Cerro Llao Llao – The Hidden Gem of Patagonia
“Nearing the top of Cerro Llao Llao, we see a worn spot of ground and a slight gap in the bushes near the ledge. We carefully poke through the opening onto a high rock out-crop, and one of the most panoramic landscape vistas in Patagonia unfolds before our eyes.”
This post is part of a multi-post series on the area around Bariloche, Argentina
This article contains the following sections:
- Intro to Cerro Llao Llao
- Cerro Llao Llao Day Hike
- Getting to Cerro Llao Llao
- What to Bring
- My Gear
- Related Posts
- Picture Gallery
Intro to Cerro Llao Llao
Bariloche de San Carlos, Argentina, or simply “Bariloche,” may commonly be referred to as the “Gateway to Patagonia”, but it is far more than a brief stop-over town. This engaging city and its breathtaking local landscape should be considered a core destination spot in the region as it serves up some of the best Patagonia has to offer.
One of the top hikes and scenic view points in the Bariloche area is also one of the most accessible from the city center, the trail to the top of Cerro Llao Llao (Llao Llao hill). National Geographic and others consider the vistas along this hike among the top in all of South America.
Visitors to Bariloche fall generally into two groups: Those that are “born-to-trek” and spend 80+% of their time in the area combining multiple trails into full-day or multiple-day trek excursions; and those that like to experience a beautiful day hike for all or part of a day, and then sample other outdoor or cultural activities the rest of the time to balance their experience. Cerro Llao Llao’s impressive panoramic views of the lakes and forested mountain peaks that surround Bariloche, its relatively easy access and lower-moderate trail difficulty make this rewarding hike an excellent choice for everyone.
When considering your outing options in this gateway city, you will likely hear a lot about Llao Llao’s big sister, Cerro Campanario. This slightly higher, fully-commercialize hilltop attraction can be a lovely experience for those wanting to grab similar and slightly wider panoramic views of the area with less time and effort than strolling up Llao Llao. However, the experience if very different. Cerro Campanario also has a chair lift that, after several minutes in line and dropping about $330 ARS (Argentina Pesos), can deliver you to the top of the hill where along with beautiful views, a restaurant, restrooms and possibly hundreds of fellow tourist await you. The viewpoint are lovely despite the crowds, but they often are crowded.
While trekkers can opt to take a pleasant-enough winding trail to Campanario’s top observation deck, many that have taken both trails are more drawn to Cerro Llao Llao hike because of its more peaceful and secluded setting. Personally, I’d recommend starting your visit in Bariloche with a quick ride up the Campanario lift to sample the incredible views. Once you see them, you’ll be excited to hike up Cerro Llao Llao before you leave the area to commune with the beauty of those views from a more natural and peaceful setting.
Click here to read more my visit to Cerro Campanario (insert link).
Cerro Llao Llao Day Hike
After your lovely ride along the lake shore from Bariloche to the Llao Llao area, you arrive at the entrance to Paque Municipal Bariloche, or as some refer to it, Llao Llao park. You technically have entered Bariloche’s famous Circuito Chico circuit loop which wraps around and through the peninsula that is home to the Municipal Park and several other worthwhile day-hiking trails, all with a different flavor. But for now, if parking is available, I recommend stopping just inside the park’s entrance on the left where you’ll find the park’s visitor center.
Surrounded by large-growth trees, the small rustic visitor’s center is quite lovely on its own, but you are here to check out and take photos of the signage displayed outside of the center. While the Llao Llao trail is marked with some good signs along the way, your photos of the trail map posters and some vista illustrations posted outside the center may help you better orient yourself during your outing.
FYI – There are multiple reports of the visitor center being closed at peak times or the staff not being particularly helpful (It was closed the day I visited). If either is the case, don’t wait, just grab your info from the signs and either walk to the trailhead just down the road or prepare to park.
Speaking of parking, the number of spaces at the visitor center’s lot is very limited, so I recommend exiting the center’s parking lot and turning left toward the peninsula. There is no official parking lot directly in front of the Cerro Llao Llao trailhead, so grab any road side parking you can find. Stroll further for 10-15 minutes down the road (or less depending on where you park), and the sign for the well-marked trailhead appears on your right.
The hike has three basic sections: The Flat Peninsula Floor (wooded area), Mid-Section / Switch-Backs (elevation gain), and Gradual Wrap Along the Hill Top.
