As much as we love smog, traffic, and overpriced beers, it was time to get out of the city and hike. After ten busy days taking Spanish lessons and eating empanadas in the vast, concrete wonderland of Buenos Aires, Peter and I headed to Bariloche, the gateway to northern Patagonia. We were ready to take to the trails for some fresh air, trees, and postcard-worthy vistas (okay, and a few microbrews too). These Bariloche day hikes answered the bell.
Many travelers come to Bariloche to begin longer overnight treks into the Andes, but multi-day adventures require camping equipment and warmer clothing, which we didn’t have. Fortunately there are several excellent day-hikes around Parque Nahuel Huapi, all accessible by public bus.
Bariloche day hikes: Cerro Llao Llao
When asked about day hikes, most locals will probably direct tourists to the top of Cerro Llao Llao (cerro means hill in Spanish) since it’s one of the most easily accessible day hikes. Hotel Llao Llao gets a lot of attention as an attraction [check availability at Hotel Llao Llao].
But instead of $8 coffee in a posh dining room, the park offers trails with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding nature. We got off the bus at the hotel, just to take a quick look and then headed down the hill to find Parque Llao Llao.
After a short walk along the road we found the path that led through the forest to the trail that led up the hill. At one point in the dense forest, a growling sound stopped us in our tracks. Puma? Local dog? Bending trees? We continued hastily, whistling and conversing loudly just in case.
As we climbed the steep hill we savored little tastes of what we were in for. Viewpoints along the way opened up to stunning panoramas of the Andes and the shimmering blue lakes.
At the top of the hill we interrupted two locals. A pair of Southern Crested Caracaras were perched at the viewpoint. They didn’t put up with us for too long, and took off while we stood speechless from the view.
After our descent we headed lakeside to catch the scenery from the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi.
If you go
Take the bus 20 to Hotel Llao Llao (final stop), head down the hill and take a left. There is a small ranger station where they will direct you further up the road until you reach the sign for the trail on the right. On the way back down, it’s worth to detour to the beach but then head back the same way you came through the forest or take the main road, which is part of Circuito Chico.
Bariloche day hikes: Refugio Frey
The mountains surrounding Bariloche have a great network of refugios, much like Slovakia’s High Tatra chata‘s (chalets), but even a bit more rustic. Day-hikers can access a few of them, including Refugio Frey.
The rolling path curved around the mountain side and then dropped into a forest of lenga beech trees (found only in this part of the world), brushed with autumn oranges and browns.
Not too far into the forest we arrived at a small refugio built into the bottom of a large boulder, with a plaque dedicated to a Slovenian mountaineer. It was abandoned, musty, and blackened with smoke in the inside. Creepy.
The tranquil sloping forest path ended abruptly and the steep ascent to Frey began, the taunting clouds revealing glimpses of mountain peaks, including Cerro Catedral, towering above.
Refugio Frey appeared finally after 750 m uphill and the altitude became noticable as the chill penetrated our several layers. It didn’t help that we had sweated during the climb.
We were the among the first to reach the refugio, enjoying a hot tea in the mostly vacant dining area, and lingered to dry our clothes before a throng of school kids arrived. We said goodbye to the Refugio, now too busy to even notice us, and stole one last glimpse of the dark blue tarn before we headed back down the way we came.
If you go
Take the Catedral bus (no number) from Bariloche to Cerro Catedral, a ski resort area and the final stop. The trail begins to the left of the bus stop in the large parking area and is clearly marked. You also have the option of starting or ending at Los Coihues (bus number 50), but the trail begins at Camping Lago Gutierrez, an extra 2 km from the bus stop.
Bariloche day hikes: Cerro Otto
The trail to Cerro Otto (the long version) headed straight up through a pine forest and spit out on a gravel road which wound through a few ski parks, abandoned during the snowless autumn.
We had asked our hostel host about visiting Refugio Berghof, hoping to stop for a refreshment along the way, but our hostel host claimed it had burnt down. However, the Abierto sign hung proudly as we passed. A beautiful wooden refugio with fire roaring in its huge stone fireplace welcomed us. It almost felt like fate that they had local microbrews on tap.
After nursing our beers long enough to warm up by the fire, we continued on the gravel road to Cerro Otto. But we didn’t actually climb Cerro Otto. It’s a privately owned cerro, meaning they charge for you to even enter the property by their teleferico (gondola) for the privilege of spending even more money at their restaurant.
Not being ones for over-priced, privatized views, we walked around and parked on the rocks to the side of Cerro Otto for a perfectly acceptable and free view of Lago Nahuel Huapi and Bariloche below.
The brutally steep trek back down from Cerro Otto below the teleferico did a job on our knees, but the beer rewards at La Cruz Cerveceria were worth it.
If you go
You can walk from Bariloche along Los Pioneros until the gas station, or take bus 50 to the gas station (approximately 2 km from the center). Head up the trail across the street. For the short up-and-down, ask the bus driver to let you off at Cerro Otto (but you’ll miss Refugio Berghof).
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