Villa O’Higgins El Chalten – how to get walking

Laguna del Desierto, Argentina
Laguna del Desierto, Argentina, on the way from Villa O'Higgins to El Chalten.

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 activity. 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 to take your time, don’t rush and enjoy the landscape. For more details on Carretera Austral check our article Traveling the Carretera Austral.

Cost of crossing from O’Higgins to El Chalten 

  • Transport; bus Villa O’Higgins to Bahamondez pier –  CLP 2500/$4;  boat Bahamondez  – Candelario Mancilla – CLP 34000/US$54; ferry Punta Norte de Laguna del Desierto to Punta Sur (optional) – ARS 1360/US$40; bus Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto to El Chalten – ARS 850/US$25. 
  • Food; CLP 10000/US$15 pp.
  • Camping; Candelario Mancilla – CLP 3000/US$4 pp., Argentinian immigration – free.

Total; between US$100 and US$125.

How to get to Villa O’Higgins

There are regular buses from Cochrane to Villa O’Higgins but they go not everyday, we were told 2 or 3 times per week. Price about CLP 20000/US$30 from Cochrane to Villa O’Higgins. To get to Cochrane is easier there are daily buses from Coyhaique and Puerto Montt that go along the Carretera Austral ans stop at several places. You can catch it from any town of the way. As an option you can rent a car but you won’t be able to go with it on the ferry and cross to Argentina. 

The cheapest way of getting to Villa O’Higgins is to hitchhike. Hitchhiking works perfect everywhere in Chile; you meet cool local people, get to know better the country and more flexible no need to worry about missing a bus or not getting a ticket. Note! Between Cochrane and Villa O’Higgins there is a ferry cross from Caleta Yungay to Rio Bravo – traffic depends on the ferry schedule, in summer there are 3 ferries per day; 10 am, 13 pm, 6 pm. The ferry cross is free for everybody. 

Southern Patagonia, Chile
Beautiful scenery of southern Patagonia, Chile

Where to stay in Villa O’Higgins

Camping/hostel/guesthouse El Mosco, in our opinion the best campsite in Patagonia! It has hot water showers, electricity, many outlets in common areas, wi-fi, cozy and warm inside area. Our favorite are was kitchen with very great facilities for cooking: stove, oven, pots, pans, plates, cups etc. Price CLP 5000/US$7 per person – camping, they have dorm beds as well CLP 12000/US$18 pp., and private rooms – CLP 30000/US$45 for a double with shared bathroom, CLP 45 000/US$70 for a double with private bathroom. Unfortunately this place can’t be booked through the main online booking services. 

There are several other place to stay in Villa O’Higgins in case you want more privacy and tranquility.

Budget optionRuedas de la Patagonia – a cozy chalets in Villa O’Higgins with private bathroom, wi-fi, heating, flat-screen TV, satellite channels, small kitchenette.

Middle price rangeCabañas San Gabriel – private chalets a bit bigger than the previous place with bathroom, heating, TV, satellite channels, small kitchen, wi-fi. Located in the town, close to the shops and restaurants.

If you’re looking for more of a comfort stayRobinson Crusoe Deep Patagonia is the best place in the town; spacious rooms with big windows, comfortable beds, private bathroom, cozy common area/restaurant with a fire place, big continental breakfast.

ATMs, cards or cash in Villa O’Higgins

In Villa O’Higgins there are no ATM’s, the last ATM on the way 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 at your hotel in O’Higgins or with other tourist that do the walk other way around and come from Argentina. For example in El Chalten exchange 30-35 CLP for 1 ARS, official exchange in August 2018 20 CLP for 1 ARS. Buy gas for your stove in Chile, in El Chalten it costs much more. 

What to pack for hiking and camping in Patagonia

You can find the detailed list of hiking and camping gear for Patagonia in this post.

Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten how to get walking

The entire route

  1. Villa O’Higgins – Bahamondez port, 7km;
  2. Ferry Villa O’Higgins – Candelario Mancilla (Chilean immigration), 2h30min.;
  3. Walk Candelario Mancilla – Punta Norte de Laguna del Desierto (Argentinian immigration), 22 km;
  4. Walk/ferry Punta Norte – Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto, 12 km;
  5. Bus/hitchhike Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto – El Chalten, 40km.
    Map of the route from Villa O'Higgins to El Chalten
    Map of the route from Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten. 1 – Villa O’Higgins – Bahamondez port, 7km, bus/cycling; 2 – Bahamondez port – Candelario Mancilla, boat; 3 – Candelario Mancilla – Laguna del Desierto (Punta Norte), 22km, walking/cycling; 4 – Laguna del Desierto (Punta Norte) – Laguna del Desierto (Punta Sur), 12km, walking/boat; 5 – Laguna del Desierto (Punta Sur) – El Chalten, 40km, cycling/bus/hitchhiking.

