If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I’ve fallen in love with a small town in northern Patagoinia, Argentina called Bariloche. It’s situated on the edge of the dry steppe or grasslands, in between several deep blue lakes and at the foot of rugged snow-capped mountains. I’ve already told you a little of my life here settling into this community and teaching English online. Today, as the snow is finally melting in the highlands, I want to introduce you to the culture of the Cordillera, the spectacular Andes Mountains.

It’s no secret that my favorite pastime is to spend a day hiking a trail through a forest or up on a ridge taking in a great view. This is who I am and I immediately found many kindred spirits and opportunities for adventure all around Bariloche. The people here love to be outside, and they’ve created a culture, and many different sports, to get them out into the mountains throughout the year. If I was a better downhill or backcountry skier, I would have had been exploring the mountains all winter long. But since my feet are my preferred mode of transport, I had to wait until much of the snow melted and the backcountry around Bariloche become more accessible.

Finally, November brought warm sunshine and as spring emerged, I headed out to explore the different mountains, forests and refugios of Bariloche.

A “refugio” is a refuge or shelter built to protect the outdoor adventurist. Historically, many German and Italian immigrants came to Bariloche and they built a system of shelters with interconnecting trails all over these mountains. Many of these historic refuges still stand today (and modern ones have been added too). When the snow level is low, you can trek for days from shelter to shelter- sometimes finding a warm fire, a meal, a bed, or emergency help if needed.

I’ve never lived in a place that had a system of shelters or refuges, so I was anxious to check many of them out!

Mountain Refugios

An inviting deck awaits at Refugio Berghof, just outside of the city center. I’m sure it used to be a trek to get here, but now a road makes it very accessible.

Refugio Roca Negra is a short hike up a steep hill, but the views and artisanal beers are worth it!

Some refugios have been creatively built, like this one aptly named Refugio Piedrita or Refuge of the Rock.

Refugio Emilio Frey is one of the most popular for its rugged mountain scenery and lakeside views

It’s a very steep climb up to Refugio Lopez, but the cute red house up on the peak pulled me upward through the snow. It has the greatest views of Lake Nahuel Huapi below.

Some refugios are a little farther afield so on a couple weekends, I packed my backpack and sleeping bag and headed there for the night.

First, I went to Refugio Italia at Laguna Negra. This hike up the Goye River valley started out beautiful and sunny but the weather quickly turned to wind and hail, which obliterated the tracks I was following through the snow. Luckily, I’m confident in geography and my maps and it was early enough in the day so I continued upward. I ended up having to take my boots off twice to cross some rushing streams but they inevitably got soaked after a few more hours of trudging through snow. It was quite an adventure! I was so glad when I finally reached the refuge where the hosts had a warm fire waiting for me. I was the only crazy hiker who ascended on this night so I had the dormitory and the pizza dinner all to myself!

The next day, the sun was shining for my hike out so I had better views of the scenery and the valley I had ascended.

On another weekend, I hiked up a dramatic valley to find the most amazing lakeside refugio waiting for me: Laguna Jakob. (Do you see it tucked in to the right of the picture?)

It was here where many trekkers braving snowy routes from all directions came for refuge to warm their shoes and socks by the heater, and eat a great meal together. A few guests picked at some guitars hanging in the corner and suddenly the night was filled with a sing-a-long.

After meeting a few other guests at the refuge, we headed up a side trail to the still-frozen Laguna Témpanos. It was fun sliding down the snowfields on the way back to the refuge!

Club Andino

Clearly, Bariloche is a hiker’s paradise but there’s only so many trailheads which are accessible by local bus. To reach other destinations, I realized quickly that I needed a car… or friends with cars. Then I heard about the local outdoor adventure club, Club Andino. This club was started in 1931 by four outdoor enthusiasts and offer lessons and excursions for all ages to ski, snowboard, rock climb, trail run and trek. Club Andino also manages most all of the refugios in the area providing safety, accommodations and food year-round for anyone out on an adventure.

After signing on as a member, I quickly learned about the twice monthly group treks to cerros, or mountain peaks. I signed up for them all. I’ve benefited enormously from the opportunity to visit many parts of the arid steppe region and far-away mountain trails I didn’t even know existed. I have also met some really wonderful people who included me in other social occasions. I’m so grateful to them all.

Clearly, I came to Bariloche and I stayed in Bariloche because the hiking is just world class. I love the friendly people and their passion for adventure and the environment. It’s such a good life!

I’ll leave you with a quick snippet of my most favorite view from above.

Ok, so now that you all understand why I love my life in Bariloche so much, you will be confounded to know that I’m actually leaving. I’m so sad to go… but stay tuned because I have another great adventure planned for 2024. I know my new Argentine friends, Bariloche and the Cordillera Mountains, will be here for my return.