Distance: 3 km
Duration: 1.5 hr
A steep walk that gets the heart pumping, but the 360 degree views of Bariloche’s surrounding mountains and lakes are worth the huffing and puffing. On a clear day it’s an ideal trip to take in the views if you’re short of time (or breath). I had to haul myself up with a few tree trunks due to a recent downpour making the path slippery. However, you can always opt for the chairlift one way or return if it’s been raining.
There’s a restaurant and souvenir shop at the top of the hill and two viewing platforms. Keep a beady eye on your sandwiches though or the local hawks may swoop down for a nibble. On a calm day, even in autumn, it can be a sun trap if you find the right place but take warm clothes because if the wind creeps up you’ll know about it.
On the way down from Campanario the path splits into three: left, right and straight ahead. I took the latter option and wished I hadn’t as I had to clamber over fallen trees and along a very sketchy path. So take either the right or left path.
How to get to Campanario from Bariloche
Take bus 20 (every 20 minutes) from San Martin Street or the main bus stop on Moreno Street. Get off at kilometre 18, you’ll see the Campanario sign on the left-hand side before you alight the bus. Then it’s a 400m walk to the start of the path, going back towards Bariloche.
CATHEDRAL BASE – REFUGIO FREY – LAKE GUTIERREZ
Difficulty: Medium to hard
Gradient: Steep in parts
Duration: 7-8 hr
A camera-snapping hike with endless photo opportunities. It climbs through varying landscapes with views of Lake Gutierrez, white coated mountains, forests with blazing autumnal colours, vibrant shrubs and bushes.
It’s quite a well-marked hike along a rugged path and popular with Bariloche’s weekend keep-fit brigade. It passes several small waterfalls which were frozen over when I did the walk in mid May so be careful not to tumble over.
The half way mark is Refugio Frey, a cosy shelter where you can sleep over (take a warm sleeping bag), guzzle down the home-brewed beer or feast on pizza or steak. You can also take you own food in. At the back of the refugio is a lake that’s ideal for a summer splash but which becomes an ice skating rink in May-August and you can hire skating boots. However, I didn’t take on the ice hockey players or no doubt I’d have been airlifted down the mountain.
On the return leg of the hike, follow same route down until you reach a fork in the path. Follow the trail signed Lake Gutierrez for a serene circuit hike that weaves through red and green foliage or head back down the path marked ‘Cathedral Base’ to take you back to where you started the walk.
If doing the loop, be sure to take in the side-walk to the mirador (viewpoint) marked about 5km from the fork in the path towards Lake Gutierrez. It’s 1.5km return and steep but the views compensate for the extra effort. The waterfall, however, isn’t worth bothering with unless you have time to kill. The last 2km of the walk follows a road with cute cabins overlooking the lake and winds up at the foot of Lake Gutierrez.
How to get there from Bariloche
Take the bus marked ‘Cerro Cathedral’ from the main bus station in Moreno Street. It runs every 1.5 hr from 7.10am. Get off at the ski lifts at Cathedral base, the last stop. The return bus, number 50, leaves Lake Gutierrez a few times an hour to Bariloche.
LLAO LLAO – COLONIA SWISS (SWISS VILLAGE)
Difficulty: Easy to medium
Gradient: Flat with a long gradual incline
Distance : 13km
Duration: 6-7 hr
The walk starts close to Argentina’s premier resort, Llao Llao. We opted for a flat meander through the Bosque de Arrayanes, a bamboo forest, but you can choose an elevated hike to Cerro Llao Llao (1000m). On the forest walk, bamboo canes form an archway along the pathway which veers off to lookouts over Lake Moreno West.
If you turn left when the bamboo path hits the road and then go right onto another trail, you’ll find the information centre – Spanish-speaking only – where you can pick up a slightly more detailed map than the ones in town (although none of them are detailed).
Make sure you go to the viewpoints with lookouts over Lake Nahuel Huapi before looping back and heading along the road to Colonia Swiss. Quite a large portion of the walk is on the road but in May the main traffic is mainly bikes with tourists cycling a 26km circuit.
Take the road down to Colonia Siwss after passing the kisok at Cerro Lopez and walk the 4km to the village. You’ll be hard pushed to find any Swiss people living here but it’s a pleasant walk that can wind up with a hot chocolate.
How to get to Llao Llao from Bariloche
Take bus 20 (every 20 minutes) from San Martin Street or the main bus stop on Moreno Street. It’s a 50 minute ride to Llao Llao, the last stop. From the Swiss Village take bus 10 to Bariloche (there’s one at 5.40pm and 7.40pm, ask at the tourist office in Bariloche for a timetable as the bus service is infrequent).
REFUGIO LOPEZ ON CERRO LOPEZ
Gradient: Steep in parts
Distance: 20 km
Duration: 6-7 hr return
A good walk with similar views to those from Campanario but at a higher elevation. The route is denoted with faint red dots painted on the tree trunks and stones, so keep an eye out as you could wander along the wrong trail. It’s a semi-steep climb over small rocks and there are several viewpoints over Lake Poritto Moreno. There is a refugio an hour into the walk where you can get drinks, including alcohol and hot meals. The back of the refugio meets up with the vehicle path which gradually snakes up to the refugio and is an option if the trail beomes too slippery (as it was when I went). If, however, like me you decide to carry on up the trail, cross over the stream twice, going back to the side of the refugio (look for yellow bin bag markers). Then the fun starts. If it has been raining be prepared to either fall over or grab onto bushes to get yourself up into the forest area.
The trail crosses the road twice more so you can always miss out this section and walk along the road, joining the path later on. The refugio is perched on the mountain side and to reach the top of Cerro Lopez from the refugio you will need mountaineering gear and be an experienced climber. It’s always wise to let the National Park Office in Bariloche aware of your plans so if anything does happen they will search for you.
Both the refugios were closed when I ventured up there so check if they are open later in the winter season (in summer they are open).
How to get there from Bariloche
Take bus 10 at 8.10am in autumn or winter to ensure you have enough time to complete the walk before dark. There is a later bus at 11.10am but unless you are walking like the clappers you won’t make it to the refugio. However you can do part of the walk and return to the base before sunset (in May this is at 6.30pm). The return bus leaves Lopez at 6pm or 8pm.
NOTE: PHOTOGRAPHS ARE COPYRIGHT OF JANE BATCHELOR