Double Take: Two Weekends in Bariloche

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July 15, 2010 4:21 pm

The timeless questions: Do I travel with friends or family? With natives or tourists? Finally, an answer.

While it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, Argentina is in the dead of winter — making Bariloche one of the hottest tourist destinations. Think of Bariloche as the Colorado of Argentina: Whether you go to ski in the winter or hike in the summer, it’s an active place loved by the Argentinean people for its natural beauty (and heavy chocolate production). I visited in the summer on two separate weekend jaunts, once with my family and once with a huge group of study abroad students. So which group offered the best trip? I wouldn’t trade one for the other.

Weekend #1: American family vacation

With my two parents and grandmother, I expected a touristy trip. Private tour guides are a dime a dozen, and they’ll haul you to chocolate shops galore and all the spots off the highway with the great views. This highway pit stop provided a great vantage point of our posh hotel: the Llau Llau.

The Llau Llau is the creme de la creme of Argentine hotels. When I told my co-workers at Radio Jai (where I translated articles for the web site) that I was going, their jaws dropped. I had to promise to post photos to Facebook so they could see after I’d left Buenos Aires. Lucky for Americans, the exchange rate makes it affordable. As a consequence, only very wealthy Argentineans vacation there, and most of the guests are European. Our suite had three rooms (living room, bedroom, bath) and a porch. Gran and I had a little too much fun with this photo shoot of the room…

We took a chairlift to the summit of a nearby mountain for a spectacular view of the city of Bariloche and the surrounding area…

…and stopped in the city of Bariloche, far from the Llau Llau, where we toured a chocolate shop that made fudge and candies through a clear window for observers. For these two activities, we found four was the perfect number, and 3:1 (of English speakers to Spanish speakers in our group) was the perfect ratio.

Weekend #2: Group travel on an Argentine itinerary

Because it was built for tourism, Bariloche is surprisingly accessible to large groups, assuming you do some planning ahead of time. Still, I had doubts about how much you can get from a place when the entire study abroad program crashes for a weekend, even during the summer low season. When this group ended up touring the same chocolate shop and mounting the same chairlifts, I wished I was with my English-only family again. But no fear — when the director of our COPA study abroad program and Buenos Aires native Mario Cantarini plans the trip with his Argentine co-workers, he does it the way any other Argentinean tourist might. Unlike the luxurious Llau Llau weekend, we spent our days hiking up waterfalls…

…swimming between huge rock formations near the highway…

…and traveling in huge coach buses. While unusually upscale compared to buses in the rest of South America, coach buses are common in Bariloche because of its heavy European and American visitor traffic. Unfortunately, these luxurious things also get stuck easily when landslides block the only road (below). Our porteño city slicker guides laughed and (tried to) help the Bariloche-native bus driver tow the bus out of the mud.

The work was worth the pain. On the other side of the “construction” (read: landslide debris) was Cerro Lopez, a steep hill with terrain that varies from soil to boulders to snow. The hike is between two and three hours, but offers rewarding views every step of the way.

After reaching the little pink house — our rest stop — we paused for lunch and watched the hawks soar overhead as we shared a mate, a traditional Argentine tea-like beverage.

Sometimes you want to vacation like a local, and sometimes you just want to be a tourist with your family. Regardless of your mood, good company — in a group of any size — will guarantee a great trip.

Tara for TKGO

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