The Circuito Chico Bariloche is one of the most iconic stretches of tarmac in the region. Argentina’s lake district is world renowned for its stunning scenery. This 27 kilometre (17 mile) loop encompasses some of the finest examples of the out-of-this-world scenery the region offers.
Awesome is an overused word these days, but completely accurate to describe these views. They will literally fill you with awe.
Majestic, snow capped mountains fall away into brilliantly turquoise reservoirs. The glimmering waters are fringed with lush green forests. The landscapes are simply cinematic.
Cycling the Circuito Chico was unquestionably one of the most enjoyable experiences we had during our time in Bariloche. Wanting to go out on a high, we saved it until our last full day here, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
How to Get to Circuito Chico From Bariloche
Getting to the start of the Circuito Chico from Bariloche couldn’t be easier. There is a public bus which goes directly there from the centre of town. Here are all the details:
Get Your SUBE Card
As with all of the buses in Bariloche, it’s not possible to pay for a ticket with cash. Instead you’ll need to use a prepaid SUBE card to board the bus. It’s the same card that you use for public transport in Buenos Aires and many other cities in Argentina. So if you already have one then great, it will still work here.
If you don’t have a SUBE card there are a few places across town where you can pick one up. Lots of the shops sell the cards and recharge them, look out for the blue SUBE logo in window fronts. You can also search this interactive map for local card sellers.
Number 20 Bus
The bus you need is the number 20, it runs from Terminal to Llao Llao via the centre of town. The main stop in central Bariloche is opposite the Nahuel Huapi National Park office.
Tell the bus driver that you’re going to “kilometro 18” and it will cost $39ARS (£0.70GBP, $0.90USD). The journey takes around 45 minutes and is a scenic route along the banks of Lake Nahuel Huapi. If you can bag a window seat on the right hand side you’ll enjoy stunning views.
Where to Get off the Bus
There are kilometre markers along the side of the road so you can keep an eye on where you are. The stop to get of at is the one after Cerro Campanario. Cerro Campanario is where most people will likely be heading and the driver will probably let the bus know when you arrive. The bus will thin out and it’s time to get ready to jump off.
Your stop is just before a large roundabout and you’ll spot the flags of Circuito Chico Adventure bike shop opposite. If in doubt, ask the bus driver to shout when you arrive.
Beware Crowded Buses
One thing to be aware of is that the buses get extremely crowded at peak times. The number 20 starts at the bus terminal so can be full before it reaches the centre. The one we intended to get was so packed it didn’t even stop to pick anyone up.
Our advice would be to get to the stop a little while before your intended departure time. Although it won’t guarantee you getting on if the bus is already full, it should ensure you’re at the front of the queue for the next one.
We actually walked to the bus stop before when the first bus sailed past. It’s about 10 minutes further along towards Terminal. It paid off as we were even able to get a seat.
Number 20 Bus Times
The number 20 bus starts running at 4.10 from the centre and they’re extremely regular. From 5.55 they leave every 20 minutes, so you have plenty of options. The bike shop doesn’t open until 10am so there’s not much point setting off before about 9am anyway.
For a full timetable of times check out the operator’s website here.
Exploring Circuito Chico Bariloche by Bike
Cycling the Circuito Chico is a fantastic way to drink in the scenery and explore the magnificent landscapes. It allows you to do things at your own pace. Plus you can take as many breaks and detours as you wish.
Renting the Bike
There are a couple of companies you can hire bikes from, the most convenient is Circuito Chico Adventure. It’s directly opposite the bus stop you get off on the journey from Bariloche.
They have a fleet of well looked after bikes to choose from and the service is fantastic. We were greeted by a really friendly guy who explained the route and what there is to do along the way. He also gave us all the timings so we could work out our route and plan how long it would take in total.
You have two types of bike to choose from – standard or deluxe. The standard bikes are $699ARS (£12.25GBP, $16USD) while deluxe bikes are $799ARS (£14GBP, $18.20USD).
The main difference between them is the number of gears, deluxe has 27 to standard’s 24. Unless you’re an avid cyclist you probably won’t have any idea what to do with the extra gears. And they’re not a necessity, so our advice would be just get a standard.
The bikes come in various frame sizes that the team match to your height and build. Once they’ve picked out a bike you can give it a spin around a small test track they have. Let them know if anything feels wrong or uncomfortable and they’ll happily make the necessary adjustments.
You also get given a helmet, a pump, a lock and a high vis vest to wear over your bag. Rest assured you’ll look super sexy.
If you’re going at peak times then it’s advisable to book your bike to ensure you don’t miss out. You can do that on the website here.
The Circuito Chico Map and Route
The advice from the dudes in the know at Circuito Chico Adventure is to cycle in a clockwise direction. Their reasoning behind it is that there’s less uphill cycling in this direction so it’s easier.
We’d go one step further and suggest that there are in fact numerous reasons it’s a better route.
