Tag Archives: Bariloche

Chocolates from Bariloche

Patagonia’s Tastiest Products

I spent the Christmas holiday in the Patagonia Lake District, about a 20-hour drive south of Buenos Aires. It was the perfect time to be in the area, as the relative cold and snow-capped surrounding mountains gave the place the wintry, festive feel I am used to around Christmas, though it was still early summer. Another major reason I was in my typical holiday spirit was thanks to the rich regional goodies, specifically chocolates.

Some of the country’s finest artesenal chocolates, beers and jams are produced in Patagonian Lake District towns, and many are available only there. I was sure to get my fill while in town, and also stock up on some to bring back home. Below is some of the edible best of Patagonia.

part 1: Chocolate

Bariloche, the “Argentine Swiss Alps” is heaven for a chocolate lover. Numerous factories in town churn out truffles, chocolate bars, and chocolate candies sell them at their own local stores, which, with the smell of fresh chocolate wafting out, I found impossible to pass without entering. All brands sell their version of chocolate en rama, a popular and Bariloche-unique form chocolate is crafted into that somewhat resembles a tree trunk or tight cluster of small branches.

Rapa Nui Chocolate en rama

Rapa Nui Chocolate en rama, by Karina for TKGO

My personal artesenal chocolate stores—and I took it upon myself to try the majority of them—were Rapa Nui, Chocolates del Turista (in my opinion it has the best “chocolate en rama”) and Mamuschka. Take a self-guided tour and pop in and out of chocolate stores for free samples.

Mamuschka

Mamuschka, by Karina for TKGO

How I wish I still had one piece of chocolate en rama, or rather the willpower to have saved one. Instead, I’ll divert my focus into putting together three more posts about Patagonia’s tastiest products.

Karina for TKGO

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Advice for Traveling by Bus, Ferry, Plane in Argentina

A few days after getting back from Punta del Diablo, I turned around and headed south to spend Christmas week in Patagonia’s Lake District. I definitely was excited for both trips, but I didn’t really know what to expect, especially regarding transportation logistics. I had my fingers crossed tickets, buses, connections and ferries would work out.

I felt more uncertain than I usually do when traveling because when researching for both vacations, I had some difficulty finding helpful (English-language) planning information online. There was a forum posting here, a word of advice from a friend there, and brief guidebook entry somewhere, as well as a smattering of resources in Spanish. The last time I had planned foreign travels myself was while studying abroad in Barcelona. Anyone who has planned a European jaunt before knows it is quite the opposite for that continent: The amount of informative literature online and off nears overwhelming.

Bus route out of the Retiro station, by Karina for TKGO

Overall, the traveling involved in both trips went smoothly, but there was some bumbling and figuring out on the fly. (Side note: I had a phenomenal time in both places.) I decided to take my lessons learned and newfound knowledge about Argentine buses and ferries to supplement the, what I found to be, lean information online. Below are some insights regarding transportation and traveling in South America, specifically in Argentina and Uruguay. It is quite detailed and long, but only because I’m trying to help out planning-zealous travelers to come!

By Bus

Basics: Bus travel is one of the most common modes of transportation in South America. People load on to double-deckers with generously reclining seats and a helpful attendant serving up meals and popping in movies for long treks across Argentina and to neighboring countries. Spending 20 hours on a bus is not considered loco; in fact my bus from Buenos Aires to Bariloche took 25. The lengthy hauls are surprisingly tolerable, considering most passengers spend at least half the time sleeping. Plus, your reward for throwing an entire day into traveling is sweeping views of the varied, gorgeous Argentine landscape. Many also find it worth it because rides are cheaper than flights. (To get an idea, our Bariloche buses were about AR$450 each way.)

Tickets: Because bus travel is so widespread in Argentina, travelers can have their pick of a number of lines. I recommend researching ticket prices online and then buying in person at one of the line’s many puntos de venta or ticket windows scattered about the city. I had a friend who rode Via Bariloche and was pleased with it, so I ended up opting for that line to and from Bariloche, as well as for buses to/from El Bolson and a day trip to Villa la Angostura. (To and from Bariloche, though, we were on El Valle buses, which is part of the Via Bariloche company.) One of the hostel managers at La Camorra in El Bolson (great hostel, by the way, along with Penthouse 1004 in Bariloche) raved about Crucero del Norte saying it is slightly more expensive, but the seats are more comfortable and the service is excellent.

Why buy in person? Online commerce is not nearly as mainstream in Argentine as it is in the U.S., and some bus sites reject international credit cards or sometimes, simply just don’t work. My roommate and I fought with the Via Bariloche site for a solid few hours before giving up and finding out we could buy tickets in person two blocks from our apartment. You also can interact with an agent in-person, and if you’re like me, can allay your uncertainty about how it all works by asking un montón of questions. Plus, they’ll print your tickets for you right there.

