Anyone that’s travelled through South America knows the vast distances you need to cover, if you’re doing it by bus. A four or five hour bus ride is considered luxury, especially when it’s up against something like the journey we took to get to Bariloche from El Calafate.
Anyone fancy sitting on a bus for 32 hours?
With the obstacle of the Andes mountains, the lack of road coverage and not being able to afford a chopper, sometimes you’ve just got to face what’s infront of you. It’s almost like flying from Sydney to LA and back, minus the free booze and on-demand movies. Throw in a gaggle of teenage schoolgirls and things become even more joyful.
The town of Bariloche straddles the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi, a sprawling body of shimmering water backed by the snow-covered Andean foothills. One would think they’re somewhere in New Zealand or Switzerland, but scenery like this is very much the norm here in Argentina’s Lake District.
In winter, the nearby ski resort draws the crowds, in the warmer months it’s that pristine wilderness that surrounds it. The town is a hodgepodge of alpine-style architecture and a few too many decades-old monstrosities – all relatively new considering the town is barely 114 years old.
The main shopping street in Bariloche is Calle Mitre, a pedestrian friendly retail precinct that’s saturated with everything for the tourist. Adventure stores, leather goods, regional cheeses, smoked meats, paté, chocolate and arcade after pokey arcade of mate gourds, fridge magnets and hand painted dust-collectors.
For something a little more crafty, there’s the designated Feria Municipal de Artesanos a couple of blocks from the Civic Centre. Here you can browse for textiles, bespoke jewellery, candles and wood crafts minus the hoards that flock to Calle Mitre.
When the shopping at the feria becomes all too much, walk to the end of the block and take a breather at La Delirante, where we think has the best coffee in Bariloche.
The cafe is little more than a kiosk tacked onto the corner of an outdoor-type store, although they do have seating inside and a few stools outside. The service is friendly, they take pride in what they do, and they even roast their own beans – the only place that does so in Bariloche.
If excellent espresso isn’t your thing, there’s cold brew, hot chocolate and herbal teas. Grab a croissant, muffin or alfajores, while you’re at it.
La Delirante, Moreno 102
If alcohol is more your vice, there are plenty of places about town that can keep you well lubed. Head to Calle Juramento at night for some bar hopping, or Calle 20 de Febrero to one of the smaller watering holes in this colourful part of town. There’s so much choice!
For a very decent beer fix, Cervecería Bachmann is the perfect place to perch on a sidewalk table and take advantage of 5pm happy hour. Instead of 2 for 1, these guys just reduce the prices on their selected beers. Just take your pick.
Cervecería Bachmann, Ada Maria Elflein 90
Cooling down after traipsing the hilly streets of Bariloche is always in order, especially in one of the ice cream joints dotted about town. Many say that Helados Jauja has the best in the region, but we may have to concur. Yes, there’s a decent, if small, selection of flavours up for grabs, but the portions and cone sizes do little to match the prices. Still, it’s well worth a try.
Helados Jauja, Moreno 48
Food prices can be a tad out of reach, in Bariloche, for those on a budget. Especially when you want to get stuck into some grilled meat at a parrilla and can only go as far as reading the menu. Not fair.
At least it doesn’t take much to sniff out the local joints that don’t cost a bomb. Pizzeria la Andina is one such place that seems to be a favourite with the local lunch crowd. Empanadas, pizza, milanesa and pasta. Just your typical, and predictable, Argentine menu.
As Dean went for empanadas, I took advantage of the menu del dia – filet de merluza (hake) with mash. Nothing to rave about, but it did fill the hole and it did give us a chance to chuckle at the decanters they use for their vino. Too cute.
Pizzeria la Andina, Ada Maria Elflein 95
Another wallet-friendly eatery, and a damn fine one at that, happens to be a corner takeaway that doesn’t even have seating. Pity about the seating, but it was a parrilla and we could afford to buy their food. Bonus!
Aside from all of the meaty goodness smoking away over coals – beef, chicken, morcilla and chorizo – there are homemade empanadas, salads, veggies and rustic vegetable tarts to sample. For us, a couple of delicious choripan – char-grilled chorizo in a crusty roll with chimmichurri.
La Brasas, Ada Maria Elflein 163
Calle Mitre is all about the shopping bustle in the centre of town, but head a few blocks east and things quieten down and become more residential. It’s here that we discovered another corner gem that suited our wallets, and tastebuds, perfectly.
La Cazuela may be all about the classic Argentine menu, but there’s a certain something that makes it a bit different from the norm. Was it the quiet, leafy neighbourhood? The incredibly friendly guy that served us, or was it the food and excellent bottle of house vino we thoroughly enjoyed? All of the above, I reckon.
A behemoth of milanesa napolitana (148) was just what my body needed and the equally enormous pastel de pollo (120) was enough to feed two people, as well. It’s basically some kind of local variation on chicken & leek pie with potato and corn. Specialty of the house, and one we couldn’t finish.
La Cazuela, Mitre 702
Being surrounded by such stunning wilderness and not getting out to see it would have to be a crime. The best way to do it is with your own wheels, so it’s as simple as hitting up one of the numerous rental places and grabbing a car for the day.
Not too far from Bariloche is the Seven Lakes Route; a spectacular drive that showcases the mountains, waterways, dense forest and a few waterfalls you can trek to. Let’s not forget the seven lakes you can stop at, take a look, or maybe even an icy dip.
Villa La Angostura is one of a couple of towns along the route; somewhere to refuel, have lunch, a hot drink, or even stay the night. Not a great deal here other than adventure/outdoor stores, a bunch of eateries and a bar or two.
The drive winds north to the sleepy mountain town of San Martin de los Andes, an even smaller place where nothing really happens on a Sunday, as we discovered. A few locals waft about town, boys in revved-up cars do laps of town and everyone else is on the picturesque beach on Lácar Lake.
One of the few eateries open was Peperone, a bit of a Tex-Mex looking joint that’s popular with young families. Grilled meats, tostados, panchos, pizza and burgers. Quick, easy and convenient.
Peperone, Avenida San Martín 820
How we got to Bariloche from El Calafate.
Taysa Bus can get you there in around 30 hours – leaving at 3.30pm and arriving at 10pm the following day. Cost is ARS$515 pp.