The hills around Lake Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche explode with the vibrant colors of wildflowers late into the season.
As its name suggests, ‘The Cave,’ is set inside the belly of a mountain — Princess Peak, seven kilometers from the base of Cerro Catedral ski resort.
Getting To La Cueva is Half the Adventure
This 17-seat ‘destination dining’ spot, surrounded by Lenga Beech forest, can only be reached by snowmobile in the winter or quad bike in the summer.
The cozy alpine interior lends itself to kicking things off with a glass of champagne and cheese fondue by the fireplace.
The smells of traditional Patagonic dishes prepared in an old style wood stove permeate the whole restaurant. Some popular entrees are salmon canapés; chicken stuffed with smoked ham, apples and curried tomatoes; lamb sauteed in Malbec and forest berries; and beef tenderloin marinated in Dijon mustard and honey. On some nights there is live music and dancing.
A unique dining experience that combines adventure and gourmet cuisine, La Cueva is probably the only restaurant in Bariloche that recommends diners have travel insurance.
• Reservations required
Catedral Alta Patagonia in the vast winter playland of Argentina’s Lakes District is the country’s largest ski destination.
Cerro Catedral, as it’s more commonly known, is popular both for its extensive terrain spread across three mountains and its 19 kilometer (12 mi.) proximity to Bariloche, Patagonia’s second largest city.
The 1030 meter (3379 ft.) high resort boasts 120 kilometers (75 mi.) of terrain on 50 different slopes served by 38 lifts, one tram and four-person gondolas.
South America’s oldest ski resort debuted in 1938 and today features a full-service village at its base, making Bariloche the only bona fide ‘ski town’ in Argentina.
New and Improved Slopes
In 2009 the aging resort underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. The revamp doubled the lift capacity to 22,000 and added four kilometers of cross-country skiing trails, a new terrain park, a tubing trail and a toboggan run.
Catedral’s modernization also included the purchase of snowmobiles and quadbikes for back-country tours and to reach the exclusive mountain restaurant, La Cueva.
The upgrades brought Cerro Catedral newfound international attention. In the same year Ski Rebel magazine dubbed Bariloche a ‘winter sports giant.’
The Toronto Star went so far as to call Cerro Catedral the world’s number two ski destination after Aspen, Colorado. Due to the wet conditions and proximity to Lake Nahuel Huapí, Cathedral is actually best compared, not to Aspen, but to Lake Tahoe.
The snow at the lakeside ski mecca is usually more like ‘California cement’ than light ‘champagne powder,’ the heavy snow and some older lifts are the resort’s biggest drawback for spoiled snow hounds accustomed to skiing in the Rockies or the high Alps.
Still, Cerro Catedral is a favored destination for pro skiers and snowboarders from the Northern hemisphere for its deep powder and extensive off-piste terrain. Only 17% of Cerro Catedral are novice runs, 35% are intermediate and the remaining 48% is advanced and expert terrain.
→ Book flights to Bariloche online
Spectacular Views and Rave Reviews
As happens often in Argentina, the rave reviews compelled Catedral to jack up their prices, making the lift tickets out of reach for many Argentines. Day passes at Catedral cost are about half the price of more professionally run resorts in the western U.S., Europe and Canada. For international travelers, Catedral isn’t the bargain it once was but the increased tickets prices are still offset by Argentina’s succulent steaks and fine Malbec.
Bariloche qualifies as an excellent candidate for ski junkies from the northern climes looking to ski during their summer but during the high season, it isn’t a bargain.
If you were going to move to South American to be a ski bum, Bariloche would probably be your best bet, but unless you hold local residency papers the season’s pass costs a a couple of thousand dollars. A monthly pass costs nearly a thousand dollars in the high season.
This region of the Andes is one of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes but if good skiing conditions are your main pursuit you may be more satisfied with Portillo resort in Chile or Las Leñas in the Mendoza province. It is a trade-off though — the views, dining and services at isolated Las Leñas can’t compare to the activities offered at Cerro Catedral and around Bariloche though.
