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Carretera Austral and Northern Patagonia Border Crossings

Paso RĂ­o Puelo
A real back road experience is Paso Río Puelo: a four-night, five-day trek from the village of Río Puelo, Chile, to El Bolsón, Argentina. Camping equipment and food are essential. Campgrounds and wild camping do exist all along the route but you also need to speak Spanish fairly well. The locals are friendly though, which helps. The Conaf office in Santiago has a trekking map. and the tourism office in Río Puelo village has a more basic map.It is best to do this crossing November-March. You won’t need a guide, as the route follows the river. There are many horse trails; keep to the most trodden. Residents of the area use this paso.

Getting There
From Puerto Montt take a Hornopirén-bound bus and hop off at Puelo town, which has camping. Then a colectivo bus wends along the Puelo River to where launches traverse a series of lakes and rivers. All water transport is scheduled together. Take it to the last stop, a few kilometers south of Llanada Grande. Here the trail head begins. The Chilean border post is at Lagos de las Rocas. Four kilometers (2.4 mi) before the post is Segundo Corral (first aid station, small market and telephone). Several hours beyond Lagos de las Rocas is the Argentine border control at Los Hitos, inside Parque Nacional Río Puelo. Both border posts stamp passports 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. local time. From Los Hitos a trail goes to the park boundary and on to the village of Lago Puelo (walk or hitch; there may be buses mid-December – mid-February). From there are buses go to El Bolsón.

Paso FutaleufĂş
Paso FutaleufĂş, near the Chilean town of the same name, is the most commonly used border crossing on the northern length of the Carretera Austral. The immigration and aduana of either country is about 100 meters (325 ft) apart (summer 8 a.m.-10 p.m., in winter 8 a.m.- 8 p.m.). On the Chilean side, the road is blacktopped. In Argentina, it is gravel, which is very dusty in summer. Public transportation from FutaleufĂş arrives at the border to meet buses to TrevelĂ­n and Esquel, Argentina (Monday, Friday 9:30 a.m., 6:30 p.m.; in summer also on Wednesdays, US$4.70, 2 hr). Alternately, from the border hitchhike into TrevelĂ­n, from where the buses leave frequently (Monday - Friday every 30-60 min 6:45 a.m. -11:45 p.m., weekends and holidays hourly 8:15 a.m. -11:45 p.m., $1, 20 min).

Paso RĂ­o Encuentro
Although Paso Río Encuentro, near the village Palena, has all immigration and customs services, travelers leaving Chile at this crossing will need a salvoconducto (charge) from the local police. From Palena, take Calle Pedro Montt east out of town. It becomes Ruta Ch-235, which goes to the border. From the border, it is about a 10-15 minute walk to Carrenleufú, Argentina. The border is open 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. all year long. Public transportation from Palena are scheduled to connect with Carrenleufú – Concorvado – Esquel buses (Monday, Wednesday, Friday 4:30-5p.m., $5).

Paso Las Pampas – Lago Verde
Paso Las Pampas – Lago Verde is located 3 kilometers (1.8 mi) east of Lago Verde and 58 kilometers (35 mi) from La Junta. The nearest town on the Argentine side is Las Pampas. The road between Lago Verde and the pass, at 510 meters (155.5 ft) altitude, is gravel. There is no aduana or immigration at this border crossing. You must obtain a salvoconducto from the local carabineros or from the aduanas office in Coyhaique at least 24 hours in advance. Always check with the carabineros about road and weather conditions if traveling late fall – early spring.

Paso Río Frías – Appeleg
A rough gravel road from Villa Amengual goes to La Tapera. From there a dirt track heads to Paso RĂ­o FrĂ­as. The pass, at 911 meters (2988.8 ft) altitude, has no services. You must obtain a salvoconducto from the carabineros in Couhaique. The nearest Argentine village is Villa Appeleg, 56 kilometers (34 mi) east.

Paso Pampa Alta
Seventy-nine kilometers (48 mi) northeast of Coyhaique is Paso Pampa Alta. The nearest Chilean town is Villa Ortega (43 km / 25 mi) and the closest Argentine hamlet is Alto RĂ­o Benguer. The dirt and gravel road, Camino Tranversal X-45, crosses the pass at 860 meters (2821.5 ft) altitude. There are no formal border installations. You must obtain a salvoconducto.

Paso Coyhaique Alto
Paso Coyhaique Alto is the border crossing Coyhaique – Puerto Montt buses take. It is 50 kilometers (30 mi) due east of Coyhaique on Ruta Internacional Ch-240. The road is hard-packed gravel. Carabineros, aduana and immigration posts are open all year 8 a.m.- 8 p.m The pass is at 795 meters (2608.3 ft) altitude. The nearest Argentine town of note is Río Mayo on Ruta 40. Near the border is Camping Fogón del Ingeniero (Km 7.5, Ruta 240, Tel: 067-52-5697,

Paso Huemules
Paso Huemules (502 m / 1647 ft altitude) is another fully operational border crossing near Coyhaique (54 km / 33 mi southeast). It has carabinero, aduana and immigration services. It is open all year 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. Follow the Carretera Austral south to the gravel-paved Ruta Internacional Ch-245 to Balmaceda. The post is five kilometers (3 mi) beyond that town. The closest village in Argentina is Lago Blanco; 108 kilometers (65 mi) further on is RĂ­o Guenguel at the junction of Rutas 55 and 40.