The first part of the cycle is far more scenic in a clockwise direction so you’re immediately immersed in the stunning surroundings. If you were to go the other way you’d be cycling for quite a while before seeing anything of note. You’d already be pretty knackered by the time you got to the good stuff.
If you’re planning to stop and eat on the Circuito Chico, the Patagonia Brewery provides the perfect lunch spot. Alternatively you can just stop for a beer if you bring your own lunch like we did. Either way, it’s a nice distance along from the start for a short break, more on this later.
Circuito Chico Timings
We set off from Bariloche at 10.30 and arrived at the bike shop at km18 at 11:15. After sorting out the bikes it was 11:30 when we hit the tarmac.
This worked out well as it meant we arrived at the Patagonia brewery just after midday and not long after it opened. We spent around an hour there enjoying a beer and the views.
Along the rest of the way we stopped for plenty of photographs, cycled pretty slowly up the hills, and completed a two hour detour to hike Cerro Llao Llao. We still made it back with plenty of time to spare, arriving at the bike shop at 17:30.
We’d suggest not setting off any later than 11:30, particularly not if you plan on taking any detours. But if you’re not too confident you’ll be able to cope with the cycling or just want longer on the route, you should set off a bit earlier.
While it took us around 6 hours in total, we probably could have comfortably made it around in half that time had we not stopped.
How Hard is the Circuito Chico?
Take a look around at Bariloche’s scenery and you should start to get an idea of what the route entails. There are hills, and lots of them. But what goes up must come down, and the downhills are effortless plain sailing.
If you’re a regular cycler you’ll have absolutely no problems navigating the route. Sure, some of the inclines are a bit steep, but nothing too crazy. If you’re not used to cycling though, you’re probably gonna struggle on many of the hills.
But here’s the thing. It’s not the tour de France, you’re not racing anyone and the idea is to enjoy yourself. If you’re thighs are burning, get off and walk your bike up the hill instead. Most people we saw cycling had to do this at multiple points so there’s no shame in it!
The route is 27 kilometres, and while that may sound a lot, on a bike it’s really not far. It’s possible to complete the circuit in a couple of hours if you fly round without stopping. But that’s really not the point.
So allow yourself plenty of time. Don’t worry about whether you can do it or not (you can). And just enjoy the ride.
What to Take With You to Cycle the Circuito Chico
The best advice on what to wear is to dress in layers. This way you can strip off and add on as needed. Cycling is sweaty work, especially on a hot day. However, a fair amount of the route is under tree cover and it can get windy making it cool. Prepare for all eventualities with your clothing.
If you’re doing the water activities you should take a spare set of clothes with you just in case – more on that below.
Other than clothing, there are a number of essentials to throw in your backpack to get you through the day:
- Water filter bottle to allow you to drink from the lakes
- Packed lunch (if taking) and plenty of snacks
- Portable charger
- Dry bags for electrical equipment
- Packable feather down jacket in case it gets chilly
- Packable waterproof jacket
- High factor sun protector
- Swimwear and change of clothes if kayaking or SUPing
- Travel Towel for water activities
Things to do on the Circuito Chico Bariloche
Half of the fun in cycling the Circuito Chico are the endless number of stops you can make. From hikes to stopping off for a cheeky beer, here are some of the top activities.
Patagonia is one of the most famous beer producers in Argentina. They have a wide distribution so you’ll find their beers in shops and bars all over the country. More importantly, their brewery is actually located on the Circuito Chico at km24.7.
Although It’s just over 6km into your cycle, you’ll have already made your way up a couple of steep hills. By the time you spot the brewery’s familiar logo depicting the local mountain ranges you’ll be more than ready for a swift libation.
We didn’t eat the food but it looked delicious so we kind of regretted taking a packed lunch. Friends we met later told us they’d eaten there and it was really good, which just compounded this feeling.
We did have a beer though. And while Patagonia isn’t the world’s most exciting brewery, they do churn out some very quaffable wallop. Not that we’re advocating drinking and cycling.
Better than the beer and the food we never managed to get our chops around, are the breathtaking surroundings.
The bar is adorned with floor to ceiling glass windows across one entire side. But if you have the option then take a seat outside on the patio. The Patagonia taproom overlooks Lago Perito Moreno and the views are worth a visit alone.
This little town was actually the first in the region established by European settlers in the late 1800s. A number Swiss and German families established it after being offered free land in return for developing the land.
These days it’s an extremely popular excursion from Bariloche and a stop for tours exploring the region. The main draws are its craft fair and a very unique dish that’s cooked here called El Curanto.
The market is only open on Wednesdays and Sundays and sells a mixture of souvenirs and arts and crafts. Additionally there are food stalls selling local and European grub plus places to grab a beer.
El Curanto is the town’s signature dish and the cooking of it is a spectacle in itself. It’s cooked using hot stones placed in a pit, layered with leaves and various meats and vegetables on top. It’s then covered in cloths and the hole filled back in and left to steam. The place to find El Curanto is the market, meaning you can also only get it on Wednesdays and Sundays.
We personally decided not to take the detour to Colonia Suiza for three reasons.
