My month-long love affair with Patagonia began in Bariloche. My cousin told me about what a great time he had in Bariloche, that I had to try the Argentine steak and chocolate, but when I looked on the map I thought it was so far south. The bus ride alone from Mendoza to Bariloche was almost 24 hours.
Bariloche is a resort town full of gorgeous vacation rental cabins, chocolate shops, and Swiss-style architecture. A hub for skiing and trekking, Bariloche is one of the most touristy towns in Patagonia. I don’t care if it’s touristy; it’s still so beautiful.
I spent a lot of my time in Bariloche catching up on writing, planning where I wanted to go in the rest of Patagonia, and enjoying the gorgeous lake views from Hostel Inn Bariloche. I also obviously also ate a lot of chocolate and drank my fair share of the craft beer.
The weather was unpredictable while I was in Bariloche, making it difficult to plan which outdoor activities to do. I teamed up with two Spanish girls from my hostel and decided to bicycle the Circuito Chico, a 25km loop around Lake Perito Moreno.
We took the local bus from downtown Bariloche to kilometer 18.6 and rented our bikes from Circuito Chico Mountain Bikes, where we teamed up with three other girls. After some brief training on the bikes and an overview of which direction we were going in, we took off pedaling down the road.
Tall trees on either side of the road canopied above us, creating tunnels for as we rode up and down the hills. OK fine, I had to walk the bike up many of the hills, but they were steep! The ride was more physically draining than I expected it to be, although the scenery made up for it.
We raced along tour buses, trying to stay ahead of the middle-aged crowds of Argentine tourists that would inevitably be sneaking into some of our photos at the different viewpoints along the way. Each vista was more beautiful than the last.
The lake water looked so tropical that I stopped and reminded myself where I was. In Patagonia, really? It was so blue-green that it could have been the Mediterranean. We rode on, balancing out each tiring uphill battle with a speedy downhill breakaway. My favorite moments were the weightless feelings of riding downhill. The crisp air cut at my eyes and made them water, but I didn’t care. It was so freeing to not have to feel the weight of anything at all, if only for a few minutes.
We walked our bikes up a small hill to a church for lunch when we started to drag a bit. A stray dog joined us as we sat on the hill, chatted, and took in the scenery. Our hill overlooked Llao Llao Hotel, a luxury hotel and arguably one of the nicest hotels in Argentina. The architecture of the hotel looked so European that for a moment I could have sworn we were in the Swiss Alps. It sat on a small hill below the stone face of a mountain.
The view was postcard-perfect. I didn’t even realize it was the Llao Llao hotel at the time, but I remember thinking that one day I will return to Bariloche and stay in a cabin and have a real mountain vacation. Bariloche would be just the place for that.
Several hours after we began, we finally came full circle and dropped off the bikes at the shop. We were exhausted, but the day wasn’t over. Cerro Campanario awaited us. The most popular viewpoint in Bariloche, Cerro Campanario shows off sweeping views of the mountains and lakes in the area, just as long as it’s a clear day. After reading about Kristin Newman’s hilarious account of her experience in What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, I knew I had to see the view from the top of the mountain.
The easiest way to get to the top of Cerro Campanario is to take the cable car, but all of us are budget backpackers. In the essence of saving a few pesos, we decided to hike up instead. We made our way through trees brush, following a lightly tread path which we could only assume was taking us to the top.
As the trees grew sparse and we saw the clearing at the top, we turned to see the view everyone exiting the cable car was gawking at. The sky was clearer than any day earlier, the mountains almost reaching the clouds, and the lake a deep shade of blue. We all sat down and stared at the view of Lake Nahuel Huapi and the mountains before us. There wasn’t much to say; it was the perfect introduction to Patagonia. I fell in love with this part of the world right then and there.
What started out as a day full of question marks about what to do in Bariloche ended with an all-encompassing view of Bariloche’s surrounding area on the Circuito Chico, 5 new friends, and a bright outlook on Patagonia. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.