Paso Ingeniero Ibáñez – Pallavicini
On the north shore of Lago General Carrera is Paso Ingeniero Ibáñez – Pallavicini. The dirt road Camino X-65 heads 20 kilometers (12 mi) east from Puerto Ibáñez to this pass at 457 meters (1499.3 ft) altitude. No formal facilities exist here; obtain a salvaconducto from the carabineros in Puerto Ibáñez.

Paso Chile Chico – Los Antiguos
The Chilean facilities at this border crossing, also called Paso JeĂ­nemeni, are three kilometers east of Chile Chico, on the south littoral of Lago General Carrera. This is the most commonly used pass in the southern Carretera Austral region. Ruta Ch-265 is gravel paved to the border (231 m / 757.9 ft altitude). Five kilometers (3 mi) past are the Argentine facilities, and not to distant, the Argentine town Los Antiguos. Perito Moreno, on Ruta 40, is 62 kilometers (37 mi) west.

Paso Roballos
Paso Roballos (650 m / 2132.5 ft altitude) is 99 kilometers (61 mi) east of Cochrane. Chile’s Camino X-63 is gravel to the border. On the Argentine side, Ruta 41 is dirt until it reaches Ruta 40 just north of Bajo Caracoles, near Cueva de las Manos. There are no formal border facilities here. A salvoconducto is necessary.

Paso Río Mayer – Ribera Norte
Six kilometers (3.6 mi) north of Villa O’Higgins is a road to Entrada Mayer and Paso Río Mayer – Ribera Norte. This is the border crossing locals use to go to Argentina. There is no public transportation and part of the journey must be done on horse. On the other side, no road meets. Ruta 81 begins almost 10 kilometers (6 mi) from the pass. Foreigners officially cannot cross here.

Paso RĂ­o Mosco
Heading due south of Villa O’Higgins is Paso Río Mosco. This crossing is little used even by locals, as there are no boats or roads on the other side.

Paso Dos Lagunas
When travelers reach the end of the Carretera Austral, the question is how to cross into Argentina. Many choose to backtrack north to Chile Chico and cross at Paso Jeínemeni. Other, more adventurous tourists look at the map and see Paso Dos Lagunas just south of Villa O’Higgins. This pass, called the most beautiful border crossing in the world, allows the shortest, most direct access to El Chaltén in 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 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: rains can flood out the Carretera Austral, preventing buses from getting to Villa O’Higgins and high winds can cause changes in the Lago O’Higgins ferry schedule. Check with the Cámara de Turismo in Coyhaique for the up-dated schedule of departures or

The journey begins in Villa O’Higgins. From here a seven kilometer (4.2 mi) gravel road goes to Puerto Bahamódez (pickups, January - February: Monday, Wednesday, Saturday; early - March: Wednesday, Saturday, $3). This road is narrow and has 90 curves. From this port leaves the boat for Candelaria Mansilla on the opposite shore of Lago O’Higgins (January - February: Monday, Wednesday, Saturday 8 a.m.; beginning March: Wednesday, Saturday 8 a.m.; $80) 2.75 hours; Candelario Mansilla – Puerto Bahamódez same days 5:30 p.m.). In Candelario Mansilla is Hospedaje Rural Candelario Mansilla (Tel.: 067-43-1805 — municipalidad, URL:; $12 per person).

A steep, two-kilometer (1.2 mi) trail climbs to the Carabineros de Chile, where you get your passport stamped. From this post to Punta Norte on the north shore of Laguna del Desierto is a 20-kilometer (12 mi) trek on a dirt path. Pack horses are available ($30 - 40). At Punta Norte is the GendarmerĂ­a Argentina, where you get your passport stamped for that country. You can camp free here, but there are no bathrooms or other facilities. Campfires are allowed.

Twice a day in the high season ferries cross Laguna del Desierto to Punta Sur (2 p.m., 6:30 p.m., $27). Alternately, you can hike the 12 kilometers (7.2 mi) trail along the east side of the lake. On the south coast is a campsite. The last 37 kilometers (23 mi) to El Chaltén is done in bus ($24), or you can try to hitchhike or walk the distance.

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. Upon arriving in Villa O’Higgins, reservations for the Lago O’Higgins ferry must be made with Hielo Sur, who can also arrange pack horses (Camino Austral Km 1240, across from airport, Tel.: 067-43-1821, E-mail:, URL: 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 the port, and notice may not be given until 9 p.m. the night before.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Carretera Austral and Northern Patagonia: Carretera Austral and Northern Patagonia Lodging,

By Lorraine Caputo

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

20 Dec 2011

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