How to Indulge on a Tight Budget in Bariloche, Argentina

The town’s name stands for “the people behind the mountain”, and it is no surprise. Surrounded by the Andes Mountains, Bariloche is a perfect vacation destination year-round. You can go kayaking in the summer, watch the leaves change bright colors in the fall, ski in winter and watch nature flourish in spring.

Bariloche is located inside Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina’s first national park. In native language, Nahuel Huapi is the Island of the Tiger. Yet, instead of being surrounded by sea, Bariloche enjoys an immense, deep-blue lake. Its name? Nahuel Huapi as well. You can see it from every crossing of streets in town center, you can enjoy it by the central bus station and you can spend hours walking by its side, looking at the mountains.

Lake Nahuel Huapi as viewed from Bariloche's city center

Lake Nahuel Huapi as viewed from Bariloche's central bus station

Bariloche is not the cheapest place on Earth, much less if you decide to visit in high season. Restaurants, shops and activities abound at this popular destination. It is the getaway to Patagonia, the vast and diverse southern region of Argentina and Chile, where awe-inspiring views are an everyday adventure.

In Bariloche, the word indulge automatically connects to the word nature. Here are five ways to save money while indulging in natural beauty.


1. Book your lodging in advance, even if it’s a dorm bed

In summer, rates for hostels in Bariloche can go up to 90 pesos, which is roughly $US20. Unlike cities like New York, there aren’t many options “around” the city, as the closest towns in Patagonia are usually two-four hours away. Booking in advance enables you to stay right in the center of town for a cheap price. You can look online for deals and hostel recommendations. Some places, such as hostel Condor de Los Andes, offer discounts for advanced reservations. Hostel chains, such as Hostelling International, offers discounts to members.

Hostel Condor de Los Andes

If you are unsure you would like to stay in a place you have never seen in person, most places enable you to cancel without charge if you notify them a day or two in advance. Make sure to verify your ability to cancel with the hostel before finalizing your booking.


2. Look for the Chocolate Happy Hour

Back in September, Rapa Nui, a seventy two year old chocolate store, offered a delicious Happy Hour. For several hours each day, you could receive two chocolate delicacies for the price of one. For 15 Argentinean pesos (approximately $US4), you could indulge in this entire plate or share it with someone else:


3. Take the free bus to Mount Otto

It’s good to know where Rapa Nui is located for another reason as well. Right by its side, a booth is located. This is the place to sign up for the absolutely free transportation to one of the most beautiful mountain tops in the world. The bus leaves every hour on the hour, yet come early so that you don’t run into a group of tourists.

If there’s no room, you can take a bus for only a few pesos, yet as you wait for the cable car to go up the mountain, waiting behind a large group is no fun. Worse, it can even give you less for your peso while you’re up the mountain. Going up and down the cable car does cost money, yet once you’re there, you can enjoy the views with no extra cost. You will see the lake from two different angles if you visit the two balconies – and it looks different from each angle. You will see all kinds of mountains and you will see the town. This is where the famous photo of the islands in the lake is taken. You can even enjoy a free art exhibition (replicas of art) at the top!

One point of view of Nahuel Huapi Lake from Mount Otto

Another view point of Nahuel Huapi Lake from Mount Otto - it's the same lake!

If you don’t mind splurging, you can get your photo taken with a St. Bernard dog. In the winter, you can slide down the snow or hike through it with special equipment and a guide. Whatever season you come, make sure to go up there when the sky is clear, because the view is spectacular and you won’t want to miss it while you’re finally there. You can sit in a revolving restaurant and allow your jaw to drop to the revolving floor as you get a 180 degree view of all these natural wonders.


4. Enjoy the outdoor art market

When it’s sunny, go out to the town center. You’ll find beautifully old-looking buildings by fancy touristy stores (stay alert for the different shapes of chocolate design on store fronts). Yet, as always in Bariloche, the gem lies outside. Artists exhibit creations they made themselves, offering them for sale. If you’re fortunate, you’ll get to see some of them at work.

Dancers in Bariloche

This artist's hand moved pretty fast as he drew this painting.

The finished product

Make sure to check the central plaza of Civic Center as well. If there’s a festival in town, you just might see dancers right there, outside, free of charge. The central plaza is always a great place to visit on sunny days. Not only can you take a photo with St. Bernard dogs (it’s a Bariloche theme), but the plaza makes for a wonderful view point to see the sun rays dancing on the lake water.


5. Picnic by the lake for a great sunrise or sunset

Watching the sunrise or sunset in Bariloche can be an easy way to get a smile out of yourself. However, these scenarios vary in degrees of color depending on the condition of the clouds. In the Patagonian region, you can never know what the weather will be like. It can be sunny one moment, and an hour later the air might be filled with rain. This happens in all seasons. Therefore, the best thing you can do is pack some breakfast or dinner and sit by the lake, look at the mountains, read or laugh. Buying groceries in a supermarket and sitting by the lake is much cheaper than any restaurant or takeaway. Before you know it, the sun will surprise you with pink and the lake bellow it will glow under the night lights or the rays of the day.

The sun setting above Lake Nahuel Huapi


Have you been to Bariloche? How did you indulge?


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