Tucked into the foothills of the Andes by the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi, San Carlos de Bariloche welcomes visitors to Patagonia's Lake District. Dotted with glacial bodies of water in myriad shades of green and blue, here the landscape gives birth to the Andes Mountains to the west and the Patagonian steppe, an arid, scrub-filled terrain, to the east. Bariloche, largely settled by immigrants from Switzerland, Germany and Austria in the late 1800s, reflects the alpine heritage of its settlers through its architecture and landscapes.
I traveled to Bariloche last month with my stepdad Vince and sister Marianna, and we kicked off our adventures with a tour of Circuito Chico, one of the most popular excursions for visitors to the area. This tour begins in the city of Bariloche on Avenida Bustillo, a sinuous road that borders Lago Nahuel Huapi, the largest lake in this region. The excursion continues on a loop past unparalleled lake and mountain scenery, all within just a few miles of the city.
A misty rain and chilly temperatures accompanied us as we made our way to the first stop on the tour, Cerro Campanario. Upon arrival at the base of the mountain, we were offered banana yellow rain slickers, which the three of us declined in an effort to avoid looking like the Gorton's Fisherman. We ascended Cerro Campanario in a chairlift, dangling high above the rocks and assorted vegetation with the expansive Lago Nahuel Huapi at our backs.
[Vince snapped this shot of Marianna and me as we floated up Cerro Campanario]
At the summit, the clouds and fog obscured the view to a fair extent, although it was still possible to appreciate the majestic Andes and the lakes stretching in all directions. Even when cloaked in mist and rain, it was impossible to deny the splendor visible from atop Cerro Campanario. And while I lamented the less-than-ideal conditions, we were rewarded with numerous rainbows that morning.
Vince and I fought what seemed to be a losing battle to remove the fine droplets of water that collected on our camera lenses every few seconds, and I shoved my hands inside my pockets between shots in a futile attempt to warm them. There were a few moments when the climatic conditions were quite dodgy, and I was concerned that our spirits (and our cameras) would be dampened by the weather, but luckily, Mother Nature did cooperate to some extent. As we descended Cerro Campanario and continued along the tour, I contemplated the wisdom of my decision to leave my gloves at home in Necochea.
Winding along a narrow, paved road, we paused for a few minutes at Punto Panorámico for some shots of Lago Moreno and the Llao Llao Peninsula. A woman selling hot chocolate, medialunas, and other goodies attracted the interest of both tourists and locals alike. And by locals I mean the winged variety [photo].
Next we arrived at Capilla San Eduardo, a rustic chapel constructed in 1938 with funds donated by wealthy socialite Juana González de Devoto. From our privileged vantage point, we looked down upon Puerto Pañuelo, where we would later return for our boat ride to Bosque de Arrayanes and Isla Victoria. The Hotel Llao Llao [photo] – framed by the mountains, their peaks shrouded by a low-hanging cloud – sat perched atop a hill to the right of the chapel.
After visiting the church, we stopped in a small shop selling numerous products made from rosa mosqueta (rose hips). Packed with vitamin C and claiming a number of health benefits, products made with rosa mosqueta – cosmetics and various foods like tea and jam – are one of the regional specialties of Patagonia. At the shop, we sampled some tea brewed from rose hips. I believe the only "praise" that Vince could muster for the beverage amounted to, "Well, it's…hot." Needless to say, neither of us found the acidic taste imparted by the rose hips to our liking.
We then headed back to Bariloche to drop off some members of the tour group, and after a brief walk around the Centro Cívico, in the heart of the city, we continued on to Cerro Catedral.
Cerro Catedral, so named for its jutting granite spires resembling church steeples [photo], lies about 12 miles (19 km) from Bariloche. In winter the mountain plays host to one of South America's premiere ski resorts with 39 lifts and 53 trails.
We took a five-minute cable car ride to Punta Nevada, a small restaurant and viewing area on Cerro Catedral. Due to high winds, we were unable to take the chairlift [pictured below] to Refugio Lynch at the very top of the mountain, but, nonetheless, we were treated to spectacular vistas, as the skies had cleared considerably since earlier that morning.
After much guzzling of hot beverages, oohing and aahing at awe-inspiring landscapes, and clicking of shutters, we headed down to the base of Cerro Catedral and piled into the van for the trip back to Bariloche.
Upon our return, we decided to cap off the day with a stroll down one of the main streets in Bariloche, Calle Mitre, past innumerable chocolate shops and stores selling outdoor gear and clothing. Of course there were also the inevitable souvenir shops as well, filled to the brim with stuffed animals in the shape of a St. Bernard (complete with brandy barrel 'round its neck) and mates with "Bariloche" scrawled on them. I swear I even saw a t-shirt that said "My Parents Went to Bariloche and All I Got Was This Lousy Remera."
Several blocks later we veered toward the lake, ending up at the beautiful neo-Gothic cathedral Nuestra Señora de Nahuel Huapi. We entered the church for a few minutes, admiring the stained glass windows and vaulted ceiling.
As we exited the church, we marveled at just how powerful the winds were that afternoon. As I stood on a bench carved from a tree trunk to capture the white caps and waves crashing against the shore of the lake, the gale-force winds coming off the water threatened to knock me clear off my feet. At this point, we decided it was time to give our cameras and our feet a rest back at the cabin after a full day of sightseeing and picture taking.
Next up: Bosque de Arrayanes and Isla Victoria