5 Reasons To Visit El Bolson
The first time I went to El Bolson I was in the town itself less than 6 hours, I spent time trying to changes Chilean pesos into Argentine pesos before eating a juicy steak and climbing a wee hill before getting back on a bus. It was far too short a trip. This was one of the reasons I was so keen to return and it was my first wee trip upon arriving to live in Argentina. Described by many as a hippy, ‘nuclear free zone’ I think it is so much more than that. It is the epitome of wanderlust. Go for a hike; swim in a lake; read your book in a hammock and then chat with travellers whose nomadic lifestyles will motivate you and fill you with jealousy at the same time. Here are five reasons you should stop by to recharge your physical, emotional and spiritual energies in this gateway town to Patagonia.
You will find El Bolson nestled among the staggering snow topped mountains that give their name to the Andean region. Every way you look you are faced with endless hiking possibilities.
Just check in at the Mountain Info Office a few blocks away from the main square and pick your trail. When I visited I cheated and took a taxi to the Bosque Tallado halfway up Mt Pillitriquio for panoramic views of the entire basin. The hike from the carpark to the statues is steep. The views are worth it; the statue park is not overly impressive but its not ugly to look at either.
The hike to the Cajon del Azul was my favourite day trip. To be fair, it’s probably a fairly standard Patagonia hike: stunning views for the majority of the walk; sketchy bridges that you fear will end your life; refugio cats that try to steal your food and holes in the ground for toilets. What made this hike stand out from the rest is in the name. ‘Cajon del Azul’ literally translates to Blue Box and that is exactly what you find next to the Refugio: a clear blue box of water that invites you to dive on in. Refugio del Azul coincidentally has the best cafe con leche that I’ve found so far in Argentina.
For the more intrepid hikers/lucky nomads without time constraints there is a famous Refugio loop that circles El Bolson which can last 5- 7 days depending on the loop you pick.
In Peru the markets are amazing: you can find all tourist tat galore and presents for everyone you know. Everything in the Peruvian markets can be found cheaper in Bolivia. Argentina is the most expensive country in Latin America and the safe decision tends to be to avoid markets so you aren’t tempted into wasting precious pesos on things you will inevitably find at lower prices in the north. However the artesenal markets in El Bolson are a great atmosphere even if you aren’t buying anything except beer and empanadas (as early as 11am is perfectly acceptable) and you will find some items here that you can’t in the rest of the continent. Embrace your inner hippy and buy a dream catcher, tye-dye trousers, a poncho and literally all the smelly incense and candles you can imagine.
3) Los Lagos
You’re in the Patagonian Lake District so you may wonder why I’m pointing out the obvious: there are lakes near El Bolson. But their beauty is worth at least a photo. We went swimming in Lago Puelo (1 hour bus ride costing only $20 pesos!!) and be warned: it’s cold. As I am from Scotland and my friend is from Wales we are under the generally mistaken impression that the cold does not affect us in the same way as the rest of the world and that when Argentines say ‘frio’ they are merely underestimating my Scottish strength. However Lago Puelo in Patagonia really is wonderfully cold. Maybe why we got a lot of side looks implying us to be gringos locos.
4) The Ambience
I know I’ve already yapped on about how much I love the atmosphere in El Bolson. But I called it ambience this time so I’m not gonna count it. The atmosphere is infectious to begin with. When i got on the bus from Bariloche it was instantly apparent who would get off at the outlying villages and who was accompanying me to my destination. There is an El Bolson character checklist: ‘gap yah’ trousers, tye-dye, questionable dreadlocks, a flowery scent, a backpack bigger than its owner usually with pots and walking boots hanging off the straps and a wrist full of bracelets documenting their most recent travels.
5) Cheap booze
Patagonia in general is famous for it’s artesenal breweries. Even here in Neuquen (https://www.lonelyplanet.com/argentina/the-lake-district/neuquen ) the majority of the bars offer 200+ types of local beer. I should point out at this point how much I hate beer. I would describe the beer I drank in El Bolson as near acceptable when wine and whisky were unavailable. But I guess if you actually do like the flavour of yeast fermented malt then this would be somewhat of a haven for you. On the plus side for those like me, my hostel offered bottles of red wine for $65 (£3/US$4) which I happily indulged in.
And if I’ve now persuaded you to visit El Bolson then you should also considering staying in La Casa del Arbol http://www.hostelelbolson.com/ where I bought that cheap red wine ( they also sell beer!) The 11 – bed dorm is currently $200 pesos a night if you book through hostelworld or booking.com; there’s a fully equipped kitchen with free tea and coffee in the morning; the staff are really chilled out and friendly and there is a wee garden outside to chill in complete with wooden tables, a hammock and ping pong table!
You can see my Instagram album from El Bolson here: