Touring town and cycling Circuito Chico – Bariloche

We had two options getting from El Chaltén to Bariloche: a 24-hour bus or a 3-hour bus and 2-hour flight. We aren’t that hardcore, particularly when the easy option is only slightly more expensive, we flew. We met an Irish couple in La Vineria who had opted for the bus; as it left at 9pm they had decided to fill their evening sampling cocktails. This struck us as an absolutely woeful idea and we thought of them with sympathy when we arrived in Bariloche a good 12 hours before they did, having slept in a bed.

The journey was a simple one, the Cal Tur bus from El Chaltén to El Calafate stops first at EL Calafate airport so we just jumped off there. The wind was blowing a gale and the air bridge shook as we boarded the also shuddering plane, James was less than impressed. We were fairly buffeted around as we flew but we landed safely in Bariloche, stepped gratefully out into the significantly warmer air, jumped into a remise and 15 minutes later we were deposited at our homestay’s address. It wasn’t immediately apparent that we were in the right place as there are no signs whatsoever. The next-door neighbour leaned over his roses to explain how to get in, we aren’t sure if this was luck or if the neighbour is the self-appointed guardian of lost travellers but we were grateful either way. Our host, Gustavo, greeted us and showed us to a delightful double room, gave us some tips on getting around town and left us to it. (Throughout our stay Gustavo was wonderful, he was so helpful with any questions that we had from laundry to car rental to hiking, he happily stored our bags whilst we hiked and spoke excellent English. We would highly recommend El Korú to other travellers.) Having both slept poorly the night before the first order of business was to lie down, the second was to drink tea. These things achieved we dragged ourselves back out to find out about hiking and to do some laundry. Our host has told us that the laundry would be open, but, as we have found consistently in Argentina, nothing has set opening hours and the laundry was closed randomly for two hours. As our guesthouse was at the top of a steep hill, James carried two bags of laundry round town for the next couple of hours rather than take it back.

We went first to tourist information and we can comfortably advise that you give it a miss, they are spectacularly unhelpful. For hiking go to Club Andino Bariloche first , where they can tell you about the trails, and then to the National Park office where they can give you the best trail maps. We didn’t find them anywhere else so this place is invaluable.

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For anything else, the internet is your best friend. Armed with maps and lots of information, we set off to explore the town with our laundry.

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The town square and the administrative buildings have a definite alpine theme, the surrounding mountains and lake add to this impression. This is no accident, in the 1930s the town was redesigned in this style in order to appeal to European tourists. The main square also plays host to men selling photo ops with a St Bernard. It’s all a bit odd.

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The lakeside is quite lovely once you get beyond the port, construction site and skate park.

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We can confirm that is lake, too, is bloody freezing.

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We finally parted company with our laundry, had an early dinner of fabulous burgers at Belek and retreated for an early night.

El Korú doesn’t offer breakfast so we went to the very popular café next door, El Barco. Once again, Caro’s Spanish achieved half a job; we managed to achieve breakfast, it just wasn’t what we had been expecting. To be honest, we’re not sure that we’d have expected a toast cream tea regardless of the quality of Caro’s Spanish, but that’s what we got and it was delicious.

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We’d read that there was a cycling route to do near Bariloche and we added it to our agenda without really thinking much of it. Circuito Chico came up frequently in blogs and at the top of lists of things to do in Bariloche, so we were pretty confident that it would be worthwhile. You can do the circuit by bus as part of a tour, or you can take the public bus and then walk around sections, or you can rent bikes and do the circuit on two wheels. We like cycling and assumed that there was good reason to do this loop as it is such a popular activity, so that’s what we opted to do. When the chap in the shop started talking about the relative merits of 28 gear vs 21 gear bikes we started to feel that maybe we were out of our depth but we ploughed on with the cheaper option and didn’t feel the need for 7 extra gears at any point. Extra lungs and quads yes, gears no. The whole circuit is paved and you share the road with cars, pedestrians and utter nutters who are cycling the route in the far harder opposite direction. Go clockwise. Trust us.

So, we set off, knowing that the longest and steepest hill of the loop was up first. It’s an absolute bitch of a hill, 1.5km of torture but culminating in a lovely viewpoint.

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Then you get to whizz back downhill and slog back uphill etc etc. The downhills were good fun.

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Other than the viewpoints, you are pretty much cycling through a very upmarket residential area, pretty but not spectacular. The longer views over the lakes are beautiful, the immediate surroundings not so much. These are our photos from the various stops, again pretty but not spectacular

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The crowning glory is supposedly Llao llao hotel, people get an hour bus from town just to look at this place and we cannot for the life of us figure out why, it’s just a hotel. We took this photo from the San Eduardo Chapel, another “must see”, and sure it’s a nice scene but, really, it’s just a building.

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We’d seen all of the key sites and were coming to the end of our loop when we found the reason why you absolutely have to venture this far out of town. You don’t need to see any of the views, you need to go to Raices and eat their steak sandwich; up there with the top five sandwiches that we have ever eaten, we considered ordering two more to take home with us. A pint of the locally brewed IPA does pretty bloody well to wash them down too.

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Full and a little squiffy we set off on the last 7km of indigestion inducing hills until we came back to the beginning of the circuit. It had cost us about £26 to rent the bikes, which by our standards makes for a fairly expensive day’s activity. We agreed that we would rather have been on the bikes than walking around as we saw some people doing but it still seemed expensive for what you got. Until the sandwiches that is, we’d cycle back to Bariloche now for more of those sandwiches, and we’re currently in Chile.

 

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