The Flat Peninsula Floor
While not the most exciting part of the walk, the quiet and meandering trail from the road to the beginning of the elevation gain/switch backs was actually a refreshing change. We had just come from strolling through busy Bariloche and visiting Cerro Campanario with its touristy crowd. On this mostly sunny afternoon spring day in Patagonia, the intermittent sun was warm and gave the deep green and light brown vegetation a brighter hue. The short sections of elevated boardwalk over sometimes soggy trail parts was a nice touch as well. The intimacy of the tree and shrub growth typical of meadows near higher peaks provided a perfect set up for the vistas soon to come. Some writers have referred to this area as an “Enchanted Forest”, but I believe that is a bit overkill. To manage your expectations, if you’ve visited temperate woodlands in upper foothills directly below mountain forests before, you’ll find the flora and fauna here equally as beautiful.
Along the trail you will find a handful of signs. One is at the junction to Villa Tacul. This charming trail offers a reasonably easy walk with overlooks of the picturesque Llao Llao bay. You can, of course, combine this walk with the Llao Llao hike but today you are staying on the trail to the top of the Cerro. Note that locals told me they like to spend time lounging at or near the ends of these trails, where they picnic and leisurely take in the beauty. Consider not rushing to see many sites and instead slowing down and seeing the more important things. See the Picture Gallery at the end of this post for some examples of such spots.
The flat trail begins its gradual ascent and starts to turn toward the hill. It is still an easy walk at this point as the trail becomes more defined and the bushes close-in to guide you along the way. Initially, the increasing height of the shrubs mostly blocks the views of the nearby landscape, but the slow and steady elevation gain will eventually provide that reveal. Natural tree or other debris can occasionally fall across the narrow trail here, and these small barriers may need to be navigated. Nearing the steeper end of this lower part of the trail, you begin to get your first glimpse of the views Llao Llao will provide. This is often a visitor’s first sight of the region’s visual gifts so naturally, this portion of the trail can bottle-neck as new awe-struck tourists stop and start blasting camera shots from these first viewpoints. My advice ….. don’t bother snapping shots. Take it in, be in the moment with the land and then move on. What is coming up will leave you slack-jawed and the higher-ground is where you should be filling up your camera!
Mid-Section / Switch-Backs (elevation gain)
Part of my issues with internet articles is that the writer’s assessment of things, especially hike difficulty, can be very skewed based on their individual perspectives. One person’s light to moderate walk up a hill is another person’s mountainous switchback hell. With Cerro Llao Llao, the hike’s elevation gain is reported to be about 300 meters or 900 plus feet, a majority of which occurs in this winding / switchbacky middle-portion of the trail. The good news is that the brevity of this section, combined with the multiple times you’ll want to stop and shoot some pics of the now emerging scenery (thus getting a moment for a breather), make the overall trek pretty achievable for most moderately mobile hikers. If you know you are not up for a basic moderate incline or your knees will mutiny on extended up or downhill trails, you have the option of seeing similar vistas and saving yourself risk of injury by visiting the chair-lift-equipped Cerro Campanario just 9 Km down the road towards Bariloche. However, if you pace yourself and use your trek poles, your hike up Llao Llao will pay you dividends.
Gradual Wrap Along the Hill Top
What makes this hike so appealing is the multiple sensory experiences it provides. Once you start winding off of the steeper mid-section incline, the trail begins to arc to the right. Up here on the crest, the wind that was blocked by the hill and denser bushes below now makes its way easily through the thinner tree stands and hardier but more separated shrubs. Rest hear a moment, layer-up if needed and take in the sound of the wind rustling through the taller trees, the cool air on your skin and the smell of the leave and needle beds that pad the ground of the hilltop.
As you make your way up the less but still inclining trail, this is where the magic starts to happen.
Although you are on the crest of the hill, you are not on a typical mountain ridge. It is not barren, and there is still enough vegetation along the ledges and down-slopes that the bushes often keep the outlooks hidden. While it is tempting to look left at the hillside or search the sky ahead for the radio tower that some reference as a guide marker to find the hilltop, keep checking regularly to the right. This is where the outlooks will lie.