Firstly, we cycled the Circuito Chico on a Friday meaning the fair would not have been open. By many accounts it’s the most exciting thing about the place and main reason to go.
Secondly, we’ve heard very mixed reviews about Colonia Suiza, mainly leaning towards the negative. While we like to make our own minds up on places, what we read was overwhelmingly unenthusiastic.
Thirdly, we figured we may not have had time to complete this detour and the hikes we wanted to do. We made the call to skip it to ensure we could do other stuff and we were right to do so.
Hotel Llao Llao
Llao Llao is the oldest and most iconic hotel in the region with a proud history dating back to 1938. While this was when it first flung open its doors to tourists, it’s had a tumultuous journey to where it is today.
Gutted by fire less than a year after opening, it was rebuilt and reopened until it closed in 1978. It wouldn’t be until 15 years later that it welcomed its next guest. However, since 1993 when it was transformed into a 5* resort and golf course, it’s remained one of the area’s main draws.
The building itself is impressive and striking, a terracotta roof crowns its sparkling white walls. Thanks to its prominent position, surrounded by mountains and lakes, it can be seen from many viewpoints, miles away. It’s a vast complex that stands out spectacularly from its natural surroundings.
There are guided tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays if you’re interested in finding out more. Alternatively you can drop in for afternoon tea or a meal in one of its five restaurants. Otherwise it makes a great reference point on the cycle as you catch sight of it from various angles.
Kayaking or Stand Up Paddle Boarding
If you want to add an extra element to your cycle then Circuito Chico Adventure also hire out kayaks and paddle boards. You can get combo deals with the bicycles that allow you to spin the short distance to Bahía Pascasio. This is where the waterborne arm of their business is stationed.
These bike combos give you an hour on the water on the vessel of your choice for a little extra. Get in touch directly with them to confirm prices.
Note that you’ll only be able to do this on days when the weather is suitable. If it’s too windy, cold, or raining they won’t let you take the kayaks or paddle boards out.
Hikes Along the Circuito Chico Bariloche
There are a couple of hikes that we’d highly recommend you taking from the Circuito Bariloche. Though they can be done as activities in their own right, one is along the route and the other makes the perfect ending to a great day.
Cerro Llao Llao
This hike is about 2/3s of the way around the Circuito Chico route but is worth the effort. Even if you are totally cream crackered by this stage.
Despite the name, you can’t actually spot Hotel Llao Llao from its summit, it faces in the opposite direction. What you do get to see though is far more spectacular.
The hike is a little tricky as it’s quite steep and it’s a dirt path which can get a bit slippy. Allow around an hour and a half to get up and down and spend some time appreciating the views.
This is one of the classic things to do in Bariloche and for good reason. The views from the top are out of this world. It’s a few hundred metres away from the start of the Circuito Chico.
You can hike up which takes around half an hour, or jump on the ski lift which takes 7 minutes. Again the hike is steep and the dirt path slippy in places. The ski lift provides picturesque views and a great photo op at the top.
Be aware that the last chair lift leaves the bottom at 17:30. Adjust your Circuito Chico timings accordingly if you want to ride up after your cycle. Alternatively you could do this before the cycle if you prefer.
Alternative Ways to Explore the Circuito Chico Bariloche
We would wholeheartedly recommend cycling around the Circuito Chico, it’s a terrific way to witness it. But if for whatever reason you’re not feeling it, rest assured you have alternatives.
Take a Tour of Circuito Chico
There are numerous tours that encompass the Circuito Chico Bariloche, plus dedicated ones that just cover this route. This half day tour takes you around all of the major sights along the way and includes hotel pick up and drop off. This tour also includes a ride up to the top of Cerro Campanario via the chairlift.
Driving Around the Circuito Chico
If you’ve already got a vehicle or are planning to hire one then driving the Circuito Chico is extremely simple. It will also take significantly less time, allowing you to stop off wherever you want and for longer periods.
Be aware that while the main road is paved and smooth, the detours are all on dirt tracks. They get very bumpy in patches and some aren’t very well maintained.
Public Bus to Circuito Chico
There is no public bus that goes all the way around the Circuito Chico, unfortunately. It is possible to get yourself as far as Llao Llao on the no.20 bus that runs from Bariloche. However, it goes anticlockwise meaning you’ll miss out on most of the best scenery along the route.
This is only really useful if Hotel Llao Llao is of particular interest to you.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
The roads on the Circuito Chico Bariloche aren’t excessively dangerous or particularly busy until the final 7km. But road cycling always comes with some risks attached. Accidents do and have happened on the route and the last thing you want is to not be insured.
Our go to travel insurance provider is World Nomads. They have a no bullshit approach to policy & are perfect for adventurous travellers like us. Get a no obligation quote here:
Got a question on cycling the Circuito Chico? Drop us a note in the comments below and we’ll do our best to help.
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Travel lover, professional writer and football (soccer) obsessive, James loves nothing more than getting outside and exploring little known corners of the globe. He’s also very partial to a drop of Guinness.