The highlight of our visit to El Bolson was climbing to the summit of Cerro Piltriquitron, the mountain which overlooks the town. It's at an altitude of 2280 metres, and can be done in a full day hike from El Bolson.
The starting point of the climb is Platforma Piltriquitron, 13 km from el Bolson, at approx 1000m altitude, and also the departure point for paragliding from the mountain. The Platforma is accessible by ripio road, and a taxi from El Bolson costs from 50-60 pesos. You could walk all the way from El Bolson, though if you then wanted to climb to the summit, you would need to spend the night at the Refugio.
From the platforma, a well marked trail leads to Refugio Piltriquitron, at altitude 1450m. The trail passes by Bosque Tallado, well worth a stop to see the amazing wood sculptures made from the fallen trees. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the refugio, where you can find lodging, food, and a friendly welcome from Manuel, who runs it. If you are planning to climb to the summit, you should leave your details at the refugio (and check in on the way back down). We called into the refugio both ont he way up and down for a Te con Leche and a chat with Manual, who will show you pictures of the surrounding areas in all seasons. There is also a guest-book, a friendly cat, Ojota, and information about the climb, as well as a very helpful picture of the path, without which we would never have found the summit.
After leaving the refugio, the path is not so well marked. We climbed in mid November, still spring, which meant there was snow on the track from the refugio onwards. We followed the path up from the refugio, then followed the metal posts from an abandoned ski-lift. At the last post, we turned left (heading east), crossing the pass between Piltriquitrona and Cerro Huemul. At the bottom of the valley we turned south-west and began the long scree and snow climb to the summit.
It took us 3 hours to reach the summit from the Refugio, and it was quite a difficult climb as we had neither crampons nor ice-axes. Both are extremely useful, though not necessary, for spring climbs. Towards the end of the climb we had to scramble over the snow and rock, and it was very tiring. The summit didn't come into view until towards the end, but we had a goo d idea of the direction thanks to the instructions from the hostlel.
We were both exhausted and exhilarated when we made it to the top, our first Patagonian climb. The last section was very tough, and we needed to stop many times. It reminded me of climbing Toubkal in Morocco. The summit is very narrow and there are dangerous slopes on all sides so care should be taken. We had fantastic views from the top, despite the clouds. Descending was very fast as we put on our waterproofs and slid downhill over the snow, making it back to refuge in just over one hour.
I would strongly recommend this hike to anyone visiting El Bolson. It's much easier in summer, when most of the snow has melted, but at any time of year, it's a fantastic hike with excellent scenery.
The beautiful Cascada Escondida, 10km north of El Bolson, are well worth a visit. A road runs here from El Bolson, allowing access by car, but a better way to get here in my opinion is by hiking, first to Mirador del Rio Azul, then on to Cabeza del Indio, from where you can follow the well marked Paseo de los Duendes to the waterfalls.
There is a nice circular walk around and down to the waterfalls with excellent viewpoints at strategic points. It's very well laid out, and it makes a lovely place to stop for lunch. During our visit in November there were very few others there, but I imagine it's much busier in high season. There is also a small Botanical Garden nearby.
The hike back to El Bolson can be shortened by following the Sendero Interpretivo to a point between sign 6 & 7, and then following the sign to Pueblo. There are a number of paths down: ours emerged at a cemetery near Ruta 40. We were accommpanied on this trip by a dog who had followed us around from the Botanical Gardens. Not sure who owned him but he was very helpful for finding the way as he always seemed to pick the best path!
A popular site near El Bolson is Cabeza del Indio (Indian's Head), a rock form which resembles a human head. It's located 6km from the centre of town, and makes for a nice hike, passing by the Mirador del Rio Azul, from where there are well-worth seeing views, along the way. A ripio road runs all the way to a small garden and playground below the Cabeza, though I recommend the hike, as some of the scenery is excellent. Near the playground area is a small kiosk which was closed during our visit, but which I imagine is opened in summer.
There are two routes to the viewing platform below the "head". We took the zig-zag path which is slightly longer, but which offers fantastic views, and gives you the opportunity to walk underneath the rock along a steep ridge. I would advise taking the other path if you don't like heights.
The hike to Cabeza del Indio can be extended into a longer hike all the way to the beautiful Escondia waterfalls, a few kilometres further north. A well marked path links the Cabeza and the waterfalls, and it takes about an hour to do the hike.
A short distance from El Bolson is the Mirador del Rio Azul, from where you have an excellent view of the river, of Cerro Lindo and Cerro Hielo Azul behind, and even of the mountains in Chile in the distance. The mirador is about 5km walk from El Bolson.
Head west from the centre of El Bolson along Calle Azcuenaga to cross the bridge over the Rio Quemquemtreu. From here you can follow the signposts for both Mirador del Rio Azul (or the nearby Cabeza del Indio). It's a steepish uphill climb with signposts ndicating away at the main junctions. The tourist office can supply you a map showing an outline of the route.
Before you reach the morador you'll notice excellent views over the Rio Azul and the valley below. The mirador has a number of seats from where you can take it all in. The mirador can be reched by car along a ripio road, but it's an easy enough hike too, which takes about an hour in total. If you've hiked this far you should continue onto Cabezo del Indio, 1km further north along the road.
The easiest climb from El Bolson is to Mirador Cerro Amigo, from where there are 3 lookout points over El Bolson. It's best to do this hike early in the morning when the sun is still behind (i.e. east of) the mirador. From El Bolson take Islas Malvinas and turn off at Cerro de la Cruz. From there you follow the signs to Cerro Amigo, which is about 1 hour from the town centre. The best viewpoint is the centre one, marked by a cross, from where you have very clear views of the town and of Cerro Lindo & Cerro Hielo Azul to the west.
As you come into town you turn right on Azucenaga St., cross a bridge, and drive on a gravel road for about 5-10 minutes and come upon this beautiful overlook of the Rio Azul valley. (If you stop at the Tourist Information Office near the Central Plaza they can give you a map showing the exact route).
This small local brewery makes for an interesting stop. They give brief tours and sell practically a dozen different styles of beer, bottled and on tap. They also have a restaurant so you can order something solid to be washed down with the beer.
If you go to the Rio Azul overlook (mentioned in my previous tip) and continue driving another few minutes you come upon a parking area at a park ranger's house. There are a few trails that start here. One goes to a waterfalls and is a long hike. The other goes along a narrow ledge (not for the squeamish or those afraid of heights). It takes about 20 minutes. You stop, turn around, and see an interesting rock formation resembling the profile of a man's face. It's called Cabeza del Indio (Indian's Head) but there is nothing particularly 'Indian' about it. anyhow, it makes for a nice little excursion.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, local artisans set up booths with their creations in the town's central plaza. If you've been to one of the big fairs in Buenos Aires you'll be a little disappointed but it's still worth a look. A few stands also offer local fruits in season, empanadas, and fresh baked waffles with your choice of toppings, yumm.
This is the Public Library at El Bolson. You'll come across it as you stroll in the small town, it's across the street from Plaza Pagano, more or less. I love the murals in South America, and this one was very strong and representative of Patagonia, so in it goes.
The building architecture is quite typical of North-west Patagonia too.