When to Go
Bariloche’s snowfall has been disappointing early in the season the last couple of years and the resort doesn’t make as much snow as it could at the base of the mountain.
The best time to go to Bariloche to ski is later in the season, even August. Travelers should keep in mind that the school holidays during the July/early August high season mean that Bariloche and the slopes of Catedral are crowded with relatively inexperienced skiers at that time. There also seems to be a laissez-faire attitude toward slope grooming and a dearth of ski patrol to keep macho skiers in check.
Intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders will have the most fun if they head to the top of the mountain early and stay up there all day. The backside’s La Laguna area is not to be missed.
Beginner skiers will be happy to find that lower cost tickets are available for just the bunny slopes. Skiers 70-years-old and up get the rock star treatment they deserve all season — tickets for seniors are free. So all 70-year-young ski bums should put Cerro Catedral on their bucket lists.
If you are serious about skiing, bring your own equipment and ski wear to save time and money, otherwise basic equipment rental is available at a reasonable price.
⇒ Even more adventure! Book a Half-day Canopy Tour in Bariloche
→ Read about the Andean Lakes crossing tour and book online
San Carlos de Bariloche
Río Negro Province
Tel: (02944) 420268
Summit: 7,152 ft. (2180m)
Base: 3,379 ft. (1130m)
•Open: Average of three months per year
•Season: Late June/Early July until Late September/Early October (depending on snow conditions)
• Childcare services offered
• Those 70+ ski free!
• Equipment rental available
• Heliski available
Getting there from central Bariloche:
• By car: Take Bustillo Avenue to kilometer 8, turn left to reach the parking area.
→ Read about driving in Argentina and renting a car
• By bus: a free shuttle leaves for Cerro Cathedral every 30 minutes from the bus station and stops all along the main strip in downtown Bariloche and along Bustillo Avenue
As a Hostel International hostel with various locations around Argentina, Hostel Inn is large enough so that they know what they’re doing, but small enough that their hostels still have some character.
The desk staff is bilingual and helpful, although perhaps not as friendly as at some family-run hostels. The cleaning ladies are very sweet though and surprisingly smiley while they clean up after messy travelers all day long.
What you can’t beat here are the astounding view from the comfortable 24-hour lounge area and outdoor terrace. Also nice is the central location a block from the main square and up on a hill overlooking Lake Nahuel Huapi.
A bed in a four-bed room are typical of the prices you’ll find in Bariloche. Private rooms are also available, although they can seem a bit overpriced if you get one of the ones without a window.
The hostel has features a shared kitchen with a parilla, 24 -hour lounge with wifi and can arrange activities such as horseback riding and snowshoeing.
Both a bed in a dorm or a private room come with a decent free breakfast and word on the street is they hook up guests with a nice free dinner too.
Make reservations early, especially if traveling as a group — Hostel Inn fills up quick.
Friends in downtown Bariloche is a festive eatery that serves up decent, if slightly greasy, Argentine food 24 hours a day. Here you’ll find the classics — pasta, pizza, hamburgers and some European fare such as goulash and spatzle at reasonable prices. The thick-crust pizza is a filling diversion from the normal Argentine thin-crusted pie.
Friends has a bright and cheery atmosphere with random ‘Americana’ antique ornaments and curiosities hanging from the ceiling. This is the first place to go in Bariloche with kids — not just because of the visuals but because of the basic, kid-friendly menu.
Although Friends seems a bit gimmicky and gets a mention in every guidebook, locals go here too — especially when they are in search of a meal in the middle of the night. The service here is hit-and-miss, and apparently the waitstaff have offended someone sufficiently enough to prompt them to open a Facebook group calling for a boycott of the eatery.
Friends shouldn’t be blacklisted though, since it’s one of the few places in Bariloche to have a meal after the bars close and other odd hours.
Tel: (02944) 423 700
• Open 24 hours