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El Bolsón

 

 

 

How could you resist staying in a place whose name roughly translates to “The Sack?” El Bolsón, so called because it lies in a bag-shaped valley between snow capped peaks, has  a magnetic charm that makes you want to stay forever.

 

 

In the 1970s, as part of an international movement to abandon city life for simple rural pleasures, young urbanites fled to El Bolsón, where they could spoil themselves in the warm microclimate favourable to growing soft fruit, or venture into the spectacular mountain scenery and rich forest environment—which they promptly set about saving from the logging agreements issued by the government.

 

 

Today, as in the 70s, you can enjoy walks from El Bolsón up into the stunning and  well-preserved forest environment where 400 year old coihue and 1000 year old alcerce trees still stand. Follow the trails that wind towards grand waterfalls or alongside trout-filled rivers brimming with crisp blue water, fed by glaciers beyond the snow line.

 

 

Plan on staying a few days, but if you only have one day, walk up to Cerro Piltriquitrón via the Bosque de Tallado, where a tree sculpture park stands on a slope once ravaged by a forest fire. Local artists decided to turn the remaining trunks into highly individual pieces—the giant hand is my personal favourite. A little further up is the Club Andino refugio (mountain hut), at the base of Cerro Piltiquitrón where you can stay overnight for a small fee. The view from up here is spectacular: Lago Puelo dominates the immediate landscape, while El Bolsón and the snowy peaks of Chile unfold in the distance. One glimpse of the intoxicating beauty, coupled with the pure mountain air, will leave you reeling and you may even resolve to book a tandem paragliding flight over the valley from the jump-off point just below you.

 

 

High altitude adventures aside, a more placid pleasure comes with discovering that the refugio managers are also accomplished brewers and bread makers. Up here they bake bread every day in little wood ovens. This home-baked treat is perfect for sandwiches, ideally washed down with a crisp homemade beer. For an experience of a lifetime walk up to Canyon Azul and stay in what must surely rank among the best refugios in Argentina. Rickety swing bridges set amid remote and unspoiled scenery, coupled with the chance to see modern-day gauchos on horseback, are part of the rustic, but relaxing, experience.

 

 

Fear not if mountains are not your thing, for Bolsón has another gem in its bag—Jauja. Right in the heart of Bolsón, just a stone’s throw from the market and tourist information centre, Jauja is a heladeria (ice cream parlour) unparalleled in South America. Over 70 flavours of ice cream are made on the premises, and perhaps as important is that its doors remain open during the siesta period. Jauja prides itself on the quality of its organic ingredients, most of which are sourced locally with the exception of the organic sugar, which comes from the Misiones region. Try the distinctly Argentinian Yerba Mate (tea) flavour,  or the fabulous calafate (blueberry) made with organic sheep milk from the local chakra (farm). With all the flavors glistening in their steel containers, you may find it hard to choose which to try first. Apparently others have had difficulty deciding too; you can get your treats to go in insulated tubs.

 

 

The craft fair takes place three times a week just behind the tourist information centre. It’s well worth a look even if you don’t intend to buy. Wood-based crafts dominate the market, but you can also find exquisite silverwork, knives and woolen scarves, in addition to hand made clothes. The daring can purchase a bag of morels (edible fungi) gathered from the nearby forest or settle for yet more home brewed beer.

 

 

Stunning scenery, lively markets, and the best ice cream in South America add to the allure of this already-attractive destination. But this place offers more than just things to see and do. On the road towards town a modest sign declares, “La vida vale más del oro.” Life is worth more than gold. The message is telling: beyond activities and attractions, it is the laid-back atmosphere of the town that is the most appealing.



Did you like this article? Then you'll like these: Cafayate's Bodegas in 2 days, San Telmo, Mountain Biking and Tea in the Andes, My Cow Boy Fantasy and the Last Vestiges of Frontier Life, Museo de la Pasión Boquense, Malbec Wine, Gay Buenos Aires, Carne Argentino, Famous Resident Of Recoleta: Jorge Luis Borges and Sierra de la Ventana.


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