Altitude: 893 meters/2,930 feet, Populaiton: 130,000, Telephone Code: 02944)
Visitors to Bariloche can be excused for a little bit of confusion. Did their flight from Buenos Aires somehow get turned around, depositing them in the Bavarian Alps instead of the Andean border region between Argentina and Chile? The houses and buildings have sharply sloping roofs and the gingerbread-house look so typical of Switzerland. The streets are clean and several chocolate stores vie for attention on the main street. Those that visit in winter will see people toting skis and snowboards. It's as if a Swiss mountain city had been uprooted brick by brick and reconstructed in the Andes.
The city of San Carlos de Bariloche was settled in the late 1800â€™s by Austrians and Germans looking for economic opportunity in Argentina, which welcomed thousands of Europeans at the time. Naturally, these immigrants sought out a countryside that reminded them of their Alpine home, and they found it in a fertile, breathtakingly beautiful valley nestled in the Andes.
They were not the first ones in the area, however. The rugged, formidable Andes were home to various native groups for centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. The Mapuche Indians of Central Chileâ€”also known as the Araucaniansâ€”fought off all attempts at Spanish domination for centuries before they finally signed treaties in the 1880's. The area, known to them as Vuriloche, or "people behind the mountain," was the site of a strategic pass through the nearly impassible mountains. The Araucanians kept the pass secret from Europeans for years.
Today, the city is a world-famous travel destination, offering activities year-round. The skiing is top-notch at Cerro Catedral, probably South Americaâ€™s largest ski resort, and the city itself is located within the borders of Nahuel Huapi National Park, which is known for world class hiking, wildlife and lakes. The altitude in the park ranges from 700 to 3000 meters. This makes it one of the most diverse regions in the world: the park is home to both rain forests and glaciers. The majestic Tronador mountain towers over the valley. It's name means "Thunderer" because of the frequent avalanches that rumble down its glacial slopes.
Visitors to Bariloche will want to visit some areas of the park, such as the Arrayanes forest, which boasts trees that are hundreds of years old, or the majestic CĂˇntaros waterfall. Once youâ€™ve had your fill of nature, take a stroll down Mitre Street, where you can shop for some of Barilocheâ€™s famous chocolate. Try a typical ramita (little branch)â€”a treat that looks like a branch broken off a chocolate tree.
Bariloche is part of the spectacular lakes crossing to Chile. The crossing takes visitors from Bariloche to Puerto Montt, Chile. The crossing usually takes two to three days and involves a combination of buses and boats. The scenery is fantastic: breathtaking mountains, pristine lakes and pristine pine forests abound. The lucky visitor may even catch a glimpse of the rare Andean condor.