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Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén – how to get?

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. The walk is short and challenging but at the same time, it’s rewarding, the O’Higgins – El Chalten route was one of our favorite treks in Patagonia.

O'Higgins lake, Candelario Mancilla
Candelario Mancilla, the first stop on the way from Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten

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 was absolutely worth the effort. The walk to El Chalten was good preparation for trekking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine. The main advice here is to take your time, don’t rush, and enjoy the landscape.

The cost of the O’Higgins to El Chalten crossing 

  • Transport. Bus Villa O’Higgins to Bahamondez pier –  CLP 2500/US$3;  boat Bahamondez  – Candelario Mancilla – CLP 60 000/US$65; ferry Punta Norte de Laguna del Desierto to Punta Sur (optional, you can walk instead) – ARS 17 500/US$50; bus Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto to El Chalten – ARS 8500/US$25. 
  • Food. CLP 14 000/US$15 pp.
  • Camping. Candelario Mancilla – CLP 4500/US$5 pp., at the Argentinian immigration office – free.

Total: between US$115 and US$165.

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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 don’t go every day, 2 or 3 times per week. Price about CLP 27 000/US$30 from Cochrane to Villa O’Higgins. Getting to Cochrane is easier there are daily buses from Coyhaique and Puerto Montt that go on the Carretera Austral and stop at several places. You can catch it from any town along 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. 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, and 6 pm. The ferry cross is free for everybody. 

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 are more flexible no need to worry about missing a bus or not getting a ticket.

If you like hiking you might enjoy visiting other places in Patagonia that offer great trails such as Cerro Castillo, Queulat National Park, or Pumalin Park.

El Mosco campsite and hostel in Villa O'Higgins
El Mosco campsite in Villa O’Higgins, Chile

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 9 000/US$10 per person – camping, they have dorm beds as well CLP 14 000/US$15 pp. Private rooms from CLP 45 000/US$50 for a double room.

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

ATMs and credit cards in Villa O’Higgins

In Villa O’Higgins, there are no ATMs, the last ATM on the way is in Cochran, you need to have enough cash to pay for accommodation and the boat, and all shops accept cards – Visas (not sure about Master cards). Rather try to exchange Chilean pesos for Argentinians 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?

The route description

  1. Bus Villa O’Higgins – Bahamondez port, 7km/4,3 mi;
  2. Ferry Villa O’Higgins – Candelario Mancilla (Chilean immigration), 2h30min.;
  3. Walk Candelario Mancilla – Punta Norte de Laguna del Desierto (Chile to Argentina), 22 km/13,6 mi;
  4. Walk/ferry Punta Norte – Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto, 12 km/7,4 mi;
  5. Bus/hitchhike Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto – El Chalten, 40 km/24,8 mi.
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.

Step 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 and leave the town at about 1h30min. before the ferry departure. Bus price – CLP 2500/US$3 pp.

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

  1. Ruedas de la Patagonia CLP 60 000/US$65 (they do transfer from O’Higgins to the pier for CLP 2500/US$3), leaves Monday and Thursday at 8.30 am.

*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. Always confirm departure times and prices with the company as they might change.

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; 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 open 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. If you have 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 4500/US$5 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 to walk 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

Step 3. Walk Candelario Mancilla – Punta Norte de Laguna del Desierto, 22 km/13,6 mi

From Candelario Mancilla to Argentinian immigration (Punta Norte de Laguna del Desierto) is 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 trail is a small path in the forest, with some ups and downs, impossible to cycle – you push your bicycle through the forest.

In total, it takes between 5-6 hours to walk 22 km, 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$10-15. They can drop you at the border but from there you’ll have to walk the last 5 km on your own.

A welcoming board on the Chile and Argentina border
A sign at the border between Argentina and Chile on the O’Higgins to El Chalten crossing

Step 4. Walk/ferry Punta Norte – Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto, 12 km/7,5 mi

From Argentinian immigration, you can walk along the lake for 12 km or take a ferry to Punta Sur de Lago del Desierto (South Point). The ferry takes about 1 hour, price is ARS 17 500/US$50 pp. All the cyclists take the ferry because the walk along the lake is very similar to the last 5 km to the Argentinian border control, and it’s impossible to cycle. 

