The crossing between Villa O’Higgins and Argentina’s El Chaltén is still remote and challenging, yet more and more hardy travellers are prepared to take the boat, followed by a strenuous hike over the border and then another lake crossing. The sixty-passenger Quetru, connected to Villa O’Higgins by a private minibus run by the owner of El Mosco, leaves Bahía Bahamóndez at 8.30am and arrives at the hamlet of Candelario Mancilla at around 11am. Just beyond the dock a signposted dirt track leads uphill from the main dirt road to the only accommodation option – a campsite with no facilities apart from drinking water obtained from a stream and two or three basic rooms available in the owner’s house. Get your passport stamped by Chilean border control further up the main road before you set off for Argentina.
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To the border
Beyond, a gravel road winds uphill through patches of woodland to the international border; on the way, you will have to ford the shallow, glacial Río Obstáculo. Beyond the border, marked by signs welcoming you into Chile and Argentina, the 7.5km stretch of trail to the Argentine Gendarmería on the banks of the Lago del Desierto becomes a narrow, muddy footpath snaking its way through hilly forest and scrubland; cyclists have to push and sometimes carry their bikes. After getting stamped into Argentina, you can either pitch a tent at Camping Lago del Desierto, stay in the basic cabaña run by the gendarmes, catch the motor launch Viedma across the lake or hike the remaining 15km along a steep, thickly forested path on the left side of the lake, emerging at the guardería by the pier on the south side.
Minibuses to El Chaltén meet the arriving motor launches. While it is possible to complete the border crossing in a day, particularly if coming the other way from El Chaltén to Villa O’Higgins (since the last part of the hike is all downhill), boat schedules are weather-dependent, so you must pack enough food for several days. To book a guide and packhorses, visit villaohiggins.com. Rumours abound that there are plans to build a road on the Argentinian side to connect it to the border, perhaps as early as 2013, so the time to do the crossing is now.