Villa O'Higgins, Chile: The End of Carretera Austral
Read our guide on what to do in Villa O'Higgins, where to sleep, how to get in and out. This remote village in southern Chile, Patagonia is the official end of your Carretera Austral trip.
When traveling, it did not happen to us often that we reached the point where we couldn't go any further, but this was exactly the case of Villa O'Higgins which turned out to be a place how we always had imagined the end of the world. Peacefull, quiet, set in a mountainous, rugged landscape where the time flows without noticing. The road, Carretera Austral indeed finishes here, and those few travelers (in comparison with a number of people doing the road trip every year) who had reached this point have two options. Turn back or carry on to Argentina via one of the most unusual and scenic border crossings we've ever seen and done.
But one after another. Villa O'Higgins is a small town, founded not that long time ago, in 1966 and carries the name after Chilean independence Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins - when traveling in Chile, you will sooner or later find out that there's probably not a city in this country without at least one street or one plaza named after him.
We reached Villa O'Higgins almost two weeks after we left Puerto Montt and were quite proud of ourselves as traveling Carretera Austral without a car and on a considerably low budget was not always easy or comfortable, but it was definitely worth the effort - we were privileged to enjoy Patagonia, one of the roughest and purest places in the world. To be honest, everything on this trip went far better than we had expected before our journey: the weather cooperated with us, we were able to travel from one place to another without any issue, and at the end of a day there was always bed waiting for us within our set price range. And right after our arrival in Villa O'Higgins, we knew in an instant that this place would be the right one to finish Carretera Austral road trip.
FACILITIES IN VILLA O'HIGGINS
Villa O'Higgins is a very small town, and its biggest feature is the landscape around: mountains, lakes and many glaciers (you will see a lot of glaciers when traveling to Villa O' Higgins as well - one of our favorites was Hanging Glacier in Queulat National Park) as the town is the gateway to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field so you can expect a lot when it comes to wonderful views but not that much in terms of services and facilities - but hopefully luxurious hotels or fancy restaurants are not those reasons which brought you here. Instead, you must be satisfied with several grocery stores, guesthouses or few home eateries.
Food in stores is not that overpriced as you would have expected in such a tiny village at the end of the world, the only thing which is hard to buy here is fresh vegetables or fruits. Those items are either sold out or in such a state, we would have been ashamed to keep it in on the shelves! We had a similar experience with the "fresh" food in Cerro Castillo, where you can find one of the most beautiful day hikes in Patagonia.
In Villa O'Higgins, you can find a couple of cafes and small restaurants, but if possible try to find accommodation with a kitchen to make sure you won't be starving during your stay. The bar scene is non-existent here.
If you need any information about hikes or the way how to cross borders, you can either visit a small information center on the square (the guy spoke broken English, but unfortunately we did not have a feeling he knows more than we do) or visit Robinson Crusoe office. It is also the office where you can arrange transport to Argentina. The staff speak English well and is helpful.
Right at the beginning of the village is a gas station in case you arrived by car and would need to return back (to either same city in Chile where you rented your car or to the nearest border crossing for cars in Chile Chico). The price for the fuel is similar as for example at the beginning of Carretera Austral, in Chaiten and the Pumalin National Park or Peurto Rio Tranquilo, home of Marble Caves.
You won't find ATM or exchange office in Villa O'Higgins so bring cash with you (some stores or tourist offices accept credit cards though). It wouldn't be ideal to run out of money here.
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.
Mid-range: Puesto Canogas Hostel - Featuring free breakfast, this accommodation has everything to provide its guests with an authentic, almost abandoned feel.
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.
You can also search for all hostel options using HostelWorld.
WHAT TO DO IN VILLA O'HIGGINS
When arriving in Villa O'Higgins, you might be under impression that this is it, you had reached the end of Carretera Austral, and nothing awaits you here except for border crossing, but that would be an absolutely wrong assumption.
Altavista Trail | The village is surrounded by glaciers, and you can choose from several hiking trails which lead to spectacular viewpoints. Because of strong winds, a guy in the information center recommended to us the Altavista trail which should have been affected the least by the wind gusts and if you'll have a chance, don't miss this one as it close to the village, not strenuous (more up and down) and it offers beautiful vistas from the very beginning.
