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Spanish in Bariloche

History and Culture Bariloche


Bariloche, meaning 'people from behind the mountain', was wide awake and full of life long before man knew anything about it. It was, and still is, a place abundant in endless amounts of flora and fauna, running water, fresh breezes and snow capped mountains and a cool Mediterranean climate that can reach up to 26°C in the summer months. The architecture and structure of the town smacks of a European influence in its history, due to the many Germans and Austrians who re-located there in the late 19th Century and made the town their home, setting up shops and constructing buildings in their signature style.

Spanish Discovery

The area that now contains the city of Bariloche was discovered by the Spaniards around the year 1552, following their conquest of Chile. The Spaniards developed a curiosity as to what lay on the Eastern side of the Andes corridor and so sent Francisco de Villagra on a mission to explore exactly that. He explored down as far as the Limay River, which has its source in the Nahuel Huapi Lake, on the shores of which Bariloche is now to be found.

Then in 1650 a Jesuit priest arrived in the area, crossing the Andes on the orders of the Spanish Governor of Chile at the time, who wanted to bring stability to the region. This led to the Jesuits, who came from the Chiloé Archipelago, setting up a mission on the shores of the Nahuel Huapi Lake. Several missions came and went in between this period and the exit of the Spaniards, all without much success, for reasons such as resistance by the locals and eventually the Spanish suppression of the Jesuits in South America.

Little Switzerland

As is apparent, the area had much stronger links with Chile over the years and most explorers and settlers crossed the Andes from there to reach Lake Nahuel Huapi and its surrounding area. However, Argentina had different ideas and saw the region as naturally belonging to it as they felt the corridor of the Andes that lay in between, acted as a natural border. In 1881 this was formally laid down in the border treaty between Chile and Argentina, where the area around the lake was labeled Argentinean.


The modern settlers that have made Bariloche the city that it is today started to arrive in the 19th Century from Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Italy and Chile. They began to build a town centre in an Alpine style (so much so that it was nicknamed 'Little Switzerland'), around the first initial shop set up by Carlos Wiederhold, a German immigrant who it is thought is the source of the town's full name, San Carlos de Bariloche, as he was often mistakenly referred to as San Carlos instead of Don Carlos.

Infrastructural development really began to step up when the area around the lake and the town of Bariloche became part of Nahuel Huapi National Park and architects were contracted by the Government to design various new buildings in Bariloche, such as the civic centre, the Cathedral and the Perito Moreno Plaza. A railroad was also developed, as were all the normal essentials such as a post office, city hall and police station. All of these developments and improvements in access to the city, combined with the natural beauty of the region began to attract many tourists, and today that is the city's main industry, attracting thousands upon thousands of avid trekkers, skiers, nature lovers and travelers every year.

Spanish and Scenery

Bariloche is a gem of nature and beauty waiting to be discovered, despite its relatively recent development and its popularity on the tourist trail, it has maintained a truly unique ambience and appearance. If you choose to study Spanish in Bariloche you will not be disappointed, especially when you wake up in the morning, pull back the curtain, breath in the fresh mountain air and the sun is shining over the sparkling blue lake and all you have to do that day is learn some Spanish and go for a trek or a ski. Things could definitely be a lot worse...