If you stand in the center of Bariloche Argentina and look west, giant mountains loom on the horizon. Most people who see these giants in the beautiful Patagonian sunshine feel a calling to see them up close, to see what secrets they hold in their granite fortress walls.
One of the best ways to scratch that adventure itch is to take a tour to the end of the largest arm of Nahuel Huapi lake. Tours leave from Puerto Panuelo, near the famous Llao Llao hotel. Several tour operators offer tours, though most are the same. It seems Turisur and Cau Cau are the most popular. It’s possible, no matter who you book your tour through, you’ll end up on one of those two company’s tours.
The tours offer a few varieties, but it is highly recommended you choose one that includes a trip to Lago Frias- even if it is an extra expense, it is well worth the surcharge.
Arriving at the port you will need to get your boarding pass from the company office, then enter the port building and pay both the port fee and the national park entry fee, the latter of which will vary depending on where you live and how bad inflationary pressure is on the Peso at the moment. (If you are a resident of Bariloche, you don’t have to pay for the national park fee.)
The port building has a nice cafe and a short hiking trail to a glorious viewpoint, the perfect place to enjoy a pre-trip coffee.
No matter which company you book, a catamaran will whisk you across the azure lake, deep into the mountains. The initial ride is roughly an hour and will offer spectacular views. The ships are accompanied on their voyage by enterprising seagulls, who will eat crackers out of your hands if you are brave enough to hand feed a wild seabird. The crackers, as well as drinks and snacks, are available at the onboard cafe.
The first stop, usually, will be Puerto Blest. This is a beautiful area with a Hotel and some hiking trails. There is a restaurant for the hungry, but if you followed our advice and booked the excursion to Lago Frias, you will be quickly loaded onto buses for the short trip to Lago Frias.
Lago Frias is a gorgeous emerald lake, born of glacial movement against the rock of Cerro Tronador, a volcano that towers ominously over the lake. A boat will take you across the still waters, providing incredible photo opportunities and letting you get in touch with thousands, including a young Che Guevara, who used to cross this lake as a way into nearby Chile. A replica of Che’s motorcycle greets you at the far end of the lake, where you can hop off the boat and walk around this furthest outpost of the Argentine Republic, a mere three kilometers from the Chilean frontier.
After a quick exploration at the far end of the lake, the boat and bus return you to Puerto Blest. Most tours now give you a few hours to explore the area and have lunch. The next stop after the free time is the Cantaros waterfall on the far side of the lake from the port. The main catamaran will ferry you over there if you want, but I would recommend grabbing a quick bite, then following the hiking trails around the end of the lake to the waterfall trailhead.
The hike is only 40 minutes and is far from strenuous. You will walk through a forest of giants, trees whose ages are in the triple and quadruple digits. The calm of this end of the lake is incredible, and it is a pure taste of untouched Patagonia.
Whichever way you choose to get to the waterfall, a well build staircase will lead you to three viewpoints of the falls themselves and a fourth at the top of the trail will give you vistas of the lake from which the falls flow, and a giant tree that sprouted from a seed in the final years of the Roman Empire.
It’s wild to stand at the falls and watch the water crash over the rocks, knowing it is just beginning a journey that will end in the Atlantic Ocean. The trail up and down is not particularly difficult, but it does have a good deal of elevation gain, so be sure to be prepared for a bit of a workout.
Your trip to the falls completed the boat will bear you back across the lake to Puerto Panuelo. Again you can admire the beauty of the lake as you glide across its azure surface.
This trip can be taken at any time of the year and the view will be different, though equally spectacular. Check with the major tour companies and operators around Bariloche for pricing and departure information.