While researching South American destinations we learned that there was a German-influenced town in Argentina full of chocolate shops and craft breweries. This town is called Bariloche, and naturally we had to add it to our itinerary.
After our visit to San Pedro de Atacama we flew south to Puerto Montt, Chile, the departure point for our four day ferry ride through the Patagonian Fjords to Puerto Natales. But first, we’d cross over into Argentina for a few days to visit Bariloche.
To get from Puerto Montt to Bariloche there are a few options. One tour company offers a 12-hour journey via a combination of buses and lake ferries for about $300 per person. For a fraction of that cost it is possible to take a bus, a 7 hour journey. A third option is to rent a car and drive. Since we like to travel at our own pace that is the option we selected.
Renting a car in Chile to drive into Argentina is not completely straightforward since it requires extra paperwork for a crossing permit. Many rental companies don’t want to deal with the hassle so they don’t allow it. After some research we found out that Europcar allows cross-border rentals so we booked a car with them at the cost of about $75 per day plus another ~$100 for the crossing permit. To get the permit we were required to send documentation (driver’s license and passport) in advance.
We spent one night in Puerto Montt and picked up our car the next morning, then set off on a drive to Bariloche!
Crossing the Border from Chile to Argentina
The drive to Bariloche is supposed to be scenic, with a landscape of lakes and forests punctuated by towering volcanoes. Sadly it was a bit cloudy during our drive and we didn’t get to see the volcanoes.
After a couple of hours on the road we made it to the first border crossing station. The actual border is at the top of a high pass and the border stations are located at lower elevation several miles on either side of the border.
As we approached the Chilean border station we passed a booth where we were handed a slip of paper. Then we had to park our car and locate the line for immigration. We made our way to the front of the queue in about 20 minutes, where the border officer stamped us out of Chile. Next we had to get into a separate line for customs, where another agent stamped the border crossing permit for the car.
After getting our two stamps we got back into our car and drove to a second booth where we turned in our stamped paper.
After clearing the Chile border crossing we drove up into the mountain, over the pass, and down into Argentina where we had to repeat the whole process.
On the reverse trip back into Chile there was a third step; we had to take all of our bags out of the car and put them on tables for customs inspection. An officer opened up a couple of them then waved us on, so we packed everything back into the car and continued on our way.
Compared to the border crossings in Europe the whole process was extremely inefficient and time-consuming. At all of the other land crossings we had done up to that time we were able to stay in our cars and complete the immigration and customs process in a single step. At one point we wondered if visiting Bariloche would be worth all of this hassle!
Bariloche, Land of Chocolate and Beer
Eventually we reached Bariloche, where the clouds had parted and the sun was shining. We admired the town square for a few minutes, and could have paid a few pesos to take a photo with one of several Saint Bernards. The German influence in the area dates back to the middle of the 19th century when thousands of settlers traveled to Chile in the aftermath of German revolutions in 1848-49.
After looking around for a while the kids were ready to get down to the business of getting some chocolate so we moved on to the nearby street lined with shops.
It wasn’t long before we found our first chocolate shop. There were all kinds of chocolates on offer; white, dark, and milk, some with fillings, some molded into various shapes. We bought a variety pack so that we could sample several different kinds.
Later we made our way to Rapanui, a chocolate shop that also offers a wide selection of gelato.
While we ate our ice cream we watched people ice skating on the rink inside the store!
With the kids satisfied (at least temporarily), our next stop was one of the many brewpubs. We decided to try Blest, where we sampled different kinds of beer and enjoyed some delicious burgers and local specialties.
The next day we set out by car on the “Circuito Chico,” a popular 65km driving route west of Bariloche. Our first stop on the circuit was Cerro Campanario, where we took a chairlift to the top of the mountain.
At the top we had a snack at the coffee shop and enjoyed the views of the surrounding lakes and mountains.
Our next stop was San Eduardo chapel, an early 20th century church constructed in the local style with timber and stone.
On the inside we admired the stained glass windows and intricate roof beams.
After some more driving we took a short hike through the forest to the lakefront near Villa Tacul.
The kids changed into their swimsuits and waded into the water. They didn’t make it much further than knee deep though because the water was a bit chilly (not as chilly as that time we went swimming in Bergen, though – I guess we’re getting soft). 🙂
Our final stop on the circuit was Cerveceria Patagonia. Near the entrance we stopped to smell the hops growing in the garden.
We grabbed a couple of pints from the outdoor bar along with a delicious steak sandwich and some fries.
There was a restaurant on site but we preferred to hang out on the lawn behind the building and enjoy the view.
Despite the hassle of getting to Bariloche from Chile we decided that our efforts had been well worth it. Our first taste of Argentina left us wanting more – fortunately we’d be returning to the country after a trip through Chilean Patagonia!