After spending a few nights with friends in Buenos Aires, it was time to set off on our own and start exploring Argentina. Many people had recommended that we should visit the wine region around Mendoza, and tempting as it was (we do enjoy a bottle or two of Malbec!), we decided, in the end, to head to Patagonia. But where to begin, Patagonia was vast. Turns out, the Circuito Chico was a great introduction.
We knew we should visit the Perito Moreno Glacier and see Ushuaia at the end of the world, but we had three weeks to explore. We weren’t going to be able to do any serious trekking now as Iberia had lost our luggage on our flight over. Yes, we were allowed to buy a few items, but trekking gear was expensive. Jonathan and I are both tall and have big feet, so replacing goods in Argentina wouldn’t be easy. So, after browsing photos on Instagram, we decided that Patagonia’s Lake District seemed an excellent place to start.
First Stop: Bariloche, Gateway To Argentina’s Lake District
Unfortunately (or fortunately, if like me you don’t like flying) the promo flights from Buenos Aires to Bariloche were full by the time we were ready to book. The only flights available were more than $300 each for a two hour
Buenos Aires to Bariloche By Bus
We arrived early at the somewhat chaotic Retiro Bus Station in Buenos Aires. We had a little trouble with being allowed to board the bus with our camera equipment, but we didn’t want to put expensive equipment in the hold nor risk losing another bag. Finally, we boarded and relaxed into our seats. Just as our bus was about to leave, the bus conductor came on and told us we were on the wrong bus and needed to move. Yikes, two Via Bariloche buses were leaving around the same time. We ran down the platform, another intense discussion with the next bus why we were not putting our camera bag in the hold, and we were off.
Seats were comfy on the bus, and you could stretch out. Food was really, really bad so bring water and snacks with you. Also, try and use the onboard toilet towards the beginning of the trip, by the end, it’s a rather scary experience.
Quite a few buses were leaving for Bariloche from Buenos Aires. Most took 24 hours, ours on the schedule said 20 hours 40 minutes. It still took 24 hours; I think they have the 0 and the 4 in the wrong place on the bus timetable.
When we left the city, the landscape was flat as far as the eye could see. Only farms and a few cattle to be seen. Twenty hours later, the scenery hadn’t changed much at all. The last couple of hours as we started to approach the Bariloche, the views from the bus window was a lot more interesting. Lakes, mountains, a little wildlife, and the occasional small town.
Top Tips For Overnight Bus Travel :
- Always check the departure board for platform numbers!
- Bring water and snacks with you!
- Bring your valuables, and that includes camera equipment inside the bus with you.
- For checking out bus schedules, ticket prices, we recommend https://www.plataforma10.com.ar/pasajes-micro
Having expected to arrive in Bariloche just before midday, we actually pulled into the bus station at 4:30 pm.
Local buses were waiting at the bus station to ferry people into town, but by now we were both suffering from bus-itis and jumped in a taxi. It was just $3 to our guesthouse in the centre of town.
That evening we strolled around the town of Bariloche. It’s not the prettiest of places, but there were plenty of bars and restaurants, and the walk by the lake was quite pleasant. The pedestrianised shopping street, however, was slightly tacky and reminded us a bit of Andorra.
What, No Cars in Bariloche?
The next day, we decided to rent a car and go and explore the Lake District. We checked on Kayak – no vehicles available. We walked into town, every car rental place had a sign in the window, ‘No cars available.’ Well, we could always take local bus 20 down to LLao LLao. Umm, looking at Jon’s face, it wasn’t going to be easy getting him on another bus for a while. But at least he was beginning to understand why I had been nagging him that we needed to book stuff in advance when travelling Patagonia in high season. We usually travel out of season and can go with the flow.
Top Tip – Travelling in high season in Patagonia, you need to be a bit more organised than we were. No need to book way in advance, but if you’re like us, and don’t like to be too rigid with plans, do try and book at least three days in advance.
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Feeling a bit disheartened, we asked our guesthouse owner if he knew any rental companies. He grimaced at the task but phoned around. When he asked about car rental availability, we could hear laughter at the other end of the phone, but then on phone call number four, the tone of the conversation changed. We could pick up a car the following morning.
To celebrate, we had dinner at Alto el Fuego. Jon declared this the best steak meal he had ever had. It was huge, even by Argentinean standards, so we were planning to share. However, Jon likes to eat his steak so rare that it’s almost mooing. I had one mouthful, gagged, then stuck to the rice and vegetables, but the wine went down very well.
Time To Explore the Circuito Chico
We picked up our car; our Patagonia adventure was about to officially start. The car was a bit of an old banger. The alarm would go off at random. We would lock ourselves in the car; we would lock ourselves out of the car, and we could even drive the car without the key in the ignition. But we had a car.
We headed west out of town, following the Circuito Chico. It’s a stunning 60 kilometres drive on asphalt road all the way. Now, we could appreciate why people came to Bariloche. The views were just incredible. Snow-capped mountains and crystal clear waters greeted you at every bend. You need at least four hours to complete this circuit because I can guarantee you’ll be pulling over every other minute to admire the view.
The Circuito Chico is clearly marked, or you can pick up a map of the area at the Bariloche Tourist Board which is located in the Centro Cívico. The Centro Civico is supposed to make you feel you’re in a Swiss Alpine Village. It didn’t, but it’s prettier than the shopping street.
Top Tips – Rent a car; the scenery is stunning. Pre-book if you are travelling in high season.
If you don’t have a car, it’s possible to do much of the Circuito Chico on Bus 20, but of course, the bus won’t stop when you want to take a photo.
There are some lovely looking walks to do around here, plus it’s also possible to take a boat tour on the lake. We didn’t do either as we were just so excited to finally have a car.
On the drive, just next to the Restaurant Punto Panorâmico which you’ll pass en route, there’s a food truck with great pintos and pulled pork sandwiches. The Punto Panoramico next door looked lovely too and rates highly on Trip advisor, but we didn’t try there.
After a fabulous day exploring and not wanting to spend another night in Bariloche, we decided to stay in Playa Bonita which is just west of Bariloche. The town had great views of Lake Nahuel Huapi and was a little prettier than Bariloche. It also had river beaches, filled with bikini-clad sun worshipers, that was a sight we hadn’t expected to see in Patagonia. You live and learn, eh? We then enjoyed happy hour at La Cerveceria Kunstmann which brews its own beers, followed by pizza at the very chilled Cerveceria Mandela.
A Cable Car Adventure in Bariloche
The next morning, we took the Cable Car up to the top of Cerro Otto. The cable car takes 11 minutes to travel 2000 metres and moves at three metres per second and costs 600 pesos per person (Approx $15) and has terrific views over the lakes and mountains.
The coffee shop/ restaurant at the top of Cerro Otto is a revolving restaurant. Haven’t been in one of those for years but prices for coffee and a light breakfast are quite reasonable, although it wasn’t anything fancy. But it’s a pleasant place to enjoy coffee and a chance to see all around without having to move.
At the summit, there were some clearly marked walking trails. We just did the 30-minute mirador trail. Nice and easy with fantastic views over the lakes. One of the fun highlights at the top was watching the paragliders. Have you ever tried paragliding? Looks fun, but I know I would be way too nervous to do that.
How To Get To The Cerro Otto Cable Car
The Cerro Otto Cable Car is located about five kilometres outside Bariloche. If you don’t have your own transport, there’s a free shuttle bus that operates from Bariloche several times a day.
By now, it was time to move on from Bariloche and experience more of Argentina’s Lake District.
Next Stop: Villa La Angostura to drive The Route of the Seven Lakes ( Ruta de Los Siete Lagos)