Along this part of the trail there will be a few obvious clearings in the brush where you will find rock outcroppings that offer profoundly beautiful views of Lago Nahuel Huapi and the surrounding area. Definitely stop at these, but note that most every other hiker will be doing the same. While this is not the most crowded trail you may walk in Patagonia, on a high-traffic day there may be many other trekkers on these easy-to-access rock platforms too, which could compromise your pictures or just disturb your Chi.
This is why you need to look to the right regularly. If you keep your eyes peeled, you may notice some worn ground areas below slight gaps between some of the bushes along the ridge. If you carefully (I repeat carefully) peek through these opportunistic openings, you may find an isolated safe outcropping where you can rest and take in one of Patagonia’s best visual shows in a more relaxed and private setting. Make sure to save your packed lunch or trail snacks so you can nosh, lounge and linger at these spots. It’s that postcard pretty.
“Each person has their personal favorite, but I felt that these isolated outcropping before hitting the higher end-point of the trail were equal to and in some cases prettier than the vistas further up the trail.”
Important note about safety:
Cero Llao Llao is NOT a gentle rolling hill. The outcroppings hanging off the Llao Llao hill have vertical drops that are very high and potentially dangerous. The following picture of an artistic sign illustrates the true danger of these rock-ledges. People get hurt every year, generally from their own lack of attention or poor judgement when on these ledges. Always be careful on the rock outcrops, especially in wet or snowy conditions.
Getting to Cerro Llao Llao
- Locals will tell you the best way to get the most out of your visit to the Bariloche area is to rent a car. With the exception of some confusing one-way street layouts in the city of Bariloche, Driving is easy in good weather in this part of Patagonia, especially from the city to Cerro Llao Llao. Enjoy the drive too, because this 18 Killometer stretch of road is very scenic.
- From the city of Bariloche to Paque Municipal Bariloche, drive West from Bariloche along Avenue Exequiel Bustillo (Route AU237). Past Lago Llao Llao, near the Hotel Llao Llao, follow the signs to Circuito Chico and the Parque.
- Stop at the Parque’s visitor center located immediately inside the entrance to the park on your left, then follow the hiking directions above.
- Following the same driving route from Bariloche to Parque Municipal Bariloche, the road is mostly flat and an easy 18 kilometer-ish ride for experienced cyclists, with the exception that the road does not have wide shoulders at some points and it can be crowded with touristy-types that are staring at the scenery while driving instead of watching out for you on the road. A good alternative for cyclers would be to take the bus to the stop near Cerro Campanario, and walk just a bit further down the road on the side opposite the lake to find one of the several bike rental shops in the area: http://www.circuitochicoadventure.com/en
Take the #20 Bus from Bariloche
- For those that opt not to rent a car, the local bus #20 provides reliable service from Avenida San Martin in central Bariloche to the beginning of the Circuito Chico at Lago Llao Llao (just adjacent to Hotel Llao Llao). A 15-minute stroll up the road will get you to the Parque Visitor’s center on the left just inside the park. Follow the Cerro Llao Llao Day Hike info above to get to the trailhead.
- A link to the bus map is here: Bus #20 Web Info. I always recommend stopping by the local official Tourist Information center in town, where you can receive the most current bus schedule and route information, an explanation of fares and usually a hand-highlighted mapped of the current bus stops. The Municipal Tourist Office is located in the Centro Civico in Plaza Ciudades Hermanas right in the center of Town (almost across the street from the Historias de Bariloche and near the Museo de la Patagonia. It’s in a cute cultural center of the city just South of some of the best Breweries in town, so you’ll likely be in the neighborhood anyway.
- Virtually no one in the developed world would recommend that someone, especially a solo traveler, should hitchhike due to the obvious potential dangers. Yet, when you travel around the Bariloche area, you will see young and older people alike from all over the world thumbing a ride. I personally did not do it, but I spoke to about a dozen people who did, and they said they either “gave it a try for the first time” or they planned in advance to hitchhike regularly as part of their daily cost saving strategies. They said that they had heard (or felt) it was relatively safe to hitchhike here in Bariloche, or at least safer than anywhere else. Its your call, and I am not advocating here, just reporting that some consider it a viable option in this idyllic retreat.
What to Bring
- Multiple layers
- Rain poncho or other jacket (weather dependent)
- Sun screen and Sunglasses
- Coverage hat
- Sunglasses The best camera you have
- Good day trek shoes or better
- Hiking poles if desired
- A nice packed lunch (so you can lounge at a view point and take in the beauty of Patagonia)
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