CHILE to ARGENTINA the hard way

Once in Villa O’Higgins, Chile you have two choices for continuing south to Fitz Roy National Park in Argentina.

You can backtrack and drive 19h 43min (1,072.4 km) or …
continue by ferry and on foot.

This must be one of the wildest (legal) border crossings on earth.

I knew it was complicated and often fraught with complications. (e.g. Ferry doesn’t go due to too much wind.)

I knew it took 1-3 days … depending. 🙄

So I figured I’d best do it the easiest way possible —> signing on with the expensive Robinson Crusoe tour company.

I paid them C$160 and figured they’d get me across in 1 day. … And stopped worrying.
That was a mistake. 😕

We left Robinson Crusoe lodge at 8am for the short mini-bus ride to the first ferry. There were more cyclists than passengers on foot.

Boarding was confusing. There were two companies. And Robinson Crusoe had two different boats.

I was NOT welcomed on the nicer one.

Turned out the nice one does a side tour to a glacier. If you pay extra for it you can’t make the crossing in 1 day.

My boat was smaller and rougher. Though faster.

Once across to no man’s land, you check out of Chile.

This was to be our biggest problem. A very diligent border guard was SUPER slow processing anxious travelers. I was there nearly 2 hours.

Once stamped out of Chile you have to walk 22km to the border post for Argentina.

As I paid good money it was ASSumed that my tour company would somehow shuttle me that distance.

No.

I walked like everyone else. It took me about 5 hours and I only made the second ferry with 30 minutes to spare. (I did send my backpack on a vehicle for 15km. That cost an extra C$10.)

It involves a climb of 700m.

Worried that we wouldn’t make it on time, our spirits were greatly cheered when we got our first glimpse of the famed Fitz Roy peaks in the distance.

NO CLOUDS!

15 years ago I’d been there and not seen even the base of these mountains. It’s an infamously horrific microclimate.

Clouds rolled in and out over the afternoon, but this is still one of the very best vantage points.

Turns out most people plan to camp at the second ferry landing in any case. And catch the boat next day. That way they are not rushed.

Some — including Sam from Calgary who I hiked with — tent here and then hike out along the lake next day to save money. (In fact 3 Calgarians met up on the trail this day!)

We were worried about an 81-year-old man from France. He almost made it.

Instead, someone loaned him a tent so he and his wife could camp.

Myself and the very widely traveled cyclist in this photo did get on the boat. He and his girlfriend had cycled London to Hong Kong before heading to South America on this trip. They had the smallest gear I’d seen over the past weeks.

There were good views on to glaciers from the second ferry.

The lakeside trail looked pretty tough to me. There won’t be a road put in here … ever.

I fell asleep on the mini-bus ride to town. This was a non-stop 12 hour travel day.

Still, I was thrilled to return to El Chaltén, one of my top 10 hiking towns in the world.

Chaltén’s changed a LOT since I was here 15 years ago. Back then it was a sleepy little dead end town. Now it’s party central on the backpacker circuit. My hostel has a restaurant open 24 hours a day!

Here’s the whole trip.

related – Stingy Nomads trip report

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Rick Mc

Career gymnastics coach who loves the outdoors, and the internet.

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