After a 20 hour, overnight bus-ride from Buenos Aires, I arrived in Bariloche disheveled and in need of a shower. The journey itself, with Viabariloche, wasn't so bad. It included meals (Milanesas, coffee, rice, jelly, alfajores) and a comfy "cama" seat, but my legs felt like those of an astronaut returning to earth after I finally got off the bus.
I made my way up a steep road called Qualgia, past the Kurt Gödel college and to my hostel, La Justina. The staff there were friendly, the place was clean and I would recommend it. The breakfast is quite basic, being just jam, bread and coffee but it was fine I suppose.
After checking in and freshening up, I asked about a reasonably short hike I could do to pass the afternoon and was advised to try Cerro Otto.
This was my first real glimpse of the beauty of Bariloche and it really made me feel that the bus ride had been worth it. To reach the trailhead you can follow the road along Avenida Los Pioneros. When you come to a service station, take a left from the main road and you should see a sign for Cerro Otto and Refugio Bergoff. It's a pretty easy hike (although being the first one in some time, my legs were in pain by the end) and took about 3 hours on the way up. I stopped for a beer and tostada at Refugio Bergoff and enjoyed it along with a nice view of the lake. It really is breathtaking as far as introductions to Bariloche go.
I continued the trek to the top, but didn't want to pay the $250 pesos entrance fee just to get to the restaurant area as I was on a budget. I felt the view I had was already pretty great, although I've since read the trail behind is great too, so it depends on if you think it is worth it and your budget.
This is a 60km circuit around Lago Moreno Este. To do it I decided to rent a bike for $390pesos for the day. The bike rental company can be reached by bus #20. It's a beautiful circuit that will take you past Colonia Suiz, Hotel Llao Llao and some awesome viewpoints in between. It can a bit tough in the hilly parts (I have to confess to getting off and walking up a few of them) and although it can be done in 4hrs I would recommend a bit longer so you can really enjoy it and not be worrying about getting the bike back before 18.30.
This a good activity either for after the chico circuit or just a semi-lazy rest day. I went to Playa Bonita to rest my poor legs, then took bus 20 to Campanero and hiked the short 30min slope with a German I met on the bus. It would be nice to be there for sunset too. Despite the relative lack of effort compared to the other hikes in Bariloche, the viewpoint does not disappoint in the slightest.
Cerro Catedral to Refugio Frey
I took the number 55 bus from Avenida Las Pioneros, where I was staying at the time. The bus is only every 2 hours out there, but I think every hour from Centro. Check the site mibus.com.ar for up-to-date timetables. Also note that the last bus returning is around 7pm, so keep that in mind if you plan to do a dayhike. The bus will drop you off at the large Cerro Catedral car park, where things are set up for skiing in the winter. From there, look for the sign saying "Refugio Frey" and the wooden backpacker, which marks the trailhead.
Stopping at Refugio Frey for the night would have been great I think. I imagine the stars there would be fantastic, however I only did the day hike.
The hike itself is pretty easy and I was there and back within around 6 hours. The view at the lake near the Refugio is stunning and also the shimmering lake Gutirriez in the afternoon sun during the return journey.
Bring food and water because buying it in the cafes/restaurants near the base is expensive.
I did this with a tour company for around 1000pesos. To be honest, I wish I had rented a car and did it alone, or found some other people interested in sharing a rental. The company accidentally put me on the Spanish tour instead of English, so I was limited to what my crappy Spanish skills could glean from the commentary. Nevertheless, the views of the lakes were great, and it was a very lazy day being ferried around on a bus to counteract the previous days of physical activity. I got to spend some time wandering around the beautiful San Martin de los Andes. It felt like a less touristy version of Bariloche and was really lovely.
Be sure to try the chocolate at Rapa Nui in the town centre. Having already sampled this (exensively) in Buenos Aires, I was familiar with its delights, but this was the first time I had tried "Fra Nui", the rasberries (framboises) coated in white and milk chocolate. Delicious. There are plenty of beers serving German beers, restaurants with feyre like Fondue, so you can pretend you in the Swiss Alps without trying too hard.