Last month, Argentina waived the $160 reciprocity fee it had previously required US citizens to pay before entering their country. According to the Argentine Embassy, this decision was made “in order to strengthen the relationship between Argentina and the United States of America.” Apparently the fee suspension is temporary, but this is exciting news for American visitors.
So what sparked this decision?
Obama’s recent visit to Argentina.
Here’s the quick and dirty: Obama met up with Macri. He expressed his approval over Argentina’s new leadership, he declassified some US files possibly shedding light on intel we had during the “dirty war,” and lastly, he raved on Facebook about a little place in Patagonia known as Bariloche.
Bariloche is my favorite spot in all of Argentina. I lived in this scenic patagonia paradise for an entire month simply because I couldn’t peel myself away. And if the pristine nature and outdoor activities weren’t already enough, Bariloche takes it one step further with it’s famous chocolate, craft beer and steak.
Circuito Chico is a popular bike loop just under 30km in distance. It’s a hilly 3-4 hour ride, but there are many opportunities to catch your breath at the viewpoints along the way (Rent bikes @ Circuito Chico Bikes, Km 18).
Bariloche is a hiker’s paradise. The most popular long hike is Refugio Frey (24km roundtrip, about 7-8 hours). I did a one-day hike to Frey, but many hikers opt to spend a night or two in the refugio to explore and hike at a more leisurely pace. Lago Escondido and Lago Traful make a nice detour if you want to hop off your bike along the Circuito Chico and hike. They both are stunning, surprisingly private spots optimal for some sunbathing and a little lakeside photosynthesis. Other popular hikes I enjoyed include Cerro Otto, Mirador Lago Gutiérrez (great for picnicing!) and for a complete lake panorama, Cerro Campanario. If you are sore by the time you make it to Campanario, you can pay to ride a chairlift to the top instead.
I would like to consider myself somewhat of an expert on Bariloche. You see, I did a work exchange at Hostel Achalay for a month and was required to learn all the regions’ activities to relay to any intrepid thrill-seekers and curious guests. I can even navigate a Bariloche map from upside down and circle the best happy-hour spots in town and where to go in town if you want to find peanut butter (PB isn’t just sold anywhere in Argentina).
Besides hiking and biking, there is kayaking, fly-fishing, white water rafting, boating, yachting, skiing and snowboarding in the winter… If you want a change of scenery, you can even *gasp*…….leave Bariloche.
There are a handful of weekend and day trips from Bariloche completely worth checking out. For a hippy dippy woodsey experience, Bolson is the go-to spot. This is where yogis and nature enthusiasts who want to be completely removed go to play. The town also hosts a huge farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If you are able to rent a car, drive the Seven Lakes Circuit (Ruta de los Siete Lagos). A fellow traveler and I stopped in Villa Traful for an afternoon before making our way down to San Martin de los Andes. It’s important to mention renting an automatic car is nearly impossible. Do what I did and go with someone who can drive stick.
Bariloche is famous for its chocolate. There are lots of chocolate shops and even a Chocolate Museum to check out in town. Everyone seems to agree that Mamuschka and Rapa Nui are the best of the best. The dulce de leche-filled chocolates and Mamuschka’s dulce de leche brownie are both to die for. And if you’re still not sick of dulce de leche, the ice cream shop Juaja makes a DOUBLE dulce de leche flavor with the creamy sweet caramel swirled in. It’s divine.
Give me a medium rare steak and a glass of red wine and I am a happy, happy camper. The best restaurant in town for steak and asado is Alto el Fuego, hands down. For a more intimate and local experience, go to an asado (an Argentine BBQ, meat is cooked on an Argentine grill called a parilla) at Hostel Achalay. The owner, Pablo makes a mean choripan and always hosts a great crowd of both travelers and locals. Bring a bottle of wine to share. Argentina has cheap, decent bottles of wine for $5-6.
When it comes to beer spots in Bariloche, there is Berlina, Antares, Konna, Bachmann, Kunstmann – the list goes on. These are all good places, but the go-to hotspot in town is Manush. They have a killer buy one get one free happy hour from 6-8pm (8:30pm if you sit at the bar) and again from midnight to 1am. I especially love their Honey Beer (if I remember correctly, they have 7-10 local beers on tap) paired with the Manush Burger. The building is like a big log cabin and has a real cozy feel. There’s a good mix of locals and tourists here.
Other Noteworthy Mentions
If you’re Obama or you’re fancy and rich, stay at Llao Llao. If you’re like me and my friend Pato, go to Llao Llao Hotel and Resort and pretend you’re a guest. Walk through the whole facility acting like you own the place. Bust out your wallet and splurge on a one day spa treatment and sunbathe at any one of the three pools while sipping on a fruity cocktail. If a hot, tan Argentine man with a six pack approaches you, act like you have been staying at the hotel for weeks and make casual conversation just long enough to keep him wondering. Later that evening, when you spot him at the hotel bar, act as cool as a cucumber until he approaches you and then, and only then, go in for the kill.
Okay, okay – that didn’t all really happen. I got a little carried away there for a second.
Did you know Bariloche is often referred to as “Little Switzerland?” The architecutre in the center of town is all Swiss-inspired. You can even have your picture taken with a big, fluffy St. Bernard.
Last but certainly not least, if you like art and are looking for a unique souvenir, pay a visit to the lovely and talented Roxanna at the Localito de Arte in Colonia Suiza. I have never seen anything like her handmade Frida dolls before. If these lil’ puppies were sold at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City, they would be backordered for months.