One of Patagonia’s best hidden gems is the small village of El Bolson. While the town itself is small, the adventures surrounding it are grand. A few hours south of Bariloche, El Bolson is a must-visit stop on any Patagonian adventure. However, it tends to be overlooked as many travelers instead go straight to El Chalten from Bariloche. Not only will a stopover in El Bolson break up the lengthy full-day bus journey, it’ll also give you some of the most pristine, untouched adventures Patagonia has to offer.
This hippie haven has it all from a backpacker’s standpoint. Stunning mountains, endless treks, craft breweries, and more affordable prices than the rest of Patagonia make it a dream destination for hikers. It’s got a laid-back vibe unlike any other town I’ve been to. Even in the heart of the scenic city center, you will find only tranquility and serenity. Good views and good vibes all around make El Bolson a must-visit stop in Patagonia.
How To Get To El Bolson
El Bolson is pretty easy to get to. Bus companies in Argentina are for the most part reliable. The bus company Via Bariloche is your best bet, as they have departures every few hours from Bariloche. You should have no problem whatsoever dealing with Via Bariloche or coming from the north.
If you’re coming south, then it might be a bit more difficult and a lot less reliable. The other bus company is Marga Taqsa, which is your only option if you’re heading north from Esquel or El Chalten. I haven’t had great experiences with Marga Taqsa, as their booking offices are always closed and their website is hot garbage. When I finally did get a bus ticket with Marga Taqsa, our bus got cancelled without any notification. However, you don’t really have much of a choice once you’re deep in Argentina Patagonia.
Another option you always have is hitchhiking. Patagonia is a hitchhiker’s paradise, and you should have no problem hitching a ride to El Bolson if it’s in your comfort zone. Ruta 40 connects nearly all of Argentine Patagonia, so you’re bound to find travelers and commuters passing by in either direction.
The Best Things To Do In El Bolson
Cajon de Azul
This day hike is a challenging journey through the forest along some of the clearest rivers you’ll ever see. If you only have time for one hike in El Bolson, this is it.
Give yourself about 6-8 hours to do this hike. Although it can be done in less, you’ll want to stop and appreciate the scenery as often as possible.
It may be difficult to say, but it’s definitely easier to say than it is to hike Cerro Piltriquitron. This awe-inspiring mountain overlooks the city of El Bolson. You can’t go anywhere without seeing its jagged peaks and desolate slopes.
Looking for something quick that you can do right from town? Cerro Amigo is a short hike that gives you stunning views of everything. The village, Cerro Piltriquitron, the lush green fields, and so on. For an easy hike, this one’s got a lot of payoff.
El Bolson has no shortage of outdoor activities. If hiking’s not your thing, maybe give horseback riding a try.
El Bolson Artisan Market
The main plaza of El Bolson is home to a really cool market that sells anything you can think of. I stuck mostly to empanadas but the endless stalls of artisanal handicrafts are perfect for souvenir hunters. For a small town, this is quite an extensive market with some incredible items.
Where To Stay in El Bolson
For such a small village, El Bolson has a surprisingly wide variety of hostels and other accommodation to choose from. As a budget traveler, I highly recommend looking at some of the hostels in the area. Most of them offer private accommodation, and some seem straight out of a fairy tale.
Casona de Odile is where I stayed for my entire time in El Bolson. While it may be out of the city center, it is worth the extra trouble of getting there. The place is like a fairy-tale cottage. It’s hard to describe, but you just have to stay there to understand what I’m saying. Along with the beautiful property, the grounds are just gorgeous. It’s a short walk to an ice cold river where you can swim in and has a vast garden where you can lounge around in the hammocks or dip your feet in the creek. Oh yeah, and they’ve got lots of dogs.
They are pretty far out of town but they do take care of most of your needs in case you can’t go into town. They have laundry services and do offer food, although it’s usually either empanadas or pizza. But hey, you can’t go wrong with either.
There are a few other hostels in El Bolson that caught my eye, although you’ll have to make the difficult choice yourself. The dilemma is the same with every hostel. The hostels with the most epic views are annoyingly far out of town, but if you stay in the city center, you just get a sense of FOMO for not having the killer view. It’s all you, fam.
Getting Around El Bolson
El Bolson does have a bus system but it isn’t exactly the most reliable. Since El Bolson is a small town, the buses are very infrequent. On weekends, the buses to and from town might only run every three or four hours. The bus schedules typically end pretty early as well, usually no later than 9 or 10 PM. However, they are cheap and if you don’t mind waiting, you’ll save a lot of money compared to just taking taxis everywhere.
For when the bus fails you, a remise is the way to go. Although more expensive, you can usually haggle the prices down to something more reasonable. The thing with taxis in El Bolson and other parts of Argentina is that you can’t just wave them down on the street. Most times, you’ll have to find a remise service and book it through them. If you see one in El Bolson, make sure to write the number down even if you don’t need it at that moment. Just send a text or call the number and you should be able to get a ride without a problem.
I don’t usually consider hitchhiking during my travels, but in Patagonia, hitchhiking is a way of life. You’ll find backpackers and travelers lining the roads of Ruta 40 as they try to catch a ride from a generous road tripper. El Bolson is no different. Most of El Bolson’s town is walkable, but to get to some of the trailheads and more secluded hostels, hitchhiking is a good option. The general trick is to just start walking in whatever direction you need to go in and try to flag down a car as they pass you. Tip them if you want, but typically, drivers who stop wouldn’t expect much, unless they specifically ask for money before you hop in.
Budget Tips For El Bolson
I had an obsession with this supermarket. One thing that you’ll have to get used to doing in Patagonia is cooking for yourself. La Anonima is where you’ll get the cheapest groceries in Patagonia that also happens to be mostly edible. I don’t know what it is about the other supermarkets but LA is just vastly superior. Get all your groceries here and cook for yourself. Eating out in El Bolson can be expensive, although they do have a great selection of restaurants and craft breweries.
If you’ve made it to El Bolson, you probably already know the Western Union trick. Sending money to yourself via Western Union gets you an exchange rate that is like 20-30% higher than the official government exchange rate. ATMs are also completely useless in Argentina, so using Western Union is basically a necessity. Download the app and you don’t even need to make an account. Just send money to yourself (make sure your name is exactly as it is on your passport) and withdraw it from Western Union.
Be careful in El Bolson, though. Since it’s a small town, you likely won’t be able to send yourself sums higher than $100-150. They might not have that amount of money on hand, and you’ll be out of luck. Oh yeah, at this WU, they needed a photocopy of my passport as well as my actual passport. There’s a bookstore across the street where you can get a copy printed for about 5 pesos.
Seriously, just do it. It’s not a problem and it’ll save you money.