Things to do in El Bolson: Patagonia’s Hippie Mountain Paradise

Two hours south and a world apart from big brother Bariloche, El Bolson is a peaceful backpacker oasis in the valley.

Bolson lies at the feet of Mount Piltriquitrón on the Quemquemtreu river (say that 10 times fast).

The first pioneers may have arrive in 1880 but it was the wave of hippies that settled here in the 60’s and 70’s that made El Bolson what it is today.

People here are warm and open, focusing on horticulture (hops for beer and berries are the biggest crops you’ll see) and handicrafts.

El Bolson and the surrounding villages feature beautiful hikes, a worthwhile artisan market, and beautiful lakes.

More intrepid travelers prefer to venture south from Bariloche to instead stay in El Bolson, and it’s easy to see why.

Here’s a guide to discovering this hippie enclave in northern Patagonia.

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When to visit El Bolson

El Bolson has grown a lot and is no longer the reclusive, tiny community it once was.

There are an endless supply of tourist cabins and hostels for backpackers and families.

In high season (mid-December through February) the city’s population swells with people “wanting to get away from it all.”

Are you, too, wanting to get away from it all( something I always feel the need for)?

Then you’ll love it here.

But I recommend avoiding January and maybe even February if you want true peace, shoulder seasons are always the best options if your schedule allows it.

Spring flowers here are gorgeous with purple and pink lupines and yellow retamas lining the road.

Fall alights the mountains in fire engine red foliage.

Summer is excellent for swimming in the rivers but hikes and nature can be harder to enjoy with massive crowds.

Where is El Bolson and do I need a car?

El Bolson is 120 kilometers (about 75 miles) south of Bariloche on the famed Ruta 40 (Argentina’s version of Route 66 in the US).

I always prefer to travel this region by car since everything is so far flung into the mountains. I like the freedom.

Click here for car rental prices.

You can also make it a road trip by including El Bolson into a trip to Bariloche (or by going even further south to Esquel and Trevelin

Don’t want to rent a car?

No problem. Check Plataforma10 and BusBud for bus schedules from Bariloche.

You can also hitchhike once in El Bolson.

Locals tend to be very generous in picking you up.

I hitched back from my hike to Cajon del Azul and didn’t wait more than 5 minutes for a ride.

That said, I’m still glad I had a car for most things but I’m also nearly 40 now and enjoy a bit more comfort

Can you visit El Bolson in a day?

Yes, this guided tour from Bariloche will show you El Bolson in only one day.

It’s possible, but not ideal.

Will you see much of what the city has to offer?

That’s impossible to do in one day.

The beauty is in the hikes and nature surrounding town and I’d stay at least 3 nights and upwards of a week if you love to hike.

But the day tour will show you a glimpse of this beautiful community, including a visit to Lago Puelo.

Things to do in El Bolson

Here are the best things to do in El Bolson and the “comarca”.

You’ll hear the term comarca get thrown around quite a bit and it simply refers to the entire area here.

The full name is La Comarca Andina del Paralelo 42 and it includes surrounding towns El Hoyo, Lago Puelo, and Epuyen.

The area of influence extends as far as El Maiten and Cholila.

The things to do in the list below include things in the entire comarca, so get out and explore!

The Artisan Market

If you visited Buenos Aires, you’ll be familiar with that the many outdoor markets in Buenos Aires.

El Bolson also has its own market that rivals those of the big city.

WHEN/WHERE: El Bolson’s artisan market takes place in Plaza Fagano every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, and holiday/feriado.

Despite seeing a lot of the same things on offer in Buenos Aires’ markets, I was impressed by a lot of what was for sale here.

I wanted more than I had pesos to spend so make sure to bring enough cash!

There was everything from handmade dolls and tie died clothing to decadent chocolates and locally made hot sauce that blended peppers with local berries (so good).

A local author sells his in-depth Patagonia history books and artists sell hand carved musical instruments for children.

And if you manage to leave without a tie-dye shirt or two, were you even in El Bolson?

There was also a food truck area in the middle with things like Armenian empanadas or hamburgers.

If you’re only in El Bolson for a day or two, schedule it for when the market is happening (which is easy to do since it happens 4 times a week).

Get Ice Cream & Chocolate at Jauja

If you’re in Patagonia and you aren’t eating your weight in chocolate, what are you even doing?

Each city has its own chocolate powerhouse and in El Bolson it’s Jauja.

Jauja is all over the lake district but is originally from El Bolson.

The ice cream is spectacular with an extensive menu of unique flavors utilizing Patagonian berries.

The chocolate shop next door is also not to be missed.

Grab a bag of chocolate bars to enjoy on your hike or next lakeside picnic.

There is also a restaurant adjoined to the ice cream and chocolate shop.

We had breakfast there but I wasn’t too impressed (but that’s what I get for ordering breakfast at an ice cream shop).

Humus de la Montaña

This region is famous for it’s berry farms (or chacras and fruta fina production), so visit one!

Humus de la Montaña is really close to downtown with a lot to offer making it an easy option.

Their shop is open in the mornings, all week (closed Sundays) from 9 to 2:30 pm.

