Border crossing Chaltén to O´Higgins [an error occurred while processing this directive]
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The situation in January 2002. See also the O'Higgins story.

From El Chaltén to Villa O'Higgins


57 km / 10h (22h)





Main difficulty

No road

The southern part of the Camino Austral is still one of the best parts of our trip. To reach this stretch however we had to do a hard crossing from El Chaltén to Villa O'Higgins. Partly by bike, partly walking and partly by boat we did the crossing in 4 days.

From El Chaltén to Villa O'Higgins
From El Chaltén a reasonable gravel road runs for 37 km to the south shore of the Lago del Desierto. At our time the boat on the Lago del Desierto was not running and we had to walk for 4 hours (one-way) on a small walking path all the way to the north end of the lake. At the north end of the lake the Argentinean customs is situated. From here the path continues for another 2 hours to the border. Once in Chile a very bad gravel road starts and descends 15 km steep to the Chilean customs. Here the crossing continues by boat. The boat leaves on Saturdays between 11.00 and 13.00 at the Chilean customs. Be aware that the custom administration takes some time. On of the reasons is that they might search through all your bags for products which are not allowed to be taken into Chile (e.g. meat products, diary products, fresh fruit). Sometimes the boat makes first a big tour over the lake before returning to Villa O'Higgins on Sunday. If you don't want a cold night on the boat, ask to be picked up the next day (take enough food for an extra day). The wild boat ride to Villa O'Higgins takes about 3 to 4 hours (depending on the wind).

From Villa O'Higgins to El Chaltén
The boat leaves at 9.00 on Saturday from the port in Villa O'Higgins. The port is situated 5 km south of the village. 

Tips and tricks
- We were not able to carry all our luggage at once (bikers have a lot more luggage then hikers). We put half of our luggage in our backpacks and Tore carried one bike. Then we walked for a couple of hours, we dropped our stuff and walked back to pick up the rest. This two times system worked well, but it tripled the time needed !!!!!!
- Carry as much luggage as possible in a backpack and wear hiking boots if possible and remove the paddles from the bikes. 

More and more people do the crossing and give their feedback. Read here more about the latest information:

February 2003, Ray
Tourism people in Calafate, Chaltén and everywhere on the Carreterra are just uninterested in helping. A contact number from the people who run the boat would be good, if anybody can get it, please send it to this page.
1. Tourist boats are running on Lago del Desierto again, though only in Jan & Feb & (maybe) Dec.
2. You can probably hire horses to take your stuff through the bush to the Chilean border.
3. This year the boat only ran every two weeks, apparently.

March 2003, Anja and Daniel, Germany
They did the crossing 6 March 2003 from Villa O'Higgins to El Chaltén. The Custom officers in Chile welcomed them with fresh bread and marmalade. It took them 4 hours of walking to the Argentina customs. The boat on the Lago del Desierto sailed after 1 day of waiting.

April 2003, Aida (Malaysian) & Suzy, England
We did the crossing between 14th to 22nd April from Villa O'Higgins. We kayaked south to the Chilean border post, which took us 6 days - stranded for 4 days!  There we took horses from Ricardo in the morning,  and reached the north end of Laguna Del Desierto in a 5 1/2 hrs ride. Then with a boat ride of 1/2 hr to the south tip after a very warm welcome from the officers (tea and freshly baked bread). Lucky to bump into Patagonia Hostel people and got a ride instantly to Chaltén. Lucky strike, did the crossing in one day!!

November 2003, Roland Holzer, Austria & Tobias Willmann, Germany
We did the crossing between the 09.11.2003 and 11.11.2003 from Villa O'Higgins. At the moment the boat "La Soberania" runs just twice a month from O'Higgins to Candelario Mancilla (the Chile customs), between the 5th to 8th and between the 20th and 22nd of every month (depending on the weather). So the old schedule every Saturday is not valid at the moment. I might be that in the main season it will run again every week, at the moment this is not the case. It is very cheap, just 1500 Chilean Pesos plus 500 for the bicycle, that's just 3 US$ (it is sponsored by the local government, also for Foreigners). The guy who runs the boat, Pirincho, is not a particular welcoming person at first but once you know him better (we waited 6 days and spent all together some hours on his sofa, drinking mate, inquiring about the connection) he is quit OK. He told us several times that this is not a "Tourist Service". 
The boat on Lago del Desierto is no problem at all, it  runs between 2 and 3 times during the day from November on (45 Argentine Pesos). The Argentine Gendarmerie didn't open the border on their side until the 10 of November, so we two were the first who crossed this season. The walking path between the actual border and the north shore of Lago del Desierto (6km's) is still in very bad condition, its recommendable to rent horses from Ricardo. We did it without it but regretted it, the danger that you damage something on your bike is quit big (we didn't remove our packs from the bike) Maybe also interesting: last season, between November 2002 and April 2003 110 people crossed from north to south and 79 people from south to north.

November 2003, Roland Holzer, Austria
A few things more which I've been told by Hans Silva, the responsible person for the Camp de Hielo Sur in Villa O´Higgins:
1. They are planning a road from the north end of Lago de Desierto (Argentina customs) to the Chilean border.
2. The same company who is running the boat on Lago del Desierto wants to make tourist cruises on Lago O'Higgins already from next year on.
3. Also a road is planned from the south shore of Lago del Desierto to the north shore - that means it would be possible to go all the way from El Chaltén to Candelario Mancilla by road.
4. They want to use the Ferry Boat Barkassa "Integracion" (at the moment just used for scientific expeditions), which can transport also cars from Villa O'Higgins to Candelario Mancilla. The Barkassa "Integracion" is orange and about the same size as the ferry Barkassa "General Carrera", which is crossing the Fjordo Mitchel from Puerto Yungay to Rio Bravo.
5. Currently they are working on a road to "Entrada Mayer", north east from Villa O'Higgins.
6. They are also working on a road west of the Campo de Hielo Sur to eventually make a connection down to Puerto Natales. CMT ("Cuerpo Militar del Trabajo") is constructing this road, they estimate about 10 years more - I estimate at least 20 years, it's very difficult terrain and needs some more Fjord Crossings and hundreds of bridges.

May 2004, Alain Frund, Switserland
The pass to Chalten is open from the 1st of december to the 30th of april (I arrived the 2nd of may, bad luck again !). They close it for reason of security (weather), but it might be open year round next year.
From march to december, Pirincho runs his "barkasa" two times a month, depending of the weather, you might wait a few days. He officially hates tourists, avoid questionning him like a tourist office.
Next season (summer 2004/05), a brand new boat will be runned by a tourist-friendly captain, EVERYDAY ! It's hard to believe ... might be true, will see ! Check the website for latest news :
I walked the way to the pass of "Rio Mayer", north of Villa O'Higgins. It's pretty hard, really remote. I would avoid it with a bike. If necessary, RENT A HORSE ! For the wintertime-cyclo-adventurer : take the "Roballo" pass, north of Cochrane, beautiful scenery and remotes roads.

Note: November 2005, Ivo and Brigitte, Switserland
If you have to wait in Villa o' Higgins (for Pirincho?) we recommend the hospedaje Carretera Austral, with Sonya and here family we felt very much at home.


Mentioned times are for one-way and between brackets the time for the two times system.Click for more detailed map

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This page was last updated on Friday July 29, 2011