O'Higgins' lake, Candelario Mancilla, O'Higgins - El Chalten walk
HIKING Patagonia

Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten – how to get walking

Villa O’Higgins El Chalten, the border crossing from Chile to Argentina off the beaten track. For all adventure seekers and nature lovers crossing from Chile to Argentina (or the 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 the sense of natural beauty. 

Villa O’Higgins is the end of the Carretera Austral, the last point you can get by road on the Chilean side that makes everything (mostly food) here more expensive but still affordable. The walk was quite difficult due to the 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.

More information on different hikes in Patagonia you can find in our post 35 Amazing hikes in Patagonia.

Cost of crossing from O’Higgins to El Chalten 

  • Transport; bus Villa O’Higgins to Bahamondez pier –  CLP 2500/US$4boat 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.

Travel insurance for Patagonia

The walk from O’Higgins to El Chalten is quite an adventure, the fact that you carry all your stuff with makes it even more challenging; unpredictable weather, remote location, difficult access, boats that can’t go for days if the weather is too bad, etc. To make your journey less stressful it’s recommended to have travel insurance.

World Nomads travel insurance company has special packages for outdoor and hiking lovers that cover you in case something goes wrong. Their insurance policy is very flexible you can buy it online while traveling for the whole period of a trip of just to cover a specific activity. It takes only a couple of minutes to fill the form online and get your insurance.

Suggested tours and activities in Patagonia

Villa O'Higgins the starting point of the walk
Villa O’Higgins the end of the Carretera Austral and the beginning of the walk to El Chalten

How to get to Villa O’Higgins

There are regular buses from Cochrane to Villa O’Higgins but they go not every day, 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 and 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 perfectly 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. 

Villa O’Higgins

Accommodation 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 was a kitchen with 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. Unfortunately, this place can’t be booked through online booking services. 

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

Middle price/luxury | Cabanas San Gabriel | Ruedas de la Patagonia | Puesto Cánogas Hostal | Robinson Crusoe Deep Patagonia |

ATMs and credit cards 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 the 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 tourists that do the walk the other way around and come from Argentina. Buy gas for your stove in Chile, in El Chalten it costs much more. 

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 on 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. Ruedas de la Patagonia CLP 30 000/US$43 (they do transfer from O’Higgins to the pier for CLP 2000/US$3, leaves Mon, Wed, Sat.

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

Boats run from the 1st of November to the 30th of April.

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 a couple of mountains while waiting you can do day hikes.

Alya on the boat from Villa O'Higgins to Candelario Mancilla
Alya on the ferry from Villa O’Higgins to Candelario Mancilla

Candelario Mancilla

Chilean Carabineros (immigration) is 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 the Chilean side; O’Higgins or El Chico. As for your extra luggage, you can leave it 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 starting walking towards El Chalten. If you arrive in the afternoon or evening it’s better to stay at Candelario and continue the next morning. 

O'Higgins Lake, O'Higgins - El Chalten walk
View of the O’Higgins Lake from Candelario Mancilla, Chile

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 a 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 on 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.

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 a beautiful trail with some amazing viewpoints overlooking the glacier, lake and the mountains. The path is clear, easy to follow but it takes time – about 5-6 hours due to constant up and downhill, 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. The second day – walk Punta Norte to Punta Sur de Laguna from there take a bus to El Chalten.

If you don’t have time or gear for doing this route but still would like to see the area and explore Laguna del Desierto, you can do a day 4×4/hiking tour from El Calafate or El Chalten.

Laguna del Desierto, Argentina, the final part of the walk
Laguna del Desierto, the last part of the walk from O’Higgins to El Chalten

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. The 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

Accommodation in El Chalten

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.   |

Useful items to pack for hiking in Patagonia

Recommended books and guidebooks

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  1. Stef Gebruers

    Dear Nomads,

    We are planning on doing this trip the other way around.
    Any things we should think about that are different than the N-Z way?
    Do you think we should count some extra days as we will be doing it half November?
    Is there a possibility for food if we would get ‘stuck’ at the Calendario Mancilla?

    Greetings Stef.

    • Stingy Nomads

      Hello, Stef! There is nothing I can think of that can be different if you walk this route the other way around. I’d recommend having at least one extra day in case of bad weather though the wind is the main problem for the boats to go. November is one of the winiest months in Patagonia. There is a campsite near Candelario Mancilla where you can camp and buy some food when we were there we could order a cooked meal or buy things like bread, preserves, canned food.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Takahiro Sakaki

    Hi! Thanks for useful information and it’s really helpful for planning.
    I’d like to leave VOH 3rd(Fri) or 5th(Sun) January due to Bus from Tortel to VOH running only Mon, Thu, Sat. However Robinson Crusoe navigate the boat only Mon,Wed,Thu, Sat and Rudas de la Patagonia navigate only Mon, Wed, Sat. and No good connection with bus.
    Could you advise contact details (e-mail address or facebook ID) of “Lorenzo”?
    FYI, Rudas de la Patagonia increased price to CLP40,000- for 2019-2020.

    • Hello, Takahiro! Thank you for the comment! Unfortunately, we don’t have contact details of Lorenzo the best you can do is try to contact him when in Villa O’Higgins that’s how we found him. I believe in January there will be enough people willing to cross from O’Higgins the boat might go on Mon, Fri or Sun. If not you’ll have to wait for two days or you can try to hitchhike to O’Higgins (we did and it worked pretty good in Patagonia) then you don’t depend on the bus and can arrive any day.

      • Takahiro Sakaki

        Thanks for your swift feed back!
        I considered to hitchhicke from Tortel to VOH on 3/Jan. However it seems not so easy to get car from Tortel in high season and also no bus service to Cochrane on Friday though I thought more easy to get car at Junction on Rute7.
        Was there any shuttle or ride share van to Puerto Yungey in Tortel?
        Otherwise should consider another option that taking bus from Cochrane 8am or 9:30 to Tortel (3-3.5hrs?) then taking 16:30 bus to VCC in same day.
        Was 2-3hours enough to walk around Tortel when you visited?
        Also do you know any other budget accommodation USD30-50 with private room in VCC if the El MOsco is full?

        • Stingy Nomads

          I don’t know how easy or difficult it is to get a car or if there is a shared bus, we were lucky with a car that picked us up at Puerto Rio Tranquilo, they were going to Tortel and then back, we went with them on the way back they dropped us at Rute 7 and the next morning we continued hitchhiking to Villa O’Higgins. Torel is a very small place, 2-3 hours should be enough.
          There are several campsites in Villa O’Higgins if you don’t want camping you can walk around the village and ask maybe there is a room that locals rent in the season for tourists.
          Good luck!

  4. Autumn Reagan

    Hi! Reading this and would like to cross from Argentina to Chile. Would it be possible without camping gear? Dont have it with me and dont think I could rent either.

    • Stingy Nomads

      Hi! It is possible to cross without camping if you take an early bus to Laguna del Desierto then take a ferry across the lake walk to Candelario Mancilla and catch a ferry to Villa O’Higgins. The only problem is that the ferry doesn’t go in bad weather (too windy) and you might be trapped at Candelario Mancilla for a day or two. There is a campsite at Candelario Mancilla where, I believe, you can rent a tent, they might have rooms as well. It happens quite often that boats don’t go due to the weather conditions.
      Good luck!

  5. 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?

    • Stingy Nomads

      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!

  6. 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

    • Stingy Nomads

      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!

  7. Would it be possible to do this trip in August?

    • 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.

  8. 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!

  9. Is it possible to ride a bike all the way from Candelario Mancilla to El chalten?

    • 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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