We decided to walk, after all, it was a beautiful trail with some amazing viewpoints overlooking the glacier, lake, and mountains. The path is clear and 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. On the first day – ferry O’Higgins to Candelario, then walk from Candelario Mancilla to Punta Norte de Laguna del Desierto and camp at Argentinian immigration. On the second day – walk Punta Norte to Punta Sur de Laguna from there take a bus to 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

Step 5. Bus/hitchhike Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto – El Chalten, 40 km/24 mi

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 8500/US$25 or hitchhike. The bus journey takes about 1 hour.  You can continue your Patagonia adventure by trekking in El Chalten, Laguna de los Tres is a not-to-miss hike. After El Chalten, you can visit Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate. You can get from El Chalten to Torres del Paine and do one of the hiking routes there.

El Chalten

El Chalten is a bigger town with better infrastructure compared to Villa O’Higgins. There are more accommodation options here you can find. There are some nice campsites in El Chalten that are great for meeting people.

  • 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 and private and family rooms.

Useful items to pack for hiking in Patagonia

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Camila

Thursday 28th of December 2023

Thanks for sharing your experience ! It really helps me planning my trip. Do you know where can I find informations about the bus which go to el chalten from Punta Sur ? I can't find it... And I don't want to walk all the 36km lol Thank you !

Hélène Charbonnier

Friday 27th of January 2023

Hi! I just want to update some of here informations! There no longer three agencies that make the crossing between O’higgins and Candelario Mancilla, only the Ruedas de Pantagonia (including the transfert to the port) and it’s very hard to get one (you can wait for one week on summer) . You can payed the boat in card and many of the supermarket take cards too ! On my opinion, if you have to stay in order to wait the boat the more budget and pleasant option for the backpakers is Los pioneros, there is trees to stop the strong wind of O Higgins ! Best regards, Hélène, french backpaker

Stingy Nomads

Friday 27th of January 2023

Hello Hélène. Thank you very much for the update. I'll update the post based on your recommendations. It looks like getting from Villa O'Higgins to El Chalten is becoming more and more difficult. It's a great adventure but I'm not even sure it's worth all the trouble. Cheers

Marcello

Wednesday 11th of January 2023

Dear All, can you help to see if we can rent a vehicle CAR in Puerto Montt and drop it in Villa O'Higgins in February. I estimate 5 days to trravel with stops Thanks

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 12th of January 2023

Hello Marcello. I'm not sure if it's possible to drop off a rental car in Villa O'Higgins. I haven't seen any car rental offices in the town. If you want to rent a car in Puerto Montt and drive it on the Carretera Austral you'll probably have to drop it off in a bigger town along the route and continue to Villa O'Higgins by bus. Good luck

Laura

Saturday 31st of December 2022

Hi,

We did the crossing recently and here is some info for other fellow travelers: Only Las Ruedas is doing the crossing, the other companies are not operating. They also provide the transfer from Villa O'Higgins to Bahamondez. Due to bad weather conditions in the last few days, some departures have been delayed and there is a backlog of people waiting to cross, especially from Villa O'Higgins. Even if you have a reservation for a date, you might not get a seat for that day. Keep this in mind if you have a tight schedule. Good luck!

Laura

Sunday 8th of January 2023

Hi @Joaquim,

It was 60'000 CLP per person, which includes the transfer to the port.

Joaquim

Monday 2nd of January 2023

Hi @Laura,

Do you remember the price of the ferry? Thanks!

Stingy Nomads

Sunday 1st of January 2023

Hello Laura. Thank you very much for the update. Cheers

Lea

Sunday 18th of December 2022

Thank you so much for all of your helpful posts. You have made the planning process so much less overwhelming. Just a quick question-do you know where people are able to exchange for Argentinian pesos and get a SIM card after getting into El Chalten? Some websites mentioned that it is highly likely the one ATM in town will not have money available. Do the grocery stores and shops accept credit card or USD?

Stingy Nomads

Monday 19th of December 2022

Hello Lea. Thank you for the comment. As far as I know, the official exchange rate is quite a bit lower than "on the street". You'll get less if you pay with a card or draw money at an ATM. We had some Chilean pesos left before crossing to Argentina that we exchanged with travelers coming from Argentina to Chile. I would suggest having some USD in cash. Otherwise, you can draw money in Chile in Chilean pesos and exchange them in Argentina. I'm sure you'll be able to do so in El Chalten. As for a SIM card you should be able to buy one in El Chalten. Good luck

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