A Non-Hikers Guide to Patagonia (Or, How to Survive Bariloche in the Rain)May 29, 2008 1 Comment Print
I must admit: I have never been much of a hiker. My usual trek entails 40 minutes of prep time (both mental and logistical), 45 minutes of walking, and then a strong desire (often expressed verbally) to descend to base camp and seek out the nearest place to get a foot massage and a cider. So, I actually surprised myself when I agreed to go to Bariloche, the land of mountains and hiking, with my sister in mid-May. Little did we know that the fall weather would produce rain for an entire week, and all my mental and logistical preparations would be rendered unnecessary. Ultimately, we were able to discover plenty of enjoyable activities for hikers and non-hikers alike in Patagonia’s Lake District.
You should not avoid Bariloche in the autumn. Although the weather is unpredictable, the brilliance of the foliage and the drama of the Patagonia’s peaks put Vermont to shame. At this time of year, the weather is crisp; neither too cold nor marked by repressive heat associated with the summer months. Prices are lower (falling between the summer trekking and winter skiing high seasons), and there are more locals in the towns.
While we were eager to appreciate the benefits of autumn, we were not willing to suffer outside in the incessant downpour (surprising, given that we are Oregonians and accustomed to the rain). The first thing we decided to do was rent a car. There are great car rental deals in Bariloche, especially in the low season. We bargained VW Polo down from well over ARG$500 to $380 for three days (driving a maximum of 800 km). Our success could be attributed to the fact that we are girls, that we spoke Spanish, and that we did our research ahead of time, but I think that taking advantage of at least one of these criteria should reduce the rental price.
We rented from Correntoso car rental (just off of Avenida Mitre), but Liz Rent-A-Car and A-One (both located in the center of town) also had competitive deals. You must be 21 years old to drive, have a valid driver’s license, passport, and credit card. Prices include full insurance costs and taxes.
We decided to follow the famous Ruta de Siete Lagos (“seven lakes route”) from Bariloche to San Martín de los Andes. The drive is spectacular (although clouds on our first day obscured our view), and we completed the full drive to San Martín in a matter of hours. In the rain, be aware of the 50km stretch of unpaved road; we had to weave through stones, ford mini-rivers, and avoid mud-hydroplaning. Don’t be discouraged: the road was not dangerous, just slow-moving.
We chose to stay the night in San Martín; which, although it is beautifully situated on Lago Lácar, is somewhat disappointing in weather not suited for outdoor activity. In low season much of the town seems to shut down- restaurants were closed, hotels out of season, and craft markets non-existent. Moreover, driving in San Martín is surprisingly frustrating. I would stop in town for lunch but avoid longer stays in the rainy season.
One activity we could justify due to the rain was a spa session in Villa Angostura. The lakeside town has been deemed an expensive luxury destination, and is therefore often snubbed by backpackers (although our hostel, the Hostel Angostura, gave us a private room with heated floors for just 40 pesos). Surprisingly, given the town’s reputation, we were able to easily locate economical services for our day of pampering. We first toured the breathtaking Hotel Sol Arrayán (http://www.solarrayan.com), a subtle seven story luxury resort overlooking the lake which was just inaugurated in January. Spa treatments were similar in cost to US prices, and housed in a state-of-the-art facility. We were unable to get appointments without a 24 hour advanced booking, but we settled on Hostería Las Nieves (http://www.lasnieves.com), a cozy bed and breakfast with amiable hosts that offered massages for ARG$60 per hour.
Another local tradition that is satisfying in any weather is the consumption of sinfully delicious local products- notably the Patagonian chocolate and beer. Mamushka chocolates are the local behemoth, and we went back three times to have their dark-chocolate covered orange peels. There is also a local chocolate museum that we failed to visit, but looked like a promising rainy-day activity. During our time, we took full advantage of the handful of local pubs and factories serving artisanal beers. We discovered two on the road to Bariloche’s local circuito chico and indulged in our recently discovered obsession for cerveza frambuesa (raspberry beer). Our favorite bar was Blest, which has a great selection of home-brewed beers, and invites you to immortalize your thoughts on beer coasters that line the walls.
Finally, we drove to have tea at the famous Llao Llao. The hotel resides on a peninsula with stunning views over the lake, and is one of the most prestigious hotels in Argentina. We dried off in front of the massive fireplace, and enjoyed a pot of Argentina’s fabulous Tealosophy tea. At ARG$16 for a small pot the drink is not cheap, but much more economical than the ARG$50 high tea served at 4PM.
While the weather on our trip was disappointing, we were pleased that we had carved out an alternate itinerary rather than escaping north to sunny Mendoza like many of our fellow travelers. It allowed us to appreciate the moments of sun and the fleeting vistas through the clouds much more than we might have otherwise. And who knows: maybe the frustration of not being able to hike will allow me to fully appreciate the activity next time I strap on my boots and head to the trail