City of lakes, mountains, and chocolate
Bariloche is blessed with a large lake at its feet and the awesome Andes at its back. Patagonia stretches for many miles south, with coaches and sleeper trains connecting the city to the coast or to adventure-filled destinations such as Esquel and El Calafate. You can even take a boat (and then a bus, boat, bus, boat, then yet one more bus) to Puerto Varas in Chile.
This Argentine gem is a chocoholic’s dream, with top-quality chocolate shops lining the high street. With so much choice, my favourite had to be Rapa Nui, which even has a very chocolatey café with an ice rink in the middle.
But the best hot choc is harder to find…
Been to Buenos Aires? Then maybe you picked up a contactless SUBE card, allowing you easy travel on public transport. The good news is that your card is also valid in Bariloche (the bad news is that I found it a challenge to top it up). The better news is that there’s bus #20 to the forested Llao Llao park (stupendous views), as well as bus #55 to Cerro Catedral, and it’s from here that the hike to the best hot chocolate ever begins.
When you step off of #55 you’ll notice that you’re already high in the mountains. Look for a wooden sign marked ‘FREY’, and you’re on your way.
This trek is supposed to be easy. During warmer months it probably is. But we were told by the friendly national park lady in town that Refugio Frey – the mountain refuge we were aiming for – was closed due to snow. But I was determined to undertake this hike, and so we donned waterproofs and set off.
First there was a path along the edge of mountains and with views of many more. Then the path turned up a forested valley, with a rushing stream below. Then we hit the snowline.
What makes it so good?
Fortunately someone had hiked up here since the most recent snowfall. But it was that challenge of wading through waist-high snow in a remote mountain valley that made the hot chocolate taste so good.
When we arrived at the refuge we thought that the national park lady had been right – it looked closed. But then the door opened and we were beckoned inside. A charming man offered us coffee. ‘Chocolate?’ I enquired. He nodded, smiled, and pointed to a table. Three rugged-looking mountaineers sat at another table and gave us a friendly hola.
We were in a remote refuge with a view of the mountains, we’d forged through the snow having passed others who’d decided to turn around, we had (I like to think) the respect of some random mountaineers. That hot chocolate, though not notably tasty, was still the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had – better, even, than the exquisite beverages I’ve enjoyed in Belgium.
Visit Bariloche as part of this 19- to 21-day Southern Argentina itinerary (for Budget, Mid-range, and Luxury travellers)
I recommend flying to Buenos Aires to first, before taking a low-cost flight to Bariloche.
The coach journey from Buenos Aires is spectacular and takes about 24 hours.