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 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 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. For more details on Carretera Austral check our article Traveling the Carretera Austral.
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/$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, plus boats can’t go for days if the weather is too bad. To make your journey less stressful make sure to have travel insurance, let your insurance company worry about you while you enjoy hiking in Patagonia. It’s always advisable to have travel insurance especially if you’re going on an adventure outside your own country. Be properly covered for injury, evacuation, gear loss, trip cancellation, and trip delays.
Suggested tours and activities in Patagonia
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.
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 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., 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 places to stay in Villa O’Higgins in case you want more privacy and tranquility.
Budget option – Ruedas de la Patagonia – cozy chalets in Villa O’Higgins with private bathroom, wi-fi, heating, flat-screen TV, satellite channels, small kitchenette.
Middle price range – Cabañas San Gabriel – private chalets a bit bigger than the previous place with a 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 comfortable stay – Robinson Crusoe Deep Patagonia is the best place in the town; spacious rooms with big windows, comfortable beds, a private bathroom, a cozy common area/restaurant with a fireplace, 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 tourists that do the walk the 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.
Hiking and camping gear for the walk
If you’re going to do the complete walk you’ll need camping gear; tent, sleeping bag, mattress, camping stove, cooking stuff as well as proper hiking shoes, rain jacket, etc. 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
- Villa O’Higgins – Bahamondez port, 7km;
- Ferry Villa O’Higgins – Candelario Mancilla (Chilean immigration), 2h30min.;
- Walk Candelario Mancilla – Punta Norte de Laguna del Desierto (Argentinian immigration), 22 km;
- Walk/ferry Punta Norte – Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto, 12 km;
- Bus/hitchhike Punta Sur de Laguna del Desierto – El Chalten, 40km.
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.
- Lorenzo (25 passengers) CLP 36 000/US$54 pp.*, leaves on Mon, Wed, Fri.
- Robinson Cruiso (54 passengers) CLP 45 000/US$67 pp.
- 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.
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 Chilean side; O’Higgins or El Chico (check our article Hike to the glacier). 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.
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.
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 is a bigger town with better infrastructure compare to Villa O’Higgins more accommodation options. Here you can find;
- Gear rental places
- Tour agencies
There are many accommodation options in El Chalten from budget camping and dormitories to luxury hotels.
Budget options – Hostel 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 budget options | Condor de los Andes | Patagonia Hostel |
Handy items to pack for Patagonia
- Merino Wool Darn Tough Hiker Socks
- Good Rain Poncho
- PETZL – TACTIKKA Headlamp
- Kindle E-book
- Neck Pouch/Passport holder
- Go Pro Hero 7
Recommended books and guidebooks for traveling Patagonia
- Lonely Planet Chile and Easter Island, Travel Guide. Kindle and paperback.
- Classic Hikes of the World; 23 Breathtaking treks by Peter Potterfield. To get some inspiration for future adventures. Hardcover.
- Patagonia on a budget by Matthew Morgante. How to travel Patagonia on US$30 a day. Kindle.
- Walking Patagonia by Caspian Ray. Don’t expect a hiking guide, it’s a fiction story about a young guy who went to Patagonia in search of adventure and love.
- To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret by Jedidiah Jenkins. Paperback, Kindle & Audiobook.
- Hitchhiking Carretera Austral
- El Chalten trekking guide
- Perito Moreno glacier – backpacker’s guide
- Losing backpack in Patagonia
- Cost of travel in South America complete breakdown
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