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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

Bariloche - the Argentine Switzerland

The high mountains of Huapi are reminiscent of Swiss landscapes
Alpine trekking above Lake Nahuel Huapi
Beautiful mountain lakes, valleys glowing in autumn colours and steep peaks
Chocolate, raclette and greetings in German complete the picture

After more than 8 weeks in Chile we are heading back to Argentina. We cross the border at Villa La Angostura, destined for Bariloche. This is probably one of the most famous spots in Argentina - also called Argentine Switzerland. The name doesn't come by chance. Rugged cliffs, picturesque mountain lakes and beautiful valleys are reminiscent of the Swiss Alps. There are also many first and second generation Swiss (and also German) emigrants. So we are sometimes confronted with words like “Schnittlauch” and “Kartoffelpuffer”. And there is actually a chocolate culture in Bariloche. Every year at Easter the city hosts a huge festival during which the largest chocolate bar in the world is produced - from 2 tons of chocolate. We do without because cities and mass gatherings are not what we are looking for. And we've been on a chocolate diet for about 2 months...

bariloche refugio frey huapi trekking wandern berge
Bariloche - also called Argentine Switzerland

However we can't avoid the city, as we have to get a lot of things done (shopping, doctor's visits, money withdrawals, etc.). After all, you can find many good cafes here. And we even discovered a pretzel bakery. Unfortunately we are very disappointed with the taste...

As soon as the most important things are done, we head out into nature. We want to do the legendary trekking in Huapi National Park. Unfortunately we can only book two out of four huts, so the trekking is shortened to 3 days. That's okay - we don't want to take a tent with us. We enjoy running light for the first time in Patagonia. The evening before we're invited to German and his family. We met him on our Antarctic trip, where he worked as a kayak guide in the expedition team. Over 5 months have now passed... We are really looking forward to seeing him again and are enjoying the evening with delicious food and wine. And German allows us to park our camper in his driveway for the next few days - a relief considering all the burglary warnings from locals and travelers.

We start our hike early on Thursday afternoon. Halfway gone we realize that we forgot to replenish our cash reserves in our wallets. Oh dear... It's just enough to stay overnight, we have to limit the food consumption in the refugios... But maybe there are solutions. After all, we are in friendly Argentina. Going back to the car is not an option.

bariloche refugio frey huapi trekking wandern berge
Refugio Frey

The hike to Refugio Frey is quite easy. After almost 3 hours we reach the hut. Just in time to take some photos of Laguna Tonchek at the photographer's hour. And we can observe a condor couple that has nested in the surrounding peaks and is flying around with their offspring. A graceful sight! Afterwards we register at the hut. The staff is super friendly, there is almost a family atmosphere. We were prepared for a very touristy place and are pleasantly surprised. Maybe it's also because the season is almost over. With the hut owner, who knows our friend German and his son, we can agree to pay for the meal by bank transfer. We are relieved and order the 3-course menu plus breakfast. And so we are treated to onion soup, meat with mashed potatoes and a homemade cake. As the evening progresses, the hut gets a little fuller, but the dormitory is still only filled to one quarter. It's a real treat for us not to cook ourselves and sleep in the tent on a hike :-)

bariloche refugio frey huapi trekking wandern berge
Alpenglow at Laguna Tonchek
valle rucaco bariloche wandern
Wunderschöne Herbstfarben im Valle Rucaco

The next morning we can observe the first alpenglow around 8 a.m. A pleasant time thanks to late autumn. The nights are bitterly cold up here, below freezing. A perfect autumn day lies ahead of us. It takes a few hours for the sun to gain strength. However, as we climb up to the first pass, we immediately get warm. We enjoy a breathtaking panorama of the Valle Rucaco. The trees glow in intense yellow and red. We descend into the valley along a steep scree path. Now we deserve a break. The weather invites to sunbathe and so we extend our break. However, it's still some way to go to Refugio Jakob. We have a pass in front of us - after all, only about 500 meters in altitude. Once at the top we can already see the hut, which is idyllically located on the lake of the same name.

bariloche refugio frey huapi trekking wandern berge
Wild sunset at Refugio Jakob

There is a bit more going on here and the management is more impersonal. We are happy to have solved our money issue at the first hut. Such a trust deal would probably not have been possible here. And so we can treat ourselves again to a 3-course dinner. We are sitting at the table with our roommates from the 4-bed room, Rodrigo from Buenos Aires, with his 10-year-old son. Next to us is a Swiss-British couple. We exchange travel anecdotes and interesting stories from our home countries. And we learn that, at least since the last World Cup, Messi is the most famous Argentine. No doubt!

Unfortunately, the next day we already have to head back down to Bariloche. The path is super easy, but unfortunately not nearly as beautiful as the previous day. Well… after almost 3 hours we reach the trailhead. A bunch of kindergarten children ask us “Maradona or Messi?” What a question :-)

German offered to pick us up after the hike. Since he's currently busy, we first treat ourselves to a delicious sandwich in the nearest café. After all, we didn't have breakfast. Thank god in the city you can pay by card. We are cashed down to the last peso :-) Later we grudgingly explain to our Argentinian friend that we have incurred debts in his name because we cannot make the transfer ourselves. The “MercadoPago” system is only available for Argentine accounts. He just laughs “No problema”. And once again we are so happy about the open, solution-oriented nature of the Argentines. With that we say goodbye to German and hope to meet him soon in Europe, where he wants to cross the Alps by bike!

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