There are lots of well known tourist-heavy places right at the top of Patagonia which see thousands of visitors grace them with their presence each year. Destinations such as Bariloche, San Martin de los Andes, and even Pucon if you head a little further West. The lesser known mountain town of El Bolson is most certainly not one of these places. A little rough around the edges, the small but perfectly formed hippy retreat literally translated as ‘The Little Bag’ has an off the beaten track vibe, but almost as much to see and do as some of it’s more well known neighbours.
Sat within a valley, nestled between two mountain ranges either side, and with a number of rivers running either adjacent to or directly through certain parts of it, it’s an embarrassingly picturesque part of Argentina. The town itself can look a little dusty and unkempt in places, but it’s only when you start exploring the areas around El Bolson that you start to understand why it’s becoming more and more popular.
If I’m honest, one of the main reasons I even wanted to come to El Bolson in the first place was because of the rave reviews that Casona de Odile has from both friends and the internet in general. The place holds an instantly unfair advantage over it’s rivals; not only is it straddled on either side by two towering mountain ranges, but also surrounded at all angles by it’s seemingly endless grounds, full of lush green grass and flowing fresh water rivers.
Hand built by it’s ever helpful German owner Marcel and a group of his travelling friends over a number of years, this can feel more like a resort than a hostel at times, and is equipped with it’s own micro-brewery, beach, and log fire – where you can (and will) spend many an evening sipping Malbec and getting to know fellow travellers of all ages until the early hours of the morning.
It’s very easy to spend as much time in the actual hostel as you would away in the surrounding Patagonian countryside, with an activity menu which includes morning riverside yoga, or even just a short saunter down to the on-site ‘beach’ (approx. a 3-minute walk – literally). A Patagonian oasis, in an already magnificent part of the world.
The surrounding area is a hikers paradise, one which we barely scratched the surface of whilst we were there. One walk in particular saw us get a car from the 90’s for around 1 hour deep into the hillside along gravel laden half built roads to Wharton – in search of Cajon de Azul and beyond; a brilliant blue river which runs through the nearby countryside. The 3 – 4 hour hour long walk sees you ascend 750 metres alongside lakes, forests and farmland, up to a staggeringly remote Refugio called ‘Retamel’ – where you are greeted upon arrival by the friendly bearded owner, who instantly passes you a warming ‘Mate’ as a small reward for reaching his lodge.
This particular trek is just one of plentiful in the local area, a great resource for finding out about others is www.trekelbolson.com, which features a number of remote refugios, treks and advice on how to traverse the area properly.
Open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays & Sundays, the ‘Feria Artesenal’ is buzzing with locals and visitors alike on the day’s it is open for business. Stalls which line the small square in the centre of town sell everything from local home brewed beer right through to an array of hand made arts and crafts. The market is also a great place to grab a spot of lunch from one of the many food vendors and simply spend a few hours people watching some of the many interesting characters you find there.
If you haven’t had your fix of exploration just yet, there are an abundance of Waterfalls in and around the local area, most of which are a short hike away. Most of the intrepid locals will be able to tell you exactly where to go to find them, but some of note include Cascada Escondida and Cascada Mallin Ahogado.
Fancy seeing El Bolson from a completely different angle? How about taking flight from one of the nearby mountains. On any given day you will see a number of Paragliders circling above the nearby valleys. The largest of these summits is that of Piltriquiltron (2,250m). Worth a hike in itself, this is the perfect place to to head to for either to commence your glide, or just take in the sights whilst still on dry (albeit high) land. There are also lots of water sports operators locally, who are more than willing and able to take you rafting on the Rio Manso, offering a variety of experience levels. Grado 42 in particular are highly recommended.
If you’re all hiked out then simply sit back and indulge in the fantastic local food El Bolson has to offer. A short taxi or bike ride away is a well hidden Cheese shop, which sells a fantastic, small selection of natively produced dairy products, including a delicious range of ice cream. Fancy some fish for dinner? You can head out on a fishing trip in the local river to catch your supper, or to the nearby trout farm if you’re unsuccessful.
There are a number of restaurants in the main town if you wanted to indulge a bit more, such as the highly acclaimed La Gorda – serving hearty, tasty meals for hungry explorers with an international pallet. If you’re looking for a more traditional fix with a microbrewery to boot, look no further than Otto Tipp, the go to place in town for some classic Patagonian Lamb.
A place which will always hold a place in my heart, I’ve considered going back to Argentina specifically to visit El Bolson. Particularly La Casona de Odeile; probably the most welcoming, homely and beautiful place I’ve stayed on all of my travels to date.
Any trip to Patagonia is not complete without a pit-stop here. Allow for more time than you had planned, it’s a tough place to leave once your feet are under the carpet…
Been to El Bolson? Got anything to add? Or did you do any of the activities we missed? Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to feature your experiences here!