1. Bus Villa O’Hggins to Bahamondez (ferry pier), 15 min.

The pier is 7 km from the town in order to catch a ferry it’s better to take a bus otherwise you’ll have to start walking very early to get there in time. Most cyclists go on their own, leave the town about 1h30min. before the ferry departure. Bus price – CLP 2500/US$4 pp.

2. Ferry Villa O’Higgins to Candelario Mancilla, 2h30min.

  1. Lorenzo (25 passengers) CLP 36 000/US$54 pp.*, leaves on Mon, Wed, Fri.
  2. Robinson Cruiso (54 passengers) CLP 45 000/US$67 pp.
  3. There is one more boat for CLP 30 000/US$45, it’s very small, fits 15 passengers and is not reliable, weather conditions often too bad for it to go.

*Note! There is no extra charge for bicycles on the ferries. Motorcycles are not allowed.

Be aware that due to the weather conditions you can wait for a boat for 2-4 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.

 boat from Villa O'Higgins to El Chalten.
Loading on the boat from Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten.

Candelario Mancilla

Chilean carabineros (immigration) are 1 km away from the pier, the office is opened from early morning till 9 pm. Here you get your Chile exit stamp, The officers are very friendly if you have any questions about the walk ask them they know the area very well. If you have time and want to do an off the beaten track hike you can go to one of the glaciers on Chilean side; O’Higgins or El Chico (check our article Hike to the glacier). As for your extra luggage you can leave it at at the carabineros office for no extra charge. 

Camping at Candelario Mancilla about 1 km uphill from the pier (you’ll see it on the top). Price CLP 3000/US$4 pp. Besides the campsite there is a small restaurant where you can buy a cooked meal as well as home bread CLP 300/US$0,5 and jam CLP 1000/US$1,5. If you arrive early morning we’d suggest to start walking towards El Chalten. If you arrive in the afternoon or evening it’s better to stay at Candelario and continue next morning. 

Chilean Immigration office, Candelario Mancilla.
Carabineros (Chilean Immigration office), Candelario Mancilla. Villa O’Higgins El Chalten how to get?

3. Walk Candelario Mancilla – Punta Norte de Laguna del Desierto

From Candelario Mancilla to Argentinian immigration (Punta Norte de Laguna del Desierto) are 22 km

  • 17 km to the border, dirt road on the Chilean side, mostly flat, some ups in the beginning, can be cycled.  
  • 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, impossible to cycle – you push your bicycle through the forest.

In total to walk 22 km takes between 5-6 hours, depending how much luggage you have, weather conditions and of course your fitness level.  At the immigration office you get an Argentinian entrance stamp. There is a free camping area next to the  office where you can stop for the night.

Note! If you don’t want to walk with all your luggage or just realized you’re too tired to walk at all you can arrange transportation to the border with carabineros. Price between CLP 10 000-15 000/US$15-22. They can drop you at the border but from there you’ll have to walk the last 5 km on your own.

O'Higgins lake, Patagonia, Chile
Amazing color of O’Higgins lake, Patagonia, Chile

4. Walk/ferry Punta Norte  – Punta Sur de Laguna 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, price ARS 1360/US$40 pp. All the cyclists take the ferry because the walk along the lake is very similar to the last 5 km till the Argentinian immigration, impossible to cycle. 

We decided to walk, after all it was beautiful trail with some amazing viewpoints overlooking the glacier, lake and the mountains. The path is clear, easy to follow though it takes time – about 5-6 hours due to constant up and down hill, sometimes quite steep.  

The entire walk can be easily done in 2 days: first day – ferry O’Higgins to Candelario, then walk from Candelario Mancilla to Punta Norte de Laguna del Desierto and camp at Argentinian immigration. Second day – walk Punta Norte to Punta Sur de Laguna from there take a bus to El Chalten.

Laguna del Desierto, Argentina.
Laguna del Desierto, Argentina.