The trail starts three kilometers from Villa O'Higgins. It is an easy flat walk, and you won't spend much of your energy here. When you cross a bridge, right after you will see a sign Altavista Trail on your right and a fence which you need to get over (it is legal no worries). The first section leads through a forest, but very soon views start to open up, and if clear enough, you can admire lakes, mountains, and glaciers right from the trail. It depends on you how far you want to walk we hiked approximately 8 kilometers one way before we decided to get back to the village.
From Villa O'Higgins, you can also do several multi-day treks, but usually, you need proper equipment and a guide.
El Tigre Lake and Glacier Hike | This hike starts about 20 kilometers from the village and the only way to get there is by your own car or hitchhiking. It's a moderately difficult hike to the beautiful turquoise lake with two side trips, El Tigre glacier being one of them. To get back, you have to walk the same trail. You also have an option to camp there.
Cerro Submarino | We wanted to climb Cerro Submarino, about 1800 meters high peak, which is a challenging activity, but when we arrived and checked with the local travel agency, they told us that the weather is not suitable for the trip due to strong winds, so we chose to hike the Altavista Trail instead. If the weather allows, we would recommend you this great outdoor adventure.
Villa O'Higgins Viewpoints | There are several viewpoints above the village and probably the best thing you can do in Villa O'Higgins when short on time. The trail starts right from the village, and you can see the highest point with a flag, from there. You will get stunning views of the whole valley and the village.
Mosco Glacier | 10 kilometers long one way moderately difficult hike from the village is well-marked and perfect for everyone who is looking for off the beaten track adventure. Follow the trail along the Mosco River through lush green forest, which ends at Mosco Glacier Lookout. You have to walk the same path back to the village.
But Villa O'Higgins offers much more. Among the best activities, you can do once you arrive there, are salmon fishing, horseback riding, glacier trekking and from the village, you can access the stunning O'Higgins Glacier by boat, the base of Patagonia's Ice Field.
HOW TO GET TO VILLA O'HIGGINS
Not many people traveling by car reach Villa O'Higgins, for two reasons. First, it is too far, and second, they must eventually return back as the road ends here. But if you are among the very few who decide to get here (and we salute you on this decision), it is not hard at all. You must only follow Carretera Austral and drive south - once you reach Puerto Yungay, take a free ferry to Rio Bravo and carry on to Villa O'Higgins. When you want to continue your journey, you must either retrace your steps, drive to Chile Chico to cross borders to Argentina or drive to Tortel and take a several-days-long ferry to Puerto Natales, Chile.
When traveling by public transport, take a direct bus from Cochrane. The bus runs three times a week (usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday), so it needs a bit of planning if you are on tight schedule, but with nearby Patagonia National Park, you should not have a problem to effectively kill some time. The bus price recently dropped as the government decided to subsidize this route to make it more accessible to local people and we paid CLP 7000 for seven hours ride.
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.
HOW TO GET OUT
The most obvious way how to get out is to do u-turn and head back. You have to drive all the way back to Puerto Montt, which is more than 1200 kilometers away.
If you have a car and want to go to Argentina, you can cross the borders in Chile Chico.
But there is also another way.
HOW TO CROSS THE BORDERS FROM VILLA O'HIGGINS, CHILE TO EL CHALTEN, ARGENTINA
You can cross the borders from Villa O'Higgins to El Chalten in Argentina, but you must travel only on foot or on a bike. Here is a quick summary of how to do it. First, take a short bus ride to the small port, then take a ferry across the O'Higgins lake, walk 22 kilometers through scenic mountainous landscape, then take another ferry across the Lago del Desierto (or walk another 14 kilometers around its shore), and finally take a bus from there to El Chalten.
It sounds maybe more complicated than it actually is, the good news is, that it's easily doable in one day, though you can camp and split the travel between more days. Now the bad, it's somewhat expensive.
You can save some money by walking around the Lago del Desierto, but there is no other way how to get across the O'Higgins lake than by taking a boat.
IS IT WORTH TO VISIT VILLA O'HIGGINS
Being located at the end of the road, the place has a different character. It's a peaceful, serene place, and even though it's not the proper end of the world, it definitely feels like it. You will barely meet anyone on the trail while hiking, the village is so quiet that it reminds almost a ghost town, and coming to overly touristy El Chalten on the other side of the border was a quite a bit of shock after this experience.
When we first planned our Carretera Austral Trip we weren't sure, if we will make it to the Villa O'Higgins.
We are glad we did.
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