedral, which tower over the water. Head west out of town on the lakeside Avenida Bustillo. At 18km (11 miles) from Bariloche, the route changes into Ruta 237, loops around the peninsula as Ruta 77, and meets back at Ruta 237 and eventually Bustillo, all the while meandering through dense forest and picturesque bays with outstanding lookout points. There are short hikes en route as well, including a trail through an enchanting arrayán (myrtle) forest at the Parque Municipal Llao Llao, and a trail out to the hidden Lago Escondido. Visitors will find parrilla (grill) and fondue-style restaurants along the way, as well as the world-renowned Llao Llao Hotel & Resort. Overlooking the hotel, the lovely Capilla San Eduardo chapel displays the unique rustic Andean architecture that so typifies Bariloche. In front of the Llao Llao, Puerto Pañuelo is the main dock for boat trips , as well as trips to Puerto Blest and the boat crossing to Chile. Past the Llao Llao, the Ruta 77 continues to a lookout below Cerro Lopez and then descends to Bahía Lopéz, which has a nice beach and is the trail head for a 45-minute hike out to the tip of Brazo Tristeza, another large, lovely arm of Nahuel Huapi Lake. Next along the road is the trail head for the hike up to the Refugio Lopez hut, where there is also a snack bar. Farther along, be sure to stop for a photo op at the incredibly picturesque Punto Panorámico. Stop by the tourist information center in town to pick up a detailed Circuito Chico map highlighting restaurants and shops along the way. Again, most tour operators offer this excursion as a bus tour. Another option is to take the local bus along this route, hopping off and on in accordance with the hourly schedule (the tourist information office can also give you a bus schedule).
Walk, bike, drive, or ride a gondola to the top of Cerro Otto for sweeping views of Lake Nahuel Huapi, the Llao Llao Peninsula, and the high peaks of Catedral and Tronador. It's the hill closest to town. Popular local pastimes include paragliding, trekking, rock climbing, and, during the winter, skiing, tobogganing, and dog sledding. To walk (2-3 hr.) or bike, take Avenida Los Pioneros for about 1km (about 1/2 mile) and follow the signs to Cerro Otto or Piedras Blancas. Or take the free shuttle bus that leaves from Mitre and Villegas; it runs daily every hour from 10:30am to 4:30pm and drops you off at the gondola base. The gondola ride (tel. 02944/441035) costs $15 (£10) per person and runs January through February and July through August daily from 9:30am to 6pm; the rest of the year, it runs daily from 10am to 6pm. Atop the summit, you'll also find a revolving restaurant (tel. 02944/441035). The view here is not as nice as that at Campanario and it's definitely more civilized and less wild. If you are staying out near the Llao Llao, better to avoid Otto altogether in favor of Cerro Campanario.
Don't miss the quaint Swiss pioneer village at Colonia Suiza, out on the Circuito Chico, for their twice-weekly curanto cook-ups -- a centuries-old style of cooking meat and vegetables deep in the ground. Both a lesson and a delight, curantos are held on Wednesdays and Sundays at the main plaza in Colonia Suiza. Founded in 1895 by the Swiss Goye and Mermaud families, who crossed into the area from Chile, this is also where Bariloche's chocolate industry was born. It's a tranquil little hamlet with a few restaurants and good campgrounds.
Several boat excursions run from Puerto San Carlos or Puerto Pañelo at Llao Llao. Cost fluctuates between $30 and $50 (£20-£34) per person; to obtain exact prices for any of the following trips and to make a reservation, stop by any travel agency or call tel. 02944/426784 for more information.
An enjoyable full-day excursion takes you to Isla Victoria and the Bosque Arrayanes by boat from Puerto Pañuelo. The excursion begins with a 30-minute sail to Isla Victoria, a giant midlake island, where passengers can disembark for a walk through a conifer forest or ascend to a lookout point atop Cerro Bella Vista via chairlift. The second stop is Península Quetrihué and the Bosque Arrayanes, famous for its concentration of the unusual terra-cotta-colored arrayán tree. This handsome "tree" is really a bush, with an odd, slick trunk that is cool to the touch. The peninsula can also be accessed from Villa La Angostura . From Puerto Pañuelo to Isla Victoria, trips leave at 10am and return at 5:30pm. Book via Cau-Cau, Mitre 139 (tel. 2944/431372; www.islavictoriayarrayanes.com).
Another boat trip heads to Puerto Blest at the far west of Nahuel Huapi Lake, sailing through classic fiords and exuberant vegetation known as the Valdivian Forest. From this point, there is a lovely hike up to a wide cascade and peaceful mountain lake, with a giant alerce tree next door that's more than 1,200 years old. Visitors can dine at the restaurant at Puerto Blest or can bring a picnic lunch. These trips are very crowded in the summer. An interesting alternative is to hire a private hiking or naturalist guide, who will lead you away from the crowds and deep in to the forest while your boat is docked at Puerto Blest. From Puerto Pañuelo, trips to Puerto Blest leave at 10am and return at 5pm; trips from Puerto San Carlos leave at 9am and return at 6pm. This is the first leg of the Cruce Andino lake crossing to Chile.