It feels like a bit of a waste leaving Copahue in the dark just because the whole area is so fucking beautiful. The extra cold morning air causes the steam from the thermal pools to billow high into the air. At one point it was so thick it was like driving through fog. As the dawn broke features started to show themselves, visible to the eyeholes but not the lens unless you wanted to dick around with tripods and settings. Dear reader, I did not. The windless morning meant Mount Copahue was reflected perfectly in one of the many lakes. It was a gorgeous, peaceful morning and as it got lighter I stopped so many times to take photos it almost rendered our early start pointless.
We wanted to get a move on because it was over 550 kilometres to the overwhelmingly popular Bariloche and as the campsite we had our eye on didn’t take bookings we wanted to get there as soon as we could to maximise the chance of there being space. It’s hard work though, driving along unchanging roads with precious few places to pull over and nap because your eyelids are trying really hard to make friends with your three chins. The satnav took us off RN40 for a long while and steered us through some jaw dropping eyehole fodder before depositing back on the legendary road just before Bariloche.
What a fucking stunning drive that was! I’d happily do that again. Mountain after lake after mountain assault your retinas as you upset literally everyone behind you by sticking to the speed limit on roads with very few overtaking opportunities. We were soon in Bariloche, we did get a pitch on our first choice of campsite and once we’d wrestled the actually quite pants rental tent into a structure that would shelter us for two nights off we fucked into town to put some of the region’s famous craft beers, or cerveza artesenal into our faceholes. It’d be rude not to.
The following day we got up, shovelled the noodles in a pot that had become our go to breakfast food into our chops and drove towards the Circuito Chico. Okay so this is basically a circular drive that takes you past a metric fuck tonne of viewpoints of various lakes. I cannot overstate how many lakes there are here. It’s a swath of blue against a mountain backdrop, interspersed with evergreen covered islands. I was worried I’d be underwhelmed with the area given the hype surrounding it but standing there at the first viewpoint that notion now felt ridiculous.
The first viewpoint, by the way, is at the top of a hill called Cerro Campanario. I think you can walk up it if you want, but if you fancied finishing the day with legs then you can take the ski lift so that’s what we did. These things make me so bloody nervous. Like, they don’t stop moving, you have to sort of hop your arse onto the seat with all the grace you can muster which is around 0.56 microns in my case, then it’s all very lovely as you’re carried up the hill on a contraption that looks like it’s fastened to a cable with very little, realise you’ve trusted your whole life to one tiny bolt, then at the top you have to jump off it and hope it doesn’t hit you in the butt as you scramble away. It’s all very traumatic.
The reward, however is great. Holy shitting fuck, all you can do is stand there and try and take it all in. The view is nothing short of spectacular. There are several places you can stand as you jostle with other tourists for that perfect Instagram shot. We wandered around for a bit then grabbed a cuppa each from the café and drank it whilst pointedly gawping at the view. I’m pretty sure everything tastes better when your eyeholes are happy.
We took the ski lift back down and drove to a viewpoint overlooking a lake where we drank a Red Bull and enjoyed the view, then headed to an obnoxiously cute wooden church called Capilla San Eduardo. There are people with stalls flogging everything from jewellery to mates outside but there’s a disappointing lack of Jesus kitsch. They should take a leaf out of Greece’s book. You couldn’t move for Jesus kitsch near big churchy tourist attractions.
By this point all of the fluids I’d consumed started making a break for freedom but fortunately the next stop was a car park with picnic benches and an actual toilet so I wouldn’t have to squat behind the car and pretend I was really interested in a particular rock. We chilled for a while, ate some lunch then there’s this little woodland stroll you can do down to a little beach by a lake. It’s very pleasant and you get to see these beautiful arrayan trees which are an evergreen with orange bark. The older trees are all gnarled and twisted and devastatingly photogenic. God I love trees. It just kind of snuck up on me along with a fascination with a pretty rock. Does this just happen when you flail unwillingly into your forties?
There are other things to put in your eyeholes including a small lake, but then we just headed to the Punto Panorámico and honestly, if you only do one thing on the Circuito Chico then do this. Utterly fucking spectacular. I took so many photos knowing full well they wouldn’t do it justice. That’s the problem isn’t it? When you’re there it’s all love hearts and hashtag landscapeporn but when you flick through your 126 pictures of the same thing you can’t remember why you have so many photos of water.
That was us circuited out then. We meandered back to the campsite via a supermarket for the sensible shit we needed to avoid starving to death then we headed into town for beer. Beer is a thing here, there are so many craft breweries I’ve no idea how they fit them all in amongst all the fucking lakes. Over two evenings we tried golden beers, amber lagers, classic blondes and APAs from breweries such as Van Titter, Manush, Wesley, Grunge and Patagonia. I’m not going to lie to you, they all looked and tasted pretty much the same. I’m sure there are hipsters out there recoiling in horror at such heresy, stuttering things such as, “But but but what about the notes of oak and the smokey undertones?” Oh do bugger off. It’s absolutely delicious beer but it’s beer.
I also stocked up on a tray of the other thing Bariloche is famous for. Chocolate. I handpicked my selection, it was glorious. I don’t even have to share any of it with Tarrant because it’s full of dairy and she can’t have dairy if she doesn’t want her guts to fall out through her arse. I don’t want that to happen either to be fair. I’ve got to share a tent with her and I’m pretty sure Avis would take a dim view of skidmarks on the rental car’s upholstery. The main issue now though is how do I stop it from melting into a delicious pool of slush in this ridiculous heat?
Jump to “Useful shit to know…”
Bariloche, Rio Negro, Argentina
Stayed at: Camping Selva Negra, Bariloche
Useful shit to know…
- If you don’t have a car you can do tours of the Circuito Chico, every tour agency in town offers it. They often have Cerro Campanario as an optional extra.
- Even if the proper parking is full at the viewpoints etc, people just park along the side of the road. You’ll find a spot.
- Keep an eye on the speed limits. Some parts are 40kph. Some are 60kph with a minimum of 40kph.
- I bought my chocolates from Framtons. There are other places too but I’ve no complaints about this one.