Below follows our trip report on Bariloche:
Not so lucky to get away with taking our luggage as "carry on" - the check-in lady made us weigh it and BAM! 3 times the weight limit. I still managed to fake shock and surprise at the bag's weight though! But all went well with the flight - in fact, it left 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time, so can't say anything bad about Aerolineas Argentinas yet. Arrived at the airport to discover very few taxis waiting...20 minutes later we teamed up with a retired Israeli couple and shared a taxi to town for AR$110 between the four of us.
Arrived at our hotel - Cacique Incayal Lake Hotel - with a lake view room on level 1 (reception is level 5) which means we can walk out onto the terrace which borders the lake. We paid a little extra for a "lake view" room but I suspect the ground level room was allocated in response to our request for a special room on our 1st year wedding anniversary. The hotel is on the edge of town, but walking distance (about 2km to the centre) and it's fabulous. Breakfast is a comprehensive enough buffet and wi-fi is free, although not the fastest in the world (in fact, we have had trouble at times logging on). Staff are very friendly and helpful. The hotel was packed with Americans though (with apologies to all non-loud American travellers). The only real negative so far was the 30 pesos room service charge for bringing down a corkscrew to the room for us to open a bottle of red wine we bought in El Calafate. In hindsight, I should have sent the guy back without having used the corkscrew and told them I won't be paying for it! It's only US$3, but the principle... Still, overall, a great hotel and would highly recommend it despite the AR$1,000 per night rate for the room (including 21% tax).
We had dinner at El Boliche de Alberto and I was impressed with the fact that the chef was the one to come and take your food orders (the waitress took drink orders). Had a proper Argentinean steak (again) and it was fantastic. Also went with the local melted cheese dish (with tomato and onions) - great call! Afterwards went to the Antares Brewery who had a fantastic variety of beer. Loved it.
Cycling the Circuito Chico. Started off a bit late, around midday, after renting bicycles in town at 520 Moreno Street. What a tough cycle it was! 62km in total and having stopped at Cerveceria Blest at km 10 (no house numbers along the lake, everything measured in km distance from town) for another round of fine lagers wasn't the best idea with 52km to go! Would thoroughly recommend a stop there though for anyone willing to take a 10km taxi ride from town. Be warned that there are no cycle paths - the side of the road is where the white line ends (where there is one) and clearly some drivers consider the cycle track to be the bumpy gravel footpath alongside the tar road. Road is mostly flat all the way to Lao Lao (national park) where the hills kick in (we had to walk up a few, instead of cycling all the way). My advice would be to rent a bike near the circle route of Circuito Chico itself, rather than trying to cycle all the way from town). That would be around 20km only, with some stunning views. The best stop was Punto Panoramico (Mirador & Bar) (details on Tripadvisor) for some great views and even better food and service. No really, it's the best service (attention to the customers) we have had so far and we would strongly recommend you go there even if you don't cycle. Got back to town around 7.30pm, just in time to drop off the bikes before the cycle rental shop closes at 8pm. Took it easy for the rest of the evening (we were even too tired and sore to go out to town) - but the pain was absolutely worth it and we had a fantastic day!
