Bariloche’s Enchanted Valley
For those who have heard of Bariloche, the name typically evokes images of blues and greens: sparkling lakes, immense forests, and tree-covered mountains. While this gorgeous scenery is rightfully a key attraction of the Lakes District region, there’s a less-visited side of Bariloche that also deserves recognition: The Enchanted Valley. This is where, 38 miles east of the city, the old glacial moraine recedes and a new landscape reigns.
The Enchanted Valley is a steppe, marked by dramatic granite towers of volcanic origin, a splattering of Cypress trees, mountainous surroundings, and semi-desert landscape, all bordered by the Rio Limay. Its name hails from the unique and “enchanted” forms the towers take, such as El Dedo de Dios (God’s Finger) and Leones Enamorados (Lions in Love), enhanced by the surprising locations of the trees, on the crests of the towers and wedged in between, as well as the potential for sighting condors soaring overhead. It’s a beautiful area to visit as an excursion from Bariloche, and a striking contrast to the otherwise lush and verdant surroundings.
One great means of exploring this region, and my personal favorite, is by mountain bike.* The ride starts in Villa Llanquín, crossing a narrow rope bridge that leaves any support vehicle behind (a detail well worth noting), and follows the Limay River along mountain ridges, through pine tree plantations, past small farms (some with loose dogs), and on to the Estancia Enchanted Valley at the foot of the granite towers.
At the estancia, you’ll stop to enjoy lunch, take a break, and then discuss with your guide the possibilities for optional hiking within the Enchanted Valley, depending on the time and ganas remaining (i.e., how you’re feeling). Hikes can be shorter or longer, harder or easier, up into the towers or just to a scenic viewpoint. At the end of the day, the estancia’s host will take you on a short boat ride across the river to your waiting vehicle transfer back into town.
*This bike ride is classified as moderate. The terrain is mostly even dirt, with varying ascents and descents, and the potential for a few sandy patches from remaining volcanic ash and/or pine cones on the path through the plantations. Guides take care in letting you anticipate these potentially more difficult sections in advance. Passing cars are unlikely, as it’s a small dirt road accessible to vehicles only by pulley system, however a car passing by slowly is possible. As your transfer vehicle cannot easily cross the river, this bike ride is not vehicle supported, and those who start must finish. (There is access to a boat in case of emergencies). During the hottest weeks of summer, the ride might break more of a sweat than is typically desired, though there is a nice shaded spot midway for a refreshing dip in the river. (Intrepid travelers, bring your swimsuits!)
For those less interested in mountain biking, it is also possible to visit the Enchanted Valley in a more hiking-focused day. This excursion will have you transferred by vehicle straight to the boat crossing to the estancia, where you can do one hike prior to lunch, return to the estancia to enjoy a typical Patagonian meal, and then opt for a second, shorter hike in the afternoon, or simply relax and enjoy the view. It is a view well worth enjoying.