Bariloche to El Bolsón

Some of Argentina's most spectacular and unspoilt scenery lies south of Bariloche, where tourism has developed more recently and there is a wilder, more relaxed feel to the landscape. Route 258, the road south from Bariloche to El Bolsón, is breathtaking, passing the picturesque lakes of Gutiérrez and Mascardi, lying below a massive jagged range of mountains. There are some fabulous, peaceful places to stay here and wonderful hikes and horse riding. From Villa Mascardi, a road leads west along the Lago Mascardi's southern shore to glorious Pampa Linda, where there is enough excellent trekking to entertain you for several days, including access to climb Mount Tronador. Further south, Río Manso Medio has become famous for whitewater rafting, and at Lago Hess there is a hosteríaand the lovely Cascadas Los Alerces. El Bolsón is a pretty and relaxed town, sprawled out between two mountain ranges, with superb hikes nearby and beautiful rivers, waterfalls and mountains to explore. The town itself is a laid-back place which started as a hippy community in the 1970s. Now there are several microbreweries converting local hops into fine handmade beers, and craftsmen supplying the local market with wood and leather work, as well as delicious jams from the abundant soft fruits in summer. Further south, Lago Puelo is a tiny national park, offering great fishing some good walks, and a boat trip to the Chilean border. As you head south, Cholila might attract Butch Cassidy fans, but the cabin where he and the Sundance Kid hid out has been brutally reconstructed. And though Cholila feels authentically like the wild west, there's little appeal here now.

Lago Gutiérrez

Lago Gutiérrez feels like a fjord, with mountains dropping steeply into its western side, and spectacular views all around. There are many ways to access the lake, and it can be explored on foot or bike almost all the way round. There are many campsites, a hostel and fine hotels at its northern end, or a fabulous comfortable estancia, Peuma Hue www.peuma-hue.com, on the southern lakeshore and the base of the mountain, with great trekking and horse riding.

For an adventurous approach, you could hike down from Refugio Freyor walk or cycle down the stony track from Cerro Catedral (which can be reached by bus). Or just get off any bus headed from Bariloche to El Bolsón to explore either end. Water sports can be practised on the lake in summer, and there's a golf course at Arelauken on the northern shore.

Lago Mascardi

Along Lago Mascardi, there are several beautifully situated places to stay, all easily reached by car, or bus when the service is running in summer, including the luxurious Hotel Mascardi www.mascardi.com, with biking, rafting and horse riding.

Pampa Linda and Mount Tronador

Pampa Linda lies 40 km west of Villa Mascardi in the most blissfully isolated location, with spectacular views of Cerro Tronador towering above. There's a guadería (ranger station) with very helpful guardaparqueswho can advise on walks, and whom you must consult about the state of the paths before setting out, and register your name. From Pampa Linda, a lovely track (ripio) continues to Ventisquero Negro(black glacier), which hangs over a fantastically murky pool in which grey 'icebergs' float. The colour is due to sediment, and while not exactly attractive, the whole scene is very atmospheric. The road ends at the awesome Garganta del Diablo, one of the natural amphitheatres formed by the lower slopes of Mount Tronador. A beautiful walk (90 minutes' walk there and back) from the car park through beach forest takes you to a more pristine glacier, and up to the head of the gorge, where thin torrents of ice melt from the hanging glacier above, and fall in columns like sifted sugar.

Paso de los Nubes

Pampa Linda is the starting point for a 22-km walk over Paso de los Nubes (1335 m) to Laguna Frías and Puerto Fríason the Chilean border. Allow at least two days; start the walk at Pampa Linda, rather than the other way around, as there's a gentler rise to the pass this way. There is camping at Campamento Alerce(after four hours) or Campamento Glacier Frías(after seven hours); from here it's another five hours to Puerto Frías. You'll see a spectacular glacial landscape, formed relatively recently (11,000 years ago), and the pass lies on the continental divide, with water flowing north to the Atlantic, and south to the Pacific. Views from the Río Frías valley are tremendous, and from Glacier Frías you enter valdivian rainforest. Boats cross Lago Frías three times a day in summer -check times before leaving Bariloche. You must register with guardaparquesat Pampa Linda before setting out, and check with them about conditions. The route is not always well marked and should only be attempted if there is no snow on the pass (it's normally passable only between December and February) or if the path is not excessively boggy. Do not cross rivers on fallen bridges or trees. Get advice from the very helpful guardaparqueshere, and buy the map produced by Infotrekking for Mount Tronador/Paso de las Nubes before you leave Bariloche (available from Club Andino Bariloche). From Puerto Frías a 30-km road leads to Peulla on the shore of Chilean Lago Todos Los Santos. Or you can take a boat back to Bariloche; highly recommended. Another pleasant walk is to tranquil Laguna Ilon (5½ hours each way), with bathing on the shore in summer. Also to Refugio Otto Meiling. Check with guardaparquesbefore setting out.

Río Manso Medio and Lago Hess

Some 9 km west of Villa Mascardi, a road runs 18 km through the beautiful valley of the Río Manso Medio to Lago Hess and on to the nearby Cascada Los Alerces. This is the starting point for trekking excursions in a more remote area of small lakes and forested mountains, including Lagos Fonck, Roca, Felipe, and Cerros Granito and Fortaleza. Check with guardaparquesat Lago Hess about the conditions of the paths. There is also wonderful rafting here, but you have to take a trip starting in Bariloche. Contact a reputable company such as Extremo Sur www.extremosur.com, or Huala www.huala.com.ar,note that there is also rafting on the Río Manso Inferior, further south, heading west from Villegas, on Route 258. This is the place for wilder rafting, and the trip to the Chilean border, run by the same rafting companies.

Lago Steffen and Lago Martín

Both lakes are quite outstandingly lovely, fringed with beech and alamotrees, with far-off mountains in the distance, and pretty beaches where you can sit at the water's edge. There's also great fishing here. The guarderíais at Lago Steffen, and further north, wild camping is possible on the lake shore. Further south, a road leads west along the Río Manso Inferior towards Chile. There is excellent rafting on the river, and several places where you can buy home-made produce.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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