We were lucky to be staying just a few minutes away and went every few days to stock up on their cheese, frozen berries, and fresh apple juice.

They also have a lot of local products on offer like skincare products, hot sauces, alfajores, and other dairy products like their milk and yogurt.

Next to the gift shop (but without overlapping hours) is Helados Humus, where they sell their organic ice cream, cakes, and coffee.

There’s a small yard with toys for the kids and views of the mountains and the berries growing!

Helados Humus is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 4 – 9 pm.

Cerro Amigo

2 kilometers outside of town is Cerro Amigo with an easy hike to various viewpoints of the city and valley below.

Locals refer to it as Cerrito de la Cruz thanks to the little white cross that has been on the peak for years.

Hikes & Mountain Refuges

Like in Bariloche, El Bolson’s best hikes involve the mountain refuges or huts.

In fact, the network of refugios here is the most extensive in South America.

This website has a great breakdown of the hikes, the refugios, and circuits to connect them.

The best trails and most refugios are found in the Valle del Río Azul, with trails starting in Wharton.

Read More: A Detailed Guide to Hiking in El Bolson

El Cajon del Azul is beautiful and one of the most popular hikes, but there are many more to explore!

Read my post all about my El Cajon del Azul hike.

Note that you need to register in advance here.

It’s very easy to do and you’ll receive an e-mail confirmation, which is what you’ll need to show the officials at the trail head.

Note: In summer popular hikes like Cajon del Azul are insanely busy. A local friend said there can be waits of an hour or more just to present your registration to start! If going in January, consider doing a lesser known trail.

The view from Mirador del Rio Azul

Mirador del Rio Azul & Cabeza de Indio

A short drive or 15 minute walk out of town will bring you to this view point of the Rio Azul and its expansive valley.

From here you’ll see the trailhead for Cabeza de Indio, but when we visited in October 2023 it has been temporarily closed due to landslides.

This whole area of the valley is filled with activities like rafting, horseback riding, etc.

I, personally, loved Campo Base and the walk along the river, which brings me to…

After taking in the views from the mirador (or before), head down to Campo Base and Paraiso…

Campo Base’s view of the Rio Azul

Campo Base & Paraiso

Campo Base is a restaurant and campground right on the shore of Rio Azul.

They have great burgers, pizzas, beer and views.

Heading down there can be a bit complicated in the peak summer months with all the cars and limited parking and space on the road, but if you go early you should be ok.

There’s a small parking lot in front of the restaurant, but most people recommend parking a bit up the hill at Estacionamiento Dona Rosa (you’ll see it in Google Maps) and walking down, this also lets you walk by the footbridge over the river first.

Before or after your burger, hike to Paraiso. Yes, paradise.

A short and easy 30-40 minute walk along the river brings you to natural formed pools in the river.

It’s very similar to Cajon del Azul, without the full day of hiking.

If you’re driving to the mirador or campsites in the area, there are a lot of signs directing you making it very easy to find! You will lose signal when you get close so have a map downloaded or rely on the signs.
Bosque Tallado’s epic view of the city below

El Bosque Tallado

This carved forest was created by local artist Marcelo López in 1998 after a fire laid waste to this Lenga forest.

Artists from around the world transformed fallen trees into 60 sculptures creating a literal “bosque tallado.”

There is no way to get here without a car.

You’ll take Ruta 40 south before driving 13 kilometers, weaving up, up, up Cerro Piltriquitrón.

The hike up to the actual forest from the parking lot is only a kilometer but do not underestimate it, it is very steep.

You will be huffing and puffing, but push through, it’s worth it.

There are a few areas to sit and catch your breath on the way up.

At the top there’s a restaurant and bathrooms, or you can bring a picnic.

You’ll pay your entry fee for the bosque tallado here so don’t leave your cash in the car.

After the bosque tallado you can keep going to…

Refugio Piltriquitrón

Keep walking half a kilometer further after the Bosque Tallado to reach the Refugio Piltriquitrón.

You can register in advance to stay the night or simply visit to enjoy the BEST view in town.

If you want to do this, start earlier in the afternoon than you think you’ll need.

We started later than planned due to toddler naps (around 4:30 pm) and ran out of daylight and sadly had to turn back after the Bosque Tallado.

The Bosque Tallado was far more impressive than I expected, you’ll want to spend a lot of time up there!

Things to do south of El Bolson: El Hoyo, Lago Puelo, & Epuyen

Everything here is south of town but within the comarca and very close.

Lago Puelo and El Hoyo are about 15 minutes south and it’ll take 40 minutes to reach Epuyen.

Kayak rentals at Lago Puelo

Lago Puelo

Lago Puelo is the major lake near El Bolson.

It’s a 20 minute drive south on Ruta 16 from downtown and the area around it is adorable, with cabins, restaurants, and chocolate shops to explore if you have the time and a car.

We stopped by the visitor center and got information and a map but honestly didn’t need it.

All we needed was to pull up to the parking lot, park, and relax.

If you take the bus from town it will drop you off at the visitor center and then there is a 1 km walk down to the lake from there.

