Border Crossing Villa O'Higgins, Chile to El Chalten, Argentina
Did you end your Carretera Austral road trip in Villa O'Higgins? Read our guide on how to cross borders when traveling on foot or on a bike from Villa O'Higgins, Chile to El Chalten in Argentina.
HOW TO CROSS BORDERS FROM CHILE TO ARGENTINA: VILLA O'HIGGINS TO EL CHALTEN
If you reached Villa O'Higgins by bus or on the bike, you have a unique opportunity how to cross borders to Argentina and carry on via Argentina's hiking capital El Chalten and Perito Moreno Glacier to Chile's shining star, Torres del Paine National Park.
This journey can take you one or two days, depending on your priorities and travel style.
If you have a tent and camping equipment with you, you can generally take as much time as you want, but without it, your best bet is to try to reach El Chalten in only one day.
You can read more about Villa O’Higgins, the End of Carretera Austral.
To get from Villa O'Higgins to El Chalten, you need to:
Take a bus | From Villa O'Higgins you need to take a bus to the port Puerto Bahamondez which is 7 kilometers from the village. The bus cost CLP 2500, takes about 20 minutes and leaves Villa O'Higgins at 7:30 AM. Bikers or people who want to save some money can walk to the port on own. You need to book the bus in Robinson Crusoe office either online or on the spot.
Take a ferry to cross the lake | From Puerto Bahamondez, a three-hour boat will take you to a small settlement on the other side of the lake, Candelario Mancilla where you will arrive around 11 AM. The ferry costs CLP 36 000, and like all other services you can book it in Robinson Crusoe office or in Las Ruedas office. The ferry runs in the season three times or four times a week (off-season only once a week), and although you can book the date in advance, the departure date will be 100% confirmed only one day before because it is weather dependent.
The ferry is a much bigger boat than the one you will take in order to visit the Marble Caves in Puerto Rio Tranquilo, but if you want to enjoy the cruise and views from the top deck, be prepared to get sprayed with some nice cool water too, also don't forget to bring a windproof jacket.
When on the ferry, you can opt to visit O'Higgins Glacier (you must book it in advance in the office for additional CLP 55 000). In case you want to see the glacier, it means you will get back to Candelario Mancilla around 5 PM, and you will have to spend a night either in the campground or at the adjoining farm.
If you think that the tour is pricey or don't have enough time, you can visit another beautiful glacier on Carretera Austral in Queulat National Park, the Hanging Glacier.
Walk or Ride a Bike | From Candelario Mancilla to the Argentinian border located on the bank of Lago Desierto, you must either walk or ride your bike. First, about 1 kilometer from Candelario Mancilla, right on the first hill is Chilean border office - do not forget to get your passport stamp here otherwise you will need to walk back 22 kilometers from Argentinian border only to get the stamp.
When walking, you have three options on how to proceed:
1. You can walk 22 kilometers to Lago Desierto with all your baggage (it is almost impossible to do it in one day as the next ferry leaves at 5:30 PM so if you want to do it the hard way, bring a tent).
2. You can contact a man living in Candelario Mancilla, Ricardo, who can take your luggage in a car the first 15 kilometers and you can walk this part light and then carry on with your luggage. The guy doesn't wait in the port unless you make a reservation in advance. We got wrong information in the office where they told us he will be there waiting for the boat and passengers, so when we realized no one is there, Martin had to run to the farm (about 1 kilometer) and look for him: fortunately, he was at home and helped us out. The cost per luggage is CLP 5 000, and he will leave it next to the big sign Argentina (there is no shelter so cover your bags properly!).
3. The same guy can drive you for CLP 10 000 in the car for the first 15 kilometers, and you will need to walk only the last 7 kilometers with all your backpacks. Again, contact him first.
When biking, you can also ask for help with your luggage, but the most important thing to know is, that you must dismount your bike and push it for the last 5 kilometers as the path is narrow, rocky with many roots and stream crossings along the way.
Cross Lago Desierto by boat | When you reach Lago Desierto's shore, do not miss Argentina's border office where you need to get a stamp in your passport. From the pier, the ferry leaves at 11 AM or 5:30 PM. The ride takes less than an hour and costs CLP 28 000 (we found out that all transport, including the bus, two ferries, and the last bus is better to reserve in Villa O'Higgins not only to have everything in order before your journey but also the price is slightly lower than when booking on spot). There's a campground right on the shore in case you have a tent and don't make it for the afternoon ferry.
It is also possible to walk 12 kilometers along Lago Desierto, in case you want to save some money and extend your adventure. You cannot bike on this path.
Take a bus or hitchhike to El Chalten | When you reached the other end of Lago Desierto, take a bus going to El Chalten at 6:30 PM. Because the road is unpaved, 40 kilometers take almost two hours, and the price is steep for the service provided - CLP 17 000. You can also try to hitchhike as lots of one day visitors come from El Chalten to relax on Lago Desierto's shore.
It is a long day to reach El Chalten from Villa O'Higgins, but we were able to make it in one day (we had to get a ride by car as we didn't travel with camping equipment). Apart from the landscape (you will get a glimpse of Fitz Roy from the opposite side), it was a truly an adventurous experience.
We believe it is better to book all services in Villa O'Higgins (you will get 10% off when you book all transport at once in Robinson Crusoe office or online) and not to stress about it later. You can, of course, follow this itinerary when traveling the opposite direction from El Chalten to Villa O'Higgins, you only need to find out bus and ferry schedule from this side.