El Valle Semi-Camas

El Valle bus, second level, by Karina for TKGO

When buying tickets, you also will choose your type of seat and number. “Semi-cama” is the cheapest option, and the seats are the equivalent of riding coach; they are the smallest and recline the least. The majority of the bus seats are semi-camas, and they usually comprise the second level. Here is a detailed breakdown of the types of bus seat “comfort categories.” While getting as close to bed status as possible on a bus is nice, the comfortable seats are usually located right by the bathroom.

Numbers 1-4 (semi-camas) are the prime second-level front seats and thus have the best views.

Buenos Aires Bus Station: The Omnibus station is located in Retiro, one of the rougher parts of the city, and butts up to La Boca. If you take the Subte “C” (the blue line) to the Retiro stop, you will have to walk a couple of blocks to arrive at the bus station. Keep that all in mind when packing; you will be moving through crowds, and pickpockets are prowling.

Now, about actually catching your bus. Aim to arrive at the station 30-40 minutes ahead, so you will, at the very least, have 20 minutes to figure things out. (The station has about one help desk in the whole place.) Your ticket will say “Plataforma,” or some abbreviation of that word, with numbers below it — for example, 25-35. What that means is that at about ten minutes prior to your departure time, your bus will pull into a spot numbered between 25 and 35. The slot number also should be announced and go on a board, but best to watch out for yourself and keep a lookout. Bus departures are pretty punctual, so you want to get out to it and on quickly.

Montevideo Tres Cruces Station: If you are taking a bus to an Uruguayan beach town, there is a good chance it’ll be from the Montevideo hub, Tres Cruces. It’s smaller, nicer and more manageable than Retiro, but from what I was led to believe, it is impossible to purchase tickets ahead of time. I believe you can reserve seats, though, which is advisable since agents could stick you with standing-room tickets if you’re one of the last to buy. Check the terminal’s site for all lines’ schedules and destinations.

Other advice/details: Pack like you would for a long flight. Bring snacks, books, your charged iPod, earplugs and an eye mask (if you want to get serious).

If you’re going a distance, you’ll most likely be making a lot of stops, so be prepared for people getting on and off the bus.

From the bus, three hours north of Bariloche, by Karina for TKGO

by ferry

Basics: To travel between Uruguay and Buenos Aires, most people take a Buquebus ferry. I personally could do with the name being less confusing, but when people talk about Buquebus, it is a ferry, as actual bus transport would be difficult across a body of water. The main Buquebus station is a swank little place in Puerto Madero, and checking in, boarding, etc. functions a lot like it would at an airport. Arrive early to give yourself time to check in, get through security and customs and grab a nice aisle seat (they’re not assigned) on the ferry.

Tickets: Buquebus has deals for fares exclusively on their site, so buy tickets online rather than in person. Prepare to deal with a frustrating, finicky site, however, that functions only when it wants to. I also have heard the English-language version of the site is incomplete and won’t allow you to purchase online, so stick to Spanish or find an hispanohablante friend to help.

I say go for the cheapest tickets available, since the rides are never too long and the first class section and perks didn’t seem to be all that special.

Other details/advice: Don’t forget your passport! The rides are only a couple of hours maximum, and my friends and I have found it surprisingly easy to forget you are traveling to a different country, which obviously requires a passport. Unrelated: Buquebus also operates some planes and buses.

Ferries do have little stations selling sandwiches, drinks and some hot food; I thought the selection to be pretty decent. Also, do some shopping! The Buquebus station has great duty-free shops if you’re looking to load up on nice makeup, perfumes and alcohol. The ferries also have duty-free shops.

Runway or road to Bariloche? By Karina for TKGO

Runway or road to Bariloche? By Karina for TKGO

 

By Plane

Tickets: I have yet to board a plane since landing in Ezeiza from the U.S., but I know how I am going to fly when I do, thanks to A Gringo in Buenos Aires. As this article explains, the government subsidizes Argentine airline flights for citizens. Identical plane tickets will cost about 50 percent less for an Argentine resident than a foreigner, and that’s more than a negligible difference. To keep non-citizens from taking advantage of the subsidies, most Argentine airlines require flyers to give their Document Nacional de Identidad (DNI, which is like an Argentina social security number) when purchasing tickets. Except, apparently, LAN Argentina does not require DNI to purchase a ticket online. The employees verify DNI only when customers check in or check bags at the airport. Therefore, check in online, carry only hand luggage, and you’re as good as Argentine. I have a friend who traveled this way, no problem, a couple of months ago.

…And a word on hostels

View from Penthouse 1004 in Bariloche

View from Penthouse 1004 in Bariloche, by Karina for TKGO

Money: Bring LOTS of cash. ATMs are few and far between in small towns — in fact, Punta del Diablo had none — and every hostel I stayed in during my trip south only accepted cash.

