At the heart of Argentina’s Lake District is the alpine-style town of Bariloche. Its culture is Patagonia-meets-Switzerland – with lakeside log chalets a stone’s throw away from Nahuel Huapi National Park – where adventures in the Andes mountains await.
The Alpine-style architecture of Bariloche’s town center could easily fool you into thinking you’re in Switzerland. Inside the log and stone buildings, you’ll find souvenir shops, exclusive boutiques, and outdoor activity stores. In the central square, you can’t miss the Bariloche Civic Center (Centro Cívico) – it’s the town’s most obvious relic from its German and Swiss heritage, down to the slate roof and wooden balconies.
Take a day trip to the bohemian town of El Bolsón, around a two-hour drive from Bariloche. Priding itself on ecological living and organic farming, it’s become a popular destination for the liberal-minded. The town’s first non-native inhabitants came from Germany, and a happy hangover from that time is the high-quality production of cheeses and beer. There’s a meeting of cultures at the Cerveceria Otto Tipp microbrewery, where you can sip Gringa pilsner as you tuck into tender Patagonian lamb.
Inside the Centro Civico building, you’ll find the Museo de la Patagonia. It provides a great overview of the development of the national park and the surrounding area, with exhibits on natural history and indigenous cultures. Highlights include a diorama of a prehistoric habitat, taxidermied creatures and artifacts from the ancient societies of the Mapuche and Yamaná people. This eclectic and slightly old-fashioned museum is going through an upgrade, so watch this space.
Cerro Tronador in Nahuel Huapi National Park is the highest mountain in Argentina’s Lakes region – its triplet of peaks – Argentino, Internacional and Chileno – forming part of the Andes range. But you don’t have to summit this 11,410ft (3,478m) giant to experience its beauty. Many day trips from Bariloche venture close to Cerro Tronador for activities, such as white-water rafting and hiking among the surrounding forests and lakes.
Isla Victoria, a small island on Lake Nahuel Huapi in the Nahuel Huapi National Park, is reachable by a beautiful boat journey across the clear water. The island was once inhabited by indigenous people – in fact, their artwork from seven or eight centuries ago can still be seen in at least a dozen of the caves. Hiking is leisurely here, with its tranquil forests and boardwalk around the shore for your viewing pleasure.
Cerro Catedral is the biggest lift-accessed ski area in South America – around half of which is off-piste – and it’s just a short bus ride away from Bariloche’s town center. It has 75mi (120km) of slopes over a vertical drop of 3,773 ft (1,150m), but the stand-out feature is the view of the Nahuel Huapi lake and surrounding national park. The ski season here usually runs from mid-June to early October, so be sure to book your stay nearby in advance.
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