Patagonia is amazing. Simply stunning. For years, I have heard stories of majestic mountain landscapes, wicked peaks, and creamy blue glacial lakes. And a few weeks ago, I got my first taste of Patagonia's wonders near Argentina's Lake District hub, Bariloche.
Bariloche itself is a far cry from a responsible tourism destination. It's a modern ski town, filled with resort developments, high rise hotels, and souvenir shops galore. But beyond the city limits, Bariloche is surrounded by some of the most beautiful wilderness on the planet. Trekkers and nature lovers willing to explore beyond the mainstream tourist path are rewarded with rich yet accessible ecotourism opportunities.
For me, the highlight of the region was a stay at Refugio Emilio Frey, one of the Bariloche Andean Club's backcountry huts. These basic accommodations, located in stunning surroundings accessible only by foot, make getting deep into nature available to travelers not prepared or interested in hauling a heavy pack and full camping gear (though campers are welcome at the refugios). The atmosphere is intimate and friendly, with communal kitchen and dining facilities, and dormitory-style sleeping quarters. Live-in hosts welcome guests and keep the grounds and building in order. The refugio I visited was surprisingly well stocked, selling snacks, alcoholic beverages, and even full meals. It's pretty rare to hike 10 km into the wilderness and end up at a remote, rustic hut that serves hot and delicious pizzas!
The Bariloche Andean Club has made commendable efforts to integrate sustainable practices into their buildings. Refugios are constructed primarily with local and indigenous materials. All electricity consumed in the refugios is produced on-site from a small solar and wind power station. The pristine environment allows for drinkable water straight from the local sources with no treatment. Wastewater is stored and treated with special organic cleansers. All visitors are required to follow leave-no-trace ethics, and pack out all of their own trash. It's not 100% eco-friendly though – a gasoline generator is required to pump water to holding tanks, and propane gas is burned for cooking and water heating in the kitchen. Still, not bad for an off-the-grid wilderness accommodation with good services.
Getting deep into nature is rarely this easy, nor this comfortable, nor this cheap. And few destinations rival Patagonia's beauty. If you find yourself in Bariloche, hop off the tour bus and start walking into the woods. You won't find many better opportunities than this.
Learn more about the Bariloche Mountain Club, regional hikes, and backcountry refugios at their office in the town center, or check at www.clubandino.com.ar.
About the Author: Ted Martens
Ted’s journey into the travel and tourism industry started the summer after a two-month backpacking trip throughout Europe ignited a life-long passion for international travel. With a master’s degree in Tourism Development, Ted has focused his efforts on helping non-profit Sustainable Travel International promote responsible tourism across the globe as their Director of Outreach & Development. After working too hard for the past 5 years, he is on the road again, escaping the office for some field research… is the responsible travel movement taking seed across the globe, or not?