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Crossing Into Chile: Lago San Martín-lago O'higgins

Paso Dos Lagunas is the more common name for the border crossing at the bi-national lake Lago San Martín (Argentina)-Lago O’Higgins (Chile). This is called the most beautiful border crossing in the world. It allows the shortest, most direct access from El Chaltén to the neighboring republic. However, it is a trip only for those who are long on walking stamina, and have deep pockets and patience. Prices are set only for the foreign tourist crowd. The trails can be muddy with the spring thaws. This pass is open October-May, but the best months to do it are January-February when boats from Puerto Bahamódez, Chile, run several times per week. At other times of this season only one boat per week plies Lago O’Higgins. Weather is always a factor: high winds can cause changes in the Lago O’Higgins ferry schedule and rains can flood out Chile’s Carretera Austral, preventing buses from getting to Villa O’Higgins. Check for up-dated departure schedule and instructions.

The journey begins in El Chaltén. From here, take Las Lengas’ bus service to Laguna del Desierto (twice daily in summer, 2 hr, $27) (De Viedma 95. Tel: 54-297-49-3023). There is camping on the south shore. Once at Punta Sur, cruise across Lago del Desierto to Punta Norte (mid-October – Semana Santa: 2 boats daily, weather permitting, 1.5 - 2 hours, $28) (San Martín 56, Tel.: 43-6424, E-mail:, URL: Alternately, you can hike the 12 kilometers (7.2 mi) trail along the east side of the lake.

At Punta Norte is the Gendarmería Argentina, where you get your passport stamped. You can camp free here, but there are no bathrooms or other facilities. Campfires are allowed. From Punta Norte, it’s a 22-kilometer (13.5 mile) trek on a dirt path to the Carabineros de Chile post, where you get your passport stamped for that country. Pack horses are available ($30-40). A steep, two-kilometer (1.2 mi) trail descends to Candelario Mansilla. In that village is Hospedaje Rural Candelario Mansilla (Tel.: 067-43-1805—municipalidad, URL:; $12 per person) and only a few very basic provision shops.

Hielo del Sur runs the Lago O’Higgins ferry service (January-February thrice weekly; December twice weekly; November, March on Fridays; 2.75 hr, $80). Once on the other side of the lake, in Puerto Bahamódez, hop a pick-up truck twisting up the seven kilometer (4.2 mi) gravel road to Villa O’Higgins ($4).

You should be able to make the crossing in one day if you take all the transportation options. If walking around Laguna del Desierto, plan for two days. Bicyclists should also plan for the longer span, as often you’ll have to carry your bike. A complete package costs about $200. High winds can make passage of Lago O’Higgins dangerous. The final go-ahead for ferry service is given by the capitanía of Villa O’Higgins’port, and notice may not be given until 9 p.m. the night before.

Trekkers taking this route should be sure to have a fleece jacket, windbreaker, wool or fleece hat, warm clothing and suitable hiking footwear. The sun is strong; use UV sunglasses and sun block. Carry at least two days’ rations and water. Campers need good water- and wind-proof tent, sleeping bag, camp stove. Last of all, have plenty of cash on hand.

Lodging is available in Villa O’Higgins. There is no bank or ATM; for money exchange, try Hielo Sur (Camino Austral Km 1240, across from airport, Tel.: 43-1821, E-mail:, URL: The village is the gateway into Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins’ northern sector where one can hike Tramo Ventisquero Chico, from Mansilla Candelario (for complete information, see Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins or visit

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

29 Nov 2010

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