You can also rent kayaks and SUP boards to get out on the water in high season.

Wineries & Chacras in El Hoyo

El Hoyo is the Capital Nacional de la Fruta Fina, or the national capital of berries.

This area is famous for it’s Agroturismo, so you’ll see a dizzying number of signs advertising chacras (farms) and places to try berries, jams, beer/hops etc.

Here’s where we went (warning, I love wine. It’s mostly vineryards), it forms an easy circuit.

  • Mammarelli Wines – We didn’t make it here due to a late start, but if you scheduled a morning visit you could do all of this in a day.
  • Patagonian Wines – They’ve been here the longest and are the biggest winery here. Schedule a picnic lunch for the best experience (lots of wine, food, and views while you eat).
  • Bodega y Viñedos Ayestarán Allard – Visit after Patagonian wines, they’re next door, ask Patagonian Wines how to get there and they’ll direct you to a different exit gate. I loved our tour here, it was complete. We were able to try all of their wines.
  • Los Retamos Alfajores – Just around the corner from Ayestaran Allard, this family run chacra makes award winning alfajores. Open for just three years (a pandemic passion project turned success story) she has medaled twice in the national alfajor competition. They have tours of the chacra on weekends or you can just swing by to buy from the shops all week. Their alfajores are also available at shops in town.

From Los Retamos we kept going down the road back to Ruta 40, completing a circuit without having to backtrack.

Note for wine lovers: There’s another winery in El Bolson at the foot of Piltriquitron, Bodega de Bernardi. Schedule a tour and tasting with them as well to try all the big wineries in the region.

Laberinto Patagonia

Also in El Hoyo near the wineries mentioned above is the Laberinto Patagonia.

This was recommended to me by just about everyone I talked to but it wasn’t open during our stays

They tend to open only in busy season and holidays, so check their Instagram to confirm.

A family could easily spend an entire afternoon here.

Along with the intricate maze, within the park there is a gift shop, an art gallery, a Sidreria and a tea house with some very tempting cakes on offer.

Lago Epuyén

We passed through tiny Epuyén twice during our trip to El Bolson and I found this small village to be very peaceful (something hard to come from in busier Bolson and Bariloche).

The main attraction is the town’s lake of the same name.

It is famously the most transparent in the region, notably because motor boats aren’t allowed on it.

One day we had lunch at Punto 40 Cerverceria when driving up from Trevelin/Esquel.

Pizza and beer with a view of the mountains? I highly recommend it for a casual stop.

Visit the lake inside the Puerto Bonito Municipal Park.

Entrance was just a few hundred pesos (2022) to park the car.

There were four different parking lots, one right after the other, each with a few different trails down to different beaches and view points.

Bring a picnic, sunscreen, and plenty of water to enjoy an afternoon on the water.

Go in the morning to have the place to yourself.

We left at 6 pm and a lot of locals were showing up with mate, not a bad way to kick back after work!

Puerto Patriada from above

Puerto Patriada

Puerto Patriada is also on Lago Epuyen, but on the opposite end of the lake.

Multiple friends kept insisting it was worth the drive so off we went, and I have to agree with them!

To get there you’ll head south on Ruta 40 before forking off onto a dirt access road for the rest of the drive. It was doable in our dinky rental car but you do need to drive slowly.

It took us around 40 minutes total to get there.

In the busier summer season you’ll find kayak rentals and dining options.

Bringing your own snacks, a picnic, and water is never a bad idea.

You’re far from town out here.

We spent the entire morning relaxing by the water.

It’s a beautiful place to disconnect.

Again, I recommend going in the morning to avoid crowds (my general advice for nearly anything in Argentina).

Where to Stay in El Bolson

When it comes to El Bolson accommodation, there is no shortage but leave the idea of large chain hotels at the door.

There are more cabins than you’ll know what to do with. Most are basic with Google Maps descriptions using words like: rustic, unassuming, or simple.

On a whim we booked the first cabins we came across after not being able to reach out pre-reserved paradise cabin due to our overloaded SUV (with no 4×4 capabilities) literally slipping down the mountain road.

Unassuming was right Our last minute cabin was comfortable enough but not something I’d have chosen in other circumstances or recommend, to be honest.

So having been there and done it wrong, here’s where I’d recommend to do it better:

  • La Casa del Arbol Hostel – This hostel is highly rated and conveniently located right in town, ideal for backpackers wanting to be walking distance from everything.
  • Casas Chaura – These modern rental houses are right in town, ideal if you don’t want a car or want to be walking distance to things. They are infinitely better than the cabins we stayed at! They have tiny cabins ideal for couples and two bedroom cabins ideal for families.
  • Sukal Cabins – These cabins are everything I wish I’d taken the time to find, they are 3 km out of town so it’s best if you have a rental car but people comment that they have walked into town (20-30 minute walk).
  • Huala Hosteria – This is another place I fell in love with and would love to stay at in the future, but you definitely need a car for this one. Ideal for couples, the property is by Lago Puelo and looks idyllic. Great for disconnecting, look at those lavender fields!!

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