WHERE TO STAY IN VILLA O'HIGGINS
Although you can arrive in Villa O'Higgins without any reservation and try to shop around in local hospedajes (there are not that many as along the rest of Carretera Austral), but from our own experience, it is not very pleasant to look for a room in the cold, rainy and windy weather and we recommend you to book your accommodation in advance: be warned that prices are higher here.
If you're looking for the cheapest option in Villa O'Higgins, go for El Mosco hostel - it offers private rooms, dormitories or camping sites, but you must contact them directly to make a reservation via Facebook.
Budget: Ruedas de la Patagonia - Basic but clean cabin offers wifi, kitchen, and private bathroom. It is small thus often booked up long in advance, so do not hesitate to secure your spot.
Mid-range: Puesto Canogas Hostel - Basic but clean cabin offers wifi, kitchen, and private bathroom. It is small thus often booked up long in advance, so do not hesitate to secure your spot.
Luxury: Robinson Crusoe Deep Patagonia Lodge - By far the most comfortable and luxurious option where you can stay in Villa O'Higgins. The staff is helpful rooms are bright and quiet with private bathrooms. The lodge also runs Robinson Crusoe travel agency which turned out to be helpful with the border crossing.
You can also search for all hostel options using HostelWorld.
THE WAY WE DID THE CHILE - ARGENTINA BORDER CROSSING
We arrived in Villa O'Higgins after traveling two weeks the Carretera Austral road on a rainy and windy day - what a surprise in Patagonia. We found a hostel, did a grocery shopping, cooked dinner and went to Robinson Crusoe office to touch a base with them as we wanted to cross borders to Argentina in two days. They explained to us how it works, told us the buses and ferries schedules, and we made a prebooking.
The next day, we decided to hike Altavista Trail to stretch our legs and prepare ourselves for another long and demanding day. It was a beautiful day spent in unspoiled nature, which reminded us of our hiking adventures in Pumalin National Park and beautiful Patagonia National Park, as there was literally no one around.
In the evening, we had to visit the office again to confirm our reservation - the ferry ride is confirmed after 4 PM one day before departure as it is weather dependent. If you're not lucky, it can happen that you will have to spend more time in Villa O'Higgins only to wait for a good weather forecast.
Everything looked good, so we were ready to set off the next day. Weather in Patagonia is unstable, even in the summer, but the day of our border crossing was weather-wise one of the best we had in Chile and Argentina. Full of sunshine, without a single cloud on the sky and even without strong winds! Last time we had such beautiful weather was during our hike to turquoise Cerro Castillo lake.
The best thing about Villa O'Higgins is its size - we could leave our hostel only 5 minutes before the bus departed. After about 20 minutes, we arrived in the port, and the ferry ride could have started. The lake crossing was very scenic with many mountains and even floating icebergs around.
READ MORE: A Comprehensive Guide to Carretera Austral - when to go, what to do and see, how much things cost, how to get around, how to find accommodation, what to pack and more useful information in this post.
Right after we got to Candelario Mancilla, we realized that something is not as we have planned. The guy who was supposed to wait for our bags (according to a company) was nowhere around.
Originally, we planned to walk 22 kilometers to Lago Desierto, but since the boat arrived late and Martin had to run to a farm to look for someone who could help us with luggage as there was no way we would have made it in less than 5 hours (and we did not have camping equipment), we had to drop this plan too.
Luckily, Martin met Ricardo home, and he was willing to drive us with our bags to the Argentinian border - it is actually only a sign in the forest, but the road ends here, and from we had to walk another seven kilometers to Lago Desierto where the border office is located.
At first, we were quite disappointed that we won't be able to hike the full length of the trail, but later we found out that it leads mostly in the forest anyway and we did not miss much, rather the opposite. We had plenty of time to enjoy late lunch on a point with excellent views of Fitz Roy.
The seven kilometers long hike with all our stuff weighing around 20 kilograms each was surprisingly not that hard (the terrain is quite easy with some muddy sections but overall the hike's profile is flat), and we reached Lago Desierto about 45 minutes before another ferry was scheduled. We got another passport stamp in an office where was only one staff member who had only simple paper book to fill our details in.
From here, the journey was completely smooth - ferry arrived on time, and we could have enjoyed another beautiful scenic, this time on the Argentinian side.
When we arrived in El Chalten by bus at 9 PM, we discovered that no one is awaiting us in accommodation we thought we had booked and it took us quite long to find a hostel with two empty beds that late.
When we finally did, we had to go shopping for food only to find out that the selection in El Chalten is poor, overpriced, fruit and vegetables are rotten and we were not even able to find eggs in the whole village! We felt quite desperate and tired but at last bought some food (pasta, eggplant and tomato sauce), cooked it quickly, ate it even quicker and given the circumstances that it already was 11 PM, we went straight to bed.
WHERE TO STAY IN EL CHALTEN
You really don't want to walk around El Chalten at 9 PM and look for the available accommodation when the traveling season in Patagonia is in full swing as we did. It took us almost an hour to find two beds in a not-very-good looking dormitory because El Chalten is crowded, especially from December to March.
Budget: Rio Azul Hostel - If you don't mind staying in a dormitory, this place is the most economic option in El Chalten. Actually, it is not easy to find a private room in El Chalten when traveling on a budget, so you will probably need to survive a couple of days in a dormitory.
Mid-range: Hostel Pioneros del Valle - A modern and well-equipped hostel offers both dorm or private rooms with shared bathroom, working wifi and breakfast included.
Luxury: Pudu Lodge - One of the best hotels in El Chalten is not exactly in the center, but the town is so small that you can easily reach everything on foot anyway. The lodge is near all the most famous hiking trailheads.
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