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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 very rewarding, O’Higgins – El Chalten route was one of our favorite treks in Patagonia.

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.

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

The cost of the O’Higgins to El Chalten crossing 

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

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 or just to cover a specific activity. It takes only a couple of minutes to fill out the form online and get your insurance.

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 20000/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.

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 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. 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.

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$4 pp.

Step 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 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 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 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

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 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$15-22. They can drop you at the border but from there you’ll have to walk the last 5 km on your own.

Step 4. Walk/ferry Punta Norte – Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto

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 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 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: 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

Step 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.  You can continue your Patagonia adventure and do a couple of treks in El Chalten and visit Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate.

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;

  • 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

For more details on gear and clothing for Patagonia for men and women check our Patagonia packing list post.

Recommended books and guidebooks

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Rowan

Sunday 4th of September 2022

Hi, are these prices updated for 2022? Thanks!

Stingy Nomads

Wednesday 7th of September 2022

Hello Rowan. Some of the prices are updated some are not yet I'm waiting for the companies to get back to me with new tariffs. Cheers

Levi

Wednesday 11th of May 2022

That map in your post looks really helpful! Where is that from? Thank you!

anneke

Saturday 22nd of January 2022

Hi, we are going to Patagonie from half february till half april 2022. We want to cycle the Carreter Austral and do some hiking in the national parks we pass. We are planning to do this trip from from north to south. Doing that direction we hope the strong winds will be most of the time in our back. But winter is coming, which is another aspect to coop with. In the south it will be already winter in april. What do you advise us? North -south or vice versa? Other question: we heeard that the border between Chili and Argentina is closed due to Covid (omicron). Is there any possibility to continue from Villa Higgins to the south without passing the border of Argentina? We want to visy Torre del Paine. thaks for your advice! Anneke

Stingy Nomads

Sunday 23rd of January 2022

Hello, Anneke. We traveled the Carretera Austral from mid-Jan to mid-March and from what I remember it was quite windy all along the route. Most people we met cycled south to north maybe because of the weather. In April it will be quite chilly in the extreme south around Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales not ideal for hiking in Torres del Paine. In the chosen months I'd rather cycle south to north but I'm not aware of the wind direction and if it really makes a big difference. You can see on the official website which overland border crossings are currently open https://www.chileatiende.gob.cl/coronavirus/viajes-y-estado-de-frontera. I don't see the O'Higgins - El Chalten crossing in the list which probably means it's not open. There is no other way of getting to Torres del Paine from Villa O'Higgins only through Argentina. I see a couple of open border crossing points on the Carretera Austral. Maybe you can cross earlier instead of going all the way to O'Higgins e.g. at Futaleufu and from there continue towards Torres del Paine on the Argentinian side. Good luck

Matt

Monday 8th of November 2021

Hello -

Is it possible to get from o'higgins to el chalten walking/hitchhiking in May?

thanks!

Stingy Nomads

Monday 8th of November 2021

Hello, Matt. May is full winter in that part of Patagonia there will be no ferries running from O'Higgins to Candelario Mancilla and walking will be complicated due to snow. To get there hitchhiking is difficult even in summer the ferry from O'Higgins to Candelario Mancilla is only for passengers and bicycles, no cars. You'll have to go back to Cochrane and hitchhike from there. Cheers

Stef Gebruers

Tuesday 28th of January 2020

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

Tuesday 28th of January 2020

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. Cheers!

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