5. Bus/hitchhike Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto – El Chalten

Once you are at Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto (South Point) you have two options to get to El Chalten which is 40 km away; take a bus to El Chalten for ARS 850/US$25 or hitchhike. Bus journey takes about 1 hour. 

El Chalten

El Chalten is a bigger town with better infrastructure compare to Villa O’Higgins more accommodation options. Here you can find;

  • Hotels
  • Hostels
  • Campsites
  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Shops
  • Pharmacies
  • Gear rental places
  • ATMs
  • Tour agencies

There are many accommodation options in El Chalten from budget camping and dormitories to luxury hotels.

Budget optionsHostel Rancho Grande – one of the top rated hostels in the town – a big house located just outside El Chalten. There are dorm beds, private and family rooms. Other good places to stay on a budget – Condor de los Andes, Patagonia Hostel.

Middle price rangeNothofagus Bed and Breakfast, Hosteria El Paraiso, Cabañas Rivendel, Aguila Mora Apartments.

Luxury stayChalten Suits Hotel, Destino Sur Hotel & Spa.

Recommended books and guidebooks for traveling Patagonia

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10 Comments

  • Hi! I’m thinking of doing this border crossing with my motorbike, from El Chaltén to Villa O’Higgins. How was the first part of the path after Punta Norte on Lago del Desierto? Would it be possible on a (small) motorbike?

    • Hello, Silvan! Are you’re planning to take a ferry from Punta Sur to Punta Norte de Lago del Desierto? With a motorbike it’s the only option you definitely won’t be able to walk along the lake. From Punta Norte first 5km is a path quite narrow, with some ups and downs, tree roots etc. You’ll have to push your bike through, cyclists do it. After that there is a gravel road that goes all the way to Candelario Mancilla.
      Good luck!

  • Hey, I am starting my trip through South America in February 2018. I’d like to go up all the way from Ushuaia to Puerto Montt. Would you recommend bringing your own tent? I’ll be by myself and I don’t know yet if I wanna camp alone. Or is there the chance to sleep in guesthouses along the road, especially at this part from Chalten to O’Higgins…thanks for your answer. Regards, Sarah

    • Hi, Sarah! Thank you for the question! You can find accommodation e.g. cabanas, guest houses and in bigger places (El Chalten, Puerto Natales) hostels just be ready to pay quite a bit for them, the cheapest accommodation starts at 15$ per person (hostel), in guesthouses it can be difficult to find a single room as most are double or even for four persons. Concerning camping Patagonia is safe and most campsites will be quite full this time of the year (February) as it’s the season. We were two but we met quite a few backpackers including girls (even a pregnant one) hitchhiking, hiking or cycling through the area alone. Having your own tent will definitely save you a lot of money and you always can be sure you’ll be able to find a place to sleep. It’s good to have your own tent and camping gear as well if you’re planning to do some hikes in South America there are many you can do on your own, without guides. If you have more questions we’ll be happy to answer.
      Good luck!

    • Hello, Zain! I think in August it’ll be cold and a lot of snow, plus I doubt there will be ferries from Villa O’Higgins to Candelario Mancilla, they navigate only in summer and even then are often cancelled due to bad weather.
      Cheers!

  • H3llo, you’re information is very helpful! I’m considering doing the same trip soon. I had a question about changing money once you cross from Chile to Argentina…were the rates fair and were there many places to change money? As you know the official and blue exchange rates can vary hugely. Did you have ARS with you already?

    • Hello, Lonnie! Thank you! You can exchange Chilean pesos in Argentina (El Chalten) but the exchange rate was quite bad. We exchanged money (according to official rate) with one of the travelers we met on the way who was walking the opposite direction (from Argentina to Chile) and had some Argentinian pesos. There are two ATMs in El Chalten where you can draw money but the limit is 1000 ARS and you pay quite a lot for withdrawal. The best is to try to exchange money with other travelers in campsites or along the way.
      GOOD LUCK!

    • Hi, Emmanuel! Thanks for your question. You can’t ride all the way but you can do it all the way with a bike (pushing it through the forest from time to time) and many people do it. In fact there are more people on bikes then on food crossing from O’Higgins to El Chalten. You can ride first 17km from Candelario Mancilla to the border, than you’ll have to push your bike for 5km through the forest to Punta Norte de Lago del Desierto (North point) and Argentinian immigration. After you have two options to take a ferry to cross the lake (20$) or keep pushing your bike for 12km more to Punta Sur de Lago del Desierto (South point). Once there you can ride all the way to El Chalten, 37km.

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