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February 2018, San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
What’s the longest bus ride you had?
We will always remember the long road to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. With no further introductions, here’s how we survived 28 hours in a bus. 🙂
Are we there yet?
We leave El Calafate at dawn, with an overnight bus. On the small map of South America I hold in my pocket, there is a tiny line that I scrambled with a pen. Little did we know, that’s the equivalent of 1700 kilometers. “El Calafate – San Carlos de Bariloche, 26 horas“ is written on the paper tickets. Seems surreal.
Somehow, we’re relieved we don’t need planes anymore. 5 flights of panick attacks and clenched fists to get to the south of Patagonia were enough.
So we put ourselves in the soft seats of the bus, thrilled of the new adventure that’s about to begin: the first long ride in our lives. With a little bit of nostalgia, I feel like I’m back at school and we’re going camping. If the pleasure of still touching ground is not enough, the seats (“cama”) roll back about 140 degrees, turning into a bed. Pretty neat.
Our backpacks are so compact, that fit underneath. I smile for a second and congratulate myself on the minimalism, when prepping for this journey. A little advice? If you can buy an item from the place you’re going to, leave it at home.
We get confy as the bus leaves El Calafate, and almost fall asleep for a few minutes. In no time, we wake up on the sound of brakes cracking. As we look out the window, a taxi that came from behind is now blocking the way. Soon, a new travel fellow is jumping the bus and apologizes for his entry. He had missed the departure, and paid the taxi driver to go at full speed and catch the bus. I almost admire him for the initiative, but others don’t share the same light feelings.
The grunts disappear soon, as a movie starts on the TV screens and the lights go off. We’re running at maximum speed on the highway, to cross a third of Argentina.
Inside the bus, everything goes on a loop: sleep – music – movies – reading. Repeat. From time to time we turn on the GPS, hoping the arrow will show up somewhere. ANYWHERE. No luck. It’s like we are out in space.
The 26 hours become 28.
The Switzerland of South America
We arrive in San Carlos de Bariloche shortly after midnight. At the hostel, the door can barely close, there’s a moldy blanket in the old closet, but we’re too tired to do anything. At least there are bars at the windows. We fall asleep as we touch the bed.
First thing in the morning, we’re at the bus terminal. Let’s see how we get out of here. Buses to Santiago de Chile are fully booked over the weekend. We get used with the thought of staying here for another 4 days, and buy tickets for the first route with 2 available seats.
As we leave the nasty hostel room and find another place to stay, we discover we’ve just gotten mislead by the first impression. Travel advice number 2: don’t judge a city by the night looks, especially after a 28-hours bus ride. 🙂
What do you know? The little Argentinian city is gorgeous.
San Carlos de Bariloche (commonly called just Bariloche) is a town in the Patagonia region of Argentina. It borders Nahuel Huapi, a large glacial lake surrounded by the Andes Mountains. Bariloche is known for its Swiss alpine-style architecture and its chocolate. It’s also a popular base for hiking and exploring the Lake District, or skiing the nearby mountains.
The moment we hear we’re in the Switzerland of South America, we head straight to the Chocolate factory.
At the entrance, we are told that English tours are not held today. No problem,“entendemos español” (we understand Spanish). Advice number 3: try to learn the local language, if you are a long term traveler. Locals really appreciate speaking their language (or at least trying).
Inside the factory, we have the chance to break off a cocoa tree fruit. I have forgotten (or did I ever know?) that the grinded seeds become cocoa powder, but the white and creamy pulp, is the main ingredient of white chocolate. Both elements, mixed in different quantities, contribute to thousands of chocolate assortments.
Maya civilization considered it the drink of the gods, calling it “Kakawa”. Other tribes called it “Xocolatl”. The old dark bitter mixture became, through blending with milk and sugar added by conquistadors, the most famous desert in the world.
We end the day with two cups of the best hot chocolate we ever tasted.
The lake district of Patagonia
After a well-deserved rest walking around, it’s finally time for some action.
In the first day we kept seeing a teleferic passing over the city, but didn’t bother asking where it goes. We finally discover this is the way tourists climb Cerro Campanario, an observation point of the famous lake district of Patagonia.
We instantly decide to go trekking instead.
We get away from Bariloche by bus for a few kilometers, then enter the woods. It’s the steepest trek we’ve done. Soon, we have to grab roots, branches, trees or stones to move forward. The boots are filled with sandy, reddish soil. Our heads are burning in the merciless sun.
But we keep going, as those who descend encourage us. We accidentally hear from somebody “40 metros” instead of “40 minutos”, so we speed up for a while…until we realize the mistake.
We make the last step with exhaustion, saving the last drop of energy for jumping with joy. I had forgotten the peace and tranquility of being up on the mountain.
The magical landscape of Cerros Catedral, López & Capilla, lakes Moreno & Nahuel Huapi is shining under our eyes.
We made it!
Bariloche & beyond
If you have more time, head to the Nahuel Huapi National Park. This stunning park is what really draws tourists into Bariloche, from thousands of miles away.
Here’s a complete guide of things to do in San Carlos de Bariloche, that we found very useful before our trip.
How to get to San Carlos de Bariloche
Direct bus: El Calafate – San Carlos de Bariloche, Taqsa Marga company, 28 hours
We picked the bus because we wanted to see how we survive long distance transportation. It was a good test for the next overnight rides on the South American continent.
However, Bariloche has direct flight connections to El Calafate and Buenos Aires, if you prefer the plane.
Best weather in San Carlos de Bariloche
In San Carlos de Bariloche, the summers are comfortable and dry, winters are very cold and wet. If you’re looking for the warmest time, the hottest months are from December until March. If you plan skiing, go between July and September.
- Long distance bus from El Calafate
130 USD/pers/1 way
- Local transportation
Buy electronic SUBE card (we had one from Buenos Aires) and recharge at local kiosks; you will spend between 1 and 4 USD/bus ride, depending on the destination.
~65 USD/night/double room, breakfast included
There is a great range of accommodation options in Bariloche, from budget hostels to luxury lodges, so make sure you do your research in advance. If on the first night we barely found a hostel private room at 80 USD/night, on our second attempt we found a nice budget hotel at 65 USD/night/double room, right in the city center (Hotel Aspen Ski).
Food is pretty expensive. Be ready to spend ~50 USD for 2 persons at a restaurant meal, including main course and drink. You can save money by going to the supermarket to make your stock for breakfast/dinner.
In January 2018 we booked one-way tickets, took our backpacks and left cozy old Europe, for (hopefully) the greatest adventure of our lives: South America. If you like our story, don’t forget to spread the word!
Happy travels and stay safe!