Five days in Puerto Madryn left me completely penguined-out, so I then took the bus to Bariloche, which took 14 hours, most of them overnight.
Bariloche promised mountains and lakes. They call it the Switzerland of Argentina (I’m not sure who ‘they’ are; possible the same people who call Buenos Aires the Paris of South America).
They may have been talking about the prices of course; the Switzerland of Argentina is expensive. However Bariloche does indeed have lakes and mountains (in winter it is a ski resort) and also a good few chocolatiers. Apart from the language you could easily mistake it for Switzerland.
There’s lots of stuff to do, depending on the level of activity you enjoy. If you’re interested in more extreme sports there are plenty of agencies in town offering paragliding, kayaking and an array of other stuff. If, like me, you’re happy enough walking in the mountains, taking in the scenery, breathing clean air and enjoying the odd little boat trip, then you can easily manage that all by yourself.
The biggest challenge I faced was trying to track down the transport card necessary to use the bus. (you can’t pay cash) Actually finding the card only took me about an hour, the hardest part was finding somewhere I could go to put credit on it (no of course you can’t charge the card in the same place as you buy it). However once I’d got that up and running the buses were pretty straightforward to navigate and you can travel about to nearby lakes and mountains without too many problems.
My favourite bus ride was the number 20. This takes you to Hotel Llao Llao, where you can get boat trips on the lake. The trip I took stopped off first at a small island in the lake renown for its orange trees (in english these are called Chilean Myrtle).
Then we went on to the bigger island of Victoria where you can walk through the forest or simply lie on the beach.
Also on the 20 bus route is the Cerro Campanario ski lift; for 150 pesos (US$10) you can go up and see some amazing views, though there’s not much else to do when you get there and it gets a bit crowded.
There are lots of hiking opportunities around Bariloche, although many of the trails are quite long. You don’t have to do the whole trail of course, but I hate turning round and going the same way back; I like a circular walk. The tourist office have maps.
I spent five days in Bariloche, which felt about right. There were plenty of things left to do but I did feel I’d seen and done a lot in the time too.
My next stop, and the final one for me in Patagonia, will be El Calafate; this is a remote place situated near to a huge glacier. It involves a 30-hour plus bus journey on mostly unmade, bumpy roads (although they say the views are stunning).
Except I wimped out and bought a plane ticket. Plane tickets are not cheap (there are only a few planes making the journey so they can charge what they like and discounts are rare; they can usually fill them with tour groups anyway) but then the bus was around £100/US$140 one way anyway, so however you travel it’s not cheap. Time to cash in some air miles, methinks.