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San Carlos de Bariloche is nestled in the Andes mountains and borders on lake Nahuel Huapi, among other bodies of water. Native tribes lived in the area until the 16th-century, when they were assimilated into the Araucan peoples from Chile. San Carlos de Bariloche lies on a critical pathway through the Andes from Chile to Argentina, which was used by Spanish conquistadores in the 16th-century and Jesuit missionaries in the 17th-century.
In the 1880s, the Argentine government took control of the area in a campaign to claim land from the aboriginal peoples. White immigrants arrived in the 1890s, mostly American and German settlers. These people laid the foundation for the region's economy, establishing trade routes with other cities and founding agricultural and livestock enterprises. Later came blacksmiths, mills, and other industries. In the first decade of the 20th-century, a significant population of Swiss immigrants moved to the area. San Carlos de Bariloche became an official commune in 1902.
With the arrival of the railroad in the 1930s, the town was allowed to grow into the center of tourism it is today. Skiing in the winter and water-related activities in the summer assure that people visit the city throughout the year.