For some unknown reason, we decided to ignore the normal way to get from Chile to Argentina (a bus journey across the border partway down Patagonia) and instead decided that we fancied the challenge of making it all the way down the Carretera Austral and crossing out of Chile and into Argentina on foot. Our guidebook had said something along the lines of “every year, a few adventurous travellers attempt the overland crossing into Argentina.” Red rag. Pair of bulls. Here’s how we did it:
– Bus from Villa O’Higgins > port
The day didn’t start off so well as we were rushed to pack up our tent and have our bags packed ready for the 7.30am bus. We’d lost a water bottle before we’d even left the campsite and Moz couldn’t find his toothbrush; not a good start.
Anyway, the bus cost $2,500 and we didn’t chat much to each other on the way.
– Boat across Lago O’Higgins > Candelerio Mancilla
It’s a beautiful journey across the lake, the water bright blue and the wind blustery around the little boat. Up on deck I tucked my hands into the life jackets and watched as we moved through patches of sunlight and cloud shadow. We were given polystyrene cups of coffee and biscuits; Moz and I were friends again.
In December, the boat runs Mon, Weds and Sat, costs $36,000 and takes about 3 hours. There’s another service which costs $30,000 and travels on the Tues.
– Walk 21km Candelerio Mancilla > Argentinian border control at Lago del Desierto Punta Norte
The road out of Chile is a dirt track, and if you’re leaving the country you start your walk with a 6km climb. After the first kilometre you get your passport stamped by Chilean officials and then continue up the road. Try to be first at the checkpoint so you don’t get stuck in a queue of cyclists.
We were each carrying over 20kg; we had our big rucksacks as well as camping equipment, if you can avoid carrying this much we definitely advise that you do. It’s tough going. We timed our walking and took 5/10 minute breaks every half an hour and it is a really good way of pacing yourself and making sure you’re drinking enough water.
The hike is beautiful: forest, high mountain road, snow-covered peaks around us, the sound of rushing waterfalls. The cyclists caught up with us and we waved them on their way, passed our time interviewing each other on our Desert Island Discs and playing What Would You Do If You Won The Lottery.
After 16km we reached the border; there’s a sign telling you you’re in Argentina and the road stops abruptly in the forest and turns into an undulating track through woodland.
The woods are beautiful, filled with dappled light and the trees moving and creaking in the wind. I loved this part of the walk, partly due to the fact that we were almost there.
You catch occasional glimpses of Mont Fitzroy in the distance, it’s turrets spiking into the sky and turning pink in the afternoon sun.
Our legs carried us the last couple of kilometres down to the lake where we got our passports stamped by an Argentinan official who pointed out where you can wild camp for free by the lake. We made a cuppa and popcorn and laid down in the sun, stretching out our sore muscles.
– Walk 12km Lago del Desierto Punta Norte > Lago del Desierto Punta Sur
This was, for me, the toughest part of the crossing. The weight of our bags was starting to take its toll. The path begins on the shoreline and cuts inland into the woodland where it undulates for the whole 12km. There are beautiful views of the lake, glacier and of the distant Fitzroy but it’s a tough and constant up and down. Moz dropped a sleeping bag in the stream, at a point where we’d stopped to rest my rucksack rolled partway back down the hill; at one point I shouted “this is fucking awful” just because it felt like the only thing to do.
Anyway, eventually we made it – though you can just pay the $30 USD and get the ferry if you want.
– Bus Lago del Desierto Punta Sur > El Chalten
We waited for a couple hours and ate our lunch until one of the few tourist buses was able to fit us in. We sit back and enjoy the 1.5 hour ride back to El Chalten and civilisation. We paid $425 per person and luckily had some Argentinian pesos to pay the driver (we exchanged our Chilean pesos in Villa O’Higgins with travellers going in the other direction).
That night we celebrated with a bed, a bath(!), a pint, wine and paradilla (big mixed grill)! We made it!