Similarly, the ATM at the Buquebus station in Montevideo was not working, and apparently never is. Most people will take Argentine pesos for Uruguayan ones, but they have the freedom to quote you at whatever exchange rate they want, which is usually somewhere between 4-5 UR for 1 AR.

Food: Most hostels include a free breakfast, and I can almost guarantee it’s a sliced baguette, some spreads (dulce de leche, jam and butter) and coffee. I will say the coffee is usually very good, but if you’re looking for a hearty breakfast, prepare to buy or bring your own food. Not all offer kitchen access, so check beforehand if you think that’s something you might want.

Research: Like anywhere, hostels run the gamut. Helpful English-language hostel sites with reviews include Hostelworld, Hostels Club, Hostelz and Hostel Bookers. Check out reviews both good and bad on a number of sites to get a well-rounded perspective.

In regards to researching and planning activities, do not expect the hostel staff to function as concierges, too. They’re probably serving a number of roles already, and you, I, anyone — we’re not paying enough to expect them to be ready to make us an itinerary. Sure, ask them for advice and recommendations, but you will have to figure things out independently, too. And sometimes it is for the best, since they might refer you to friends with high prices or less-stellar companies just for the kickbacks.

Lunch in the yard at La Camorra hostel in El Bolsón, by Karina for TKGO

 

I hope all this information helps! Feel free to leave any additional tips or insights you have in the comments section.

Karina for TKGO

Double Take: Two Weekends in Bariloche

The timeless questions: Do I travel with friends or family? With natives or tourists? Finally, an answer.

While it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, Argentina is in the dead of winter — making Bariloche one of the hottest tourist destinations. Think of Bariloche as the Colorado of Argentina: Whether you go to ski in the winter or hike in the summer, it’s an active place loved by the Argentinean people for its natural beauty (and heavy chocolate production). I visited in the summer on two separate weekend jaunts, once with my family and once with a huge group of study abroad students. So which group offered the best trip? I wouldn’t trade one for the other.

Weekend #1: American family vacation

With my two parents and grandmother, I expected a touristy trip. Private tour guides are a dime a dozen, and they’ll haul you to chocolate shops galore and all the spots off the highway with the great views. This highway pit stop provided a great vantage point of our posh hotel: the Llau Llau.

The Llau Llau is the creme de la creme of Argentine hotels. When I told my co-workers at Radio Jai (where I translated articles for the web site) that I was going, their jaws dropped. I had to promise to post photos to Facebook so they could see after I’d left Buenos Aires. Lucky for Americans, the exchange rate makes it affordable. As a consequence, only very wealthy Argentineans vacation there, and most of the guests are European. Our suite had three rooms (living room, bedroom, bath) and a porch. Gran and I had a little too much fun with this photo shoot of the room…

We took a chairlift to the summit of a nearby mountain for a spectacular view of the city of Bariloche and the surrounding area…

…and stopped in the city of Bariloche, far from the Llau Llau, where we toured a chocolate shop that made fudge and candies through a clear window for observers. For these two activities, we found four was the perfect number, and 3:1 (of English speakers to Spanish speakers in our group) was the perfect ratio.

Weekend #2: Group travel on an Argentine itinerary

Because it was built for tourism, Bariloche is surprisingly accessible to large groups, assuming you do some planning ahead of time. Still, I had doubts about how much you can get from a place when the entire study abroad program crashes for a weekend, even during the summer low season. When this group ended up touring the same chocolate shop and mounting the same chairlifts, I wished I was with my English-only family again. But no fear — when the director of our COPA study abroad program and Buenos Aires native Mario Cantarini plans the trip with his Argentine co-workers, he does it the way any other Argentinean tourist might. Unlike the luxurious Llau Llau weekend, we spent our days hiking up waterfalls…

…swimming between huge rock formations near the highway…

…and traveling in huge coach buses. While unusually upscale compared to buses in the rest of South America, coach buses are common in Bariloche because of its heavy European and American visitor traffic. Unfortunately, these luxurious things also get stuck easily when landslides block the only road (below). Our porteño city slicker guides laughed and (tried to) help the Bariloche-native bus driver tow the bus out of the mud.

The work was worth the pain. On the other side of the “construction” (read: landslide debris) was Cerro Lopez, a steep hill with terrain that varies from soil to boulders to snow. The hike is between two and three hours, but offers rewarding views every step of the way.

After reaching the little pink house — our rest stop — we paused for lunch and watched the hawks soar overhead as we shared a mate, a traditional Argentine tea-like beverage.

Sometimes you want to vacation like a local, and sometimes you just want to be a tourist with your family. Regardless of your mood, good company — in a group of any size — will guarantee a great trip.

Tara for TKGO