Villa O’Higgins El Chalten, border crossing from Chile to Argentina off the beaten track. For all adventure seekers and nature lovers crossing from Chile to Argentina (or other way) at O’Higgins is a must do. The scenery is unreal, the landscape is stunning with turquoise blue and emerald green colors. Nevertheless the walk is a challenge at the same time it’s very rewarding in sense of natural beauty.
Villa O’Higgins is the end of Carretera Austral, the last point you can get by road on Chilean side that makes everything (mostly food) here more expensive but still affordable. The walk was quite difficult due to heavy luggage we were carrying. But it’s absolutely worth of effort. The main advice is take your time, don’t rush and enjoy the landscape. For more details on Carretera Austral check our article Hitchhiking Carretera Austral.
Budget for 6 day (2 days – walking + 4 days hiking to the glacier) per person (CLP 47500/$68):
- transport: boat (O’Higgins to Mancilla) – CLP 35000/$50, bus CLP 2500/$3,5;
- food – CLP 10000/$14,3.
How to get to Villa O’Higgins
The easiest and the cheapest way in our opinion is to hitchhike. First of all because it works perfect everywhere in Chile and second, you meet cool local people. Between Cochrane and Villa O’Higgins there is a ferry cross from Caleta Yengay to Rio Bravo. So traffic depends on the ferry schedule, in summer there are 3 ferries per day; 10 am, 13 pm, 6 pm. By the way the ferry is free for everybody. Of course there are buses, not everyday, we were told 3 times per week. However I’m not shure about the price we heard about CLP 20000/$30 from Cochrane to Villa O’Higgins.
Where to stay in Villa O’Higgins
Camping/hostel/guesthouse El Mosco, in our opinion the best camping in all Patagonia! It boasts hot water showers, electricity, many outlets in common area, wi-fi, cozy and warm inside area, kitchen with very good utensils: stove, oven, pots, pans, plates, cups etc., computer, book exchange, maps and nice vibe. Price CLP 5000/$7 per person – camping, CLP 9000/$13 dormitory, 30000/$42 double.
There is one more camping in Villa O’Higgins, near the petrol station and Robinson Crusoe office. It’s cheaper for CLP 4000/person but it has no inside area, so you have to spend all day in your tent.
ATMs, cards or cash
In Villa O’Higgins there are no ATM’s, the last ATM before it is in Cochran, you need to have enough cash to pay accommodation and boat, all shops accept cards – Visas (not sure about Master cards). Rather try to exchange Chilean pesos for Argentinian with other tourist. For example in El Chalten exchange 70-80 CLP for 1 ARS (official exchange in Feb 2016 50 CLP for 1 ARS ). Buy gas for your stove in Chile, in Argentina it costs 5 times more! Check food prices in O’Higgins at the end.
Villa O’Higgins El Chalten how to get (walking)
The entire rout:
- Ferry Villa O’Higgins – Candelario Mancilla (Chilean immigration);
- Walk Candelario Mancilla – Punta Norte de Lago del Desierto (Argentinian immigration), 22 km;
- Walk/ferry Punta Norte – Punta Sur de Lago del Desierto, 12 km;
- Bus/hitchhike Punta Sur de Lago del Desierto – El Chalten.
Boats from O’Higgins to Candelario Mancilla (about 4 hours)
- Lorenzo (25 passengers) CLP 35000/person (50$), leaves on Mon, Wed, Fri.
- Robinson Cruiso (54 passengers) CLP 45000/person (61$).
- There is one more boat for CLP 30000 (42$), it’s very small (15 passengers) and is not reliable, weather conditions often too bad for it to go.
The pier is 7 km away from the town, you can either walk/cycle there or take a bus for CLP 2500.
Be aware that due to the weather conditions you can wait for a boat for 3-4-5 days, if you’re short on time think twice before choosing this option. If you have time El Mosco is not a bad place for waiting, around O’Higgins there are couple of mountains while waiting you can do day hikes.
Carabineros are 1 km from the pier, the office is opened from early morning till 9 pm. By the way the officers are very friendly so if you have any questions about the walk ask them.
Actually if you have time and want to do a hike to one of the glaciers on Chilean side; O’Higgins or El Chico (our article Hike to the glacier) you can leave your extra luggage at the office.
Camping at Candelario Mancilla about 1 km uphill from the pier, CLP 3000/person. Besides camping there is a small restaurant where you can buy a cooked meal (don’t know the price) as well as home bread CLP 300 and jam CLP 1000.
Walk from Candelario Mancilla to Punta Sur de Lago del Desierto (2 days, 34 km)
Candelario Mancilla – Punta Norte de Lago del Desierto
From Candelario Mancilla to Argentinian immigration (Punta Norte de Lago del Desierto) 22 km: 17 km to the border, dirt road on the Chilean side, mostly flat, some ups in the beginning. Then 5 km from the border to the lake and the Argentinian immigration office. This part is rather small path in the forest, with some ups and downs. In total the 22 km walk takes about 5-6 hours, depending how much luggage you have, weather conditions and of course your fitness. There is a free camping area next to the Argentinian immigration.
Punta Norte – Punta Sur de Lago del Desierto
From Argentinian immigration you can walk along the lake 12 km or take a ferry to Punta Sur de Lago del Desierto (South Point). The ferry takes about 1 hour and costs ARS 300 (20$). Quite expensive in our opinion so we decided to keep walking.
After all the walk is beautiful, with some amazing view points looking at the glaciers, lake and mountains. The path is clear, easy to follow though it takes time (about 5-6 hours) due to constant ups and downs, sometimes quite steep. The entire walk can be easy done in 2 days: first day from Candelario Mancilla to Punta Norte, camp at Arg.immigration; second day from Punta Norte to Punta Sur.
Punta Sur de Lago del Desierto – El Chalten
Once you are at Punta Sur de Lago del Desierto (South Point) you have two options to get to El Chalten (37 km away), actually three but third is quite tough: either take a bus to El Chalten for ARS 350 (25$)! or hitchhike (in the morning not much traffic) or what we did start walking.
Being very tired after all the previous walk we’d walked about 15 km when a car picked us up and brought all the way to the town.
In El Chalten we were unpleasantly surprised by Argentinian prices, if you think Chilean Patagonia is expensive you are mistaken, Argentinian side is two sometimes three times more expensive! Everything from accommodation to food, from buses to activities is more expensive here, for more details about El Chalten check our article.
Food prices in Villa O’Higgins
Spaghetti (400 g) – CLP 550, vegetables and fruit from 1800/kg to 2200/kg, cookies – 550, tea (20 bags) – 900, coffee (Nescafe 50 g) – 1750, coffee (50 g) – 150, bolognese sauce (200 g) – 800, corn/beans (can, 380 g) – 900, oats (inst., 500 g) – 1200, bread – 1800/kg, eggs – 200/unit, sausages (5 un.) – 1800, instant noodles – 700/cup, bacon (200 g) – 2200, salami (200 g) – 1900, cheese (200 g) – 1800, cream cheese (400 g) – 1200, rice (500 g) – 1400, tuna (200 g) – 1200.
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