Decided on Turisur's Puerto Blest sailing tour. Initially intended to do the Isla Victoria sailing tour, but the friendly chap at the hotel's front desk recommended Puerto Blest as it's the same price with more to see, and no regrets! If I remember right, the price was AR$80 pp deposit and AR$320 pp for the tour (although I suspect the hotel bagged the AR$80) so you might want to try booking direct. Included a bus transfer from our hotel at 08:30 (there is a later sailing with an 11:30 pick-up from your hotel) and got us to the port at km 20 at the entrance to the Lao Lao reserve / park (here we paid an extra AR$90 pp for taxes and entry to the park) for a 10:00 sailing to Puerto Blest. Pretty views across the beautiful lake. From there we had an option to pay an extra AR$120 pp for a sailing to Puero Allegre (which many fellow travellers took to cross into Chili). Another pretty lake with some stunning views. We arrived at the border station and had 5 minutes after disembarking to wonder around (while luggage for the travellers to Chili were being offloaded) before the return sailing departed. On the journey back we met a very friendly couple from Mendoza and travelled and hiked with them for the rest of the trip. Back at Puerto Blest we decided not to hang around for lunch but ordered take-away food at the restaurant. The standard programme then departed at 14:30 to another point in the lake, only 5 minutes away by boat, but we set off earlier by foot for a fantastic walk through the ancient forest (some of the tall, indigenous trees reach up to 3,000 years!) to the point where the boat would later drop off the other travellers. The walk took us only 30 minutes with plenty of picture spots along the way. From here we walked up the well-built wooden steps all the way to the waterfall (which was more of a rapid than a waterfall) - stunning! Further up we reached the higher lake (more breath-taking views) where we had our lunch, and completed the (small) circular route to one of the oldest indigenous trees in the area. Very impressive. The catamaran departed again at 16:00 to drop us off at the port near Lao-Lao, where the bus collected us for our return journey. We asked to be dropped off at Cerro Otto (which we confused with Cerro Campanario!), thinking it would close at 18:00. Instead, because of national elections the next day, and despite the 18:00 official closing time, it closed at 17:30. So we missed it. Could have waited for the hourly bus (included if you purchase a ticket for the teleferique, or cable car, which I think was around AR$100 pp for a return trip) which departs every hour at 15 minutes past the hour, but we decided to be adventurous (or stupid, not sure) and hitch-hiked back). As it happened, the same chap who (on the other side of the glass at the cable car station) waived his arms frantically to show that it was closed, was the one who gave us a lift back into town. Kind of him. Like almost all the people we've met so far, to be honest! After a brief rest and a shower we met up with the couple from Mendoza again and they took us to a wonderful gem of a restaurant, very close to our hotel, near the obelisk, called El Origen, run by a very friendly and helpful brother and sister. Looks nothing special from the outside (the restaurant, not the bar staff!) but once you take the steps down into the restaurant you find yourself in a large, cosy restaurant / bar area with stunning views by the glass windows over the lake. Highly recommended and very reasonably priced! Anyway, there we discovered the social craft of "mate", which for those who don't know already, is a herbal fusion. Herbs are poured into a cup, a little sugar is added (the leaves have a slightly bitter taste) and hot (not boiling!) water is added. The metal straw thingy (it has a name, I forget) is inserted and you pass the cup to the guest on your right who finishes drink slowly. Once finished, water is added by the drinker, and passed to the next person. More herbs are added for every second or third passing of the cup, and more sugar is added as necessary. A very social experience, rude to decline, and after you've had 2 or 3 cups and had your fill, you simply say "gracias" after finishing the last, which means you're done with "mate" for the evening (until you enter the game again, of course!).
Election day the next day had a bizarre implication - no alcohol sold in any of the bars or clubs. Disaster on a Saturday night in Bariloche! However, we still had a bottle of champagne in our room and the four of us went back to the hotel's lobby area (I said lobby area, not room, for those of you who had any crazy ideas!) to finish the champagne (a gift from the hotel, we think, for our wedding anniversary) as well as make use of the 2 drink voucher we still hadn't spent. I should have added at my description of the hotel that the bar area, "games" area and pool area (with gym) are fantastic. We spent the night there and it wasn't too hard to convince the bar staff that we would not be voting the next day, so the prohibition was temporarily suspended! We talked, drank and shared experiences well past midnight, and are now friends on Facebook. By the way, the reason for the prohibition is not to force the population to stay sober for the compulsory vote the next day (so long as you are within 500km of your voting station!), as I had comically thought, but to prevent distractions for the police across the country who are engrossed with safe-guarding and executing the election activities the next day.
Had a lie-in with a late check-out requested, as we were helpfully told by the same teleferique operator that due to the elections, the lift wouldn't open at the usual 10:00, but 12:30 the next day. It was 13:00 in fact, and we made it up Cerro Ottoa and down again, both ways by cable car instead of hiking as we would have liked, but was secretly thankful for the opportunity to rest a little. Beautiful views from the top (different to those we saw cycling the Circuito Chico, the latter which I expect would be quite similar to the views from Cerro Campanario) and highly recommended - thanks to ThursdaysD for reiterating the value of adding the cable car to our trip. We made it back to El Origen for a final lunch before making our way to the airport for our departure to Salta. Again, not lucky enough to take luggage as "carry on" but the flights went perfectly smoothly (apart from a slightly hairy but exciting landing in Buenos Aires) and the switch at Buenos Aires for Salta proved uneventful (even discovered another bar who allowed us to have a quick alcoholic beverage - I'm beginning to sound like an alcoholic, I know, but we're on holiday after all!) before the flight to Salta. Which you can read about more in our next trip report!
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Below follows our trip report on Bariloche: