El Bolsón is a little Patagonian town that is becoming a popular destination for travelers hoping to explore the magic of northern Patagonia but who wish to avoid the high paced, resort-like feel of nearby Bariloche. Best known for its mountain culture, craft fair and microbreweries, El Bolsón offers tranquility and a friendly atmosphere. Located a few short hours south of Bariloche, on the Rio Negro, Chubut border, this town is well worth a visit.
The pueblo’s craft fair is definitely the center of the town’s activity. Taking place Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday each week, the market is where the locals and tourists come to shop and experience the laid back onda of El Bolsón. Much more than the standard handicraft fair that you find in almost every town, this market offers locally farmed goods, organic fruit and vegetables, micro brewed beers from five different brewers and, of course, handmade crafts for everyone. The food is delectable, as well—come to the fair hungry and chow on Belgian waffles, ice cream and fresh made empanadas.
If you’re feeling kind of groovy, amongst the mentioned stalls, the city’s large population of hippies is clearly visible. A number of local musicians sell their recordings, hairdressers are happy to give you dreadlocks.
The town has a member run Club Andino Piltriquitron (CAP) that manages bookings, tours and information about the many mountain refugios, or refuges, that are spread out among the local mountains, known as the Camarca Andina. Although the distances do very, most refugios are a 6-8 hour trek, over moderate terrain, away from the city center.
The refugios all share similar amenities, although some things will inevitably vary. Your staple services include bunk style accommodation, economical and simple meals, knowledgeable caretaker, and outdoor toilets. The CAP managed locations offer little more than these services, although a guide is sometimes available for daily excursions.
The privately managed refugios are truly a unique experience. These serve as the actual homes for several local families that choose to live in the mountains without the common staples like electricity and hot water. They all offer some special services and memories, whether it’s home made beer, expansive playgrounds or a full sized football pitch hidden deep in the forest.
Check out the local CAP office, directly across from the bus station, for more information about each trek and available services.
Scattered throughout the small town, you will find roughly a half dozen well-known microbreweries. This hardly scratches the surface of how many there truly are in town, as many people produce their own to sell to a small selection of local businesses. Even some of the mountain refugios are making their own distinct beers and you may find some unnamed brands at any restaurant or hotel.
The most well known breweries are Cerveza Artesanal El Bolsón, Piltri and Otto Tip. Cerveza Artesanal El Bolsón produces a seemingly endless number of varieties that are available throughout most of Argentina. Their specialty is definitely the standard pilsner, but they do offer such unique flavors as Chocolate, Raspberry and Cerveza con Aji, or, in English, with hot peppers! Pltri and Otto Tip both stick to the standard beers, each offering a pilsner, a red and a dark beer.
El Bolsón offers a wide selection of accommodation choices, although you will not find anything close to a luxury resort here. The tourist office, located in the center of town, opposite the main plaza, will direct you to any number of camping grounds, hostels, small bed and breakfasts or cottage rentals.
The town is physically quite small, but many of the cottage rentals and higher quality lodging are located outside of town, making a vehicle a welcome addition.
Located over 1800km from Buenos Aires and 1300km from Mendoza, a flight into the tourist hub of Bariloche will greatly reduce your travel time. From Bariloche, it is a 160km, two-hour journey by car or bus. Much of this drive offers amazing views into Patagonian forests that are so magnificent that they are currently being considered for UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition.
The town is small, and can easily be visited on foot but your own vehicle would make venturing out of the city center much easier and is recommended for anyone looking to experience the marvelous natural areas.
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