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. 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.

O'Higgins lake, Patagonia, Chile
Alya is ready for 34km walk. O’Higgins lake, Chile. Villa O’Higgins El Chalten how to get walking?


  • transport: boat (O’Higgins to Mancilla) – CLP 35000/$50, bus CLP 2500/$3,5;
  • food – CLP 10000/$14,3.

Total: CLP 47500/$68

Villa O’Higgins, Patagonia, Chile

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.

O'Higgins lake, Patagonia, Chile
O’Higgins lake from the boat from Villa O’Higgins to Candelario Mancilla

ATMs, cards or cash in Villa O’Higgins

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.

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

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);
  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. Ferry Villa O’Higgins to Candelario Mancilla, 4 hours

  1. Lorenzo (25 passengers) CLP 35000/person (50$), leaves on Mon, Wed, Fri.
  2. Robinson Cruiso (54 passengers) CLP 45000/person (61$).
  3. 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.

Bahamondez port 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.

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

Candelario Mancilla

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.

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

2. Walk Candelario Mancilla – Punta Norte de Laguna 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.

Candelario Mancilla, Patagonia, Chile
Candelario Mancilla, Chile. Walking from Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten.

3. 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 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.

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

4. Bus/hitchhike Punta Sur de Laguna 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.

Walking from Villa O'Higgins to El Chalten
Campbell found a cute tiny frogg. Walking from Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten

El Chalten

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.








Written By
More from Stingy Nomads

Camino Primitivo guide. The Original Way to Santiago

Camino Primitivo or the Original Way is a part of the Northern...
Read More


  • 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.

  • 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.