Cycling The Globe

A Cycle Touring Expedition Around The World

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Day 1215, El Chaltén – Vila O’Higgins: A Border Crossing to Remember

Posted by Thomas Andersen Posted on Jan - 25 - 2014

Distance: 60.16 km
Ride time: 4:42:52
Average: 12.80 km/h
Total: 22067 km

In cycling circles the border crossing from El Chaltén in Argentina to Vila O’Higgins in Chile is famous. The plan for the crossing goes like this: Cycle 35 km up a valley, take a boat across a lake, stamp out of Argentina, push your bike 6 km up a steep track, cycle 16 km down the other side, stamp into Chile, take another boat across another lake, cycle 6 km into Vila O’Higgins.

It seemed impossible to get confirmations for the ferry schedule, so I thought I might as well just pack plenty of food and see how far I could go in a day. Several other cyclists had warned me about the border crossing, calling it “the hardest part of the trip” and “anything but fun”. It all sounded like a nice challenge to me though, so I was not sure what to think. The weather showed itself from the best side as I was heading straight for the mountains. I felt excited and ready for the challenge as I left Chaltén.

The first 35 km up the valley was indeed great cycling despite the ever present wind. The views to Mount Fitz Roy were even better than on my hike yesterday. As I reached Lake Desierto I saw a boat that was just about to leave. I asked if I could bring my bike and “Claro que si” was the answer. So far so good.

At the other side of the lake I stamped out of Argentina on a very isolated border post. The challenging part of the crossing was about to begin. I had heard many stories about the 6 km trail up the mountain. On a muddy day I could see why this would be ‘Hell on Earth’. It required all my (not that powerful) arm muscles to push the loaded bike up the path. But, today the sun was shining, the view over the lake was beautiful, and I was indeed enjoying myself despite the hardship.

Later on the trail turned into mud so I had to take off my shoes. I continued on the trail, partly cycling, partly pushing the bike up the steep climbs. At this point I was very happy that I’m travelling on a mountain bike. My trusty Bianchi road bike would not have been of much use here.

Finally I reached the border which is nothing more than two signs in a very lonely spot. From here there would be a real road, although a rough one, down the other side of the mountain. I was meeting some hikers who told me some interesting news: They had arrived a few hours earlier, and told me to hurry if I wanted to reach the ferry today. According to my information the ferry was not supposed to leave until tomorrow, so I was slightly surprised. I was now cycling down the hill as fast as the road would allow.

After stamping into Chile I reached a small harbor where I saw a lot of cyclists waiting. Among them was Michael who had left Chalten two days earlier. He told me that the next ferry would arrive in half an hour. I had been very lucky with the ferry schedules as some cyclists had been waiting five days!

It was great to catch up with Michael again. It’s a long time since I have been speaking Danish with a person face to face. At the same time we were enjoying the crossing of the beautiful Lake O’Higgins. We were now in the mountains again, something I love!

After two hours the ferry reached a small harbor. It was now getting late, but we still needed to cycle the final 6 km into town. The moon was rising as the darkness arrived. It had been a long day and very action packed day. Tomorrow we will have another adventure waiting for us – the beginning of Carretera Austral.

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7 Responses so far.

  1. Marie says:

    Wow! Stunning scenery!!

  2. Martin says:

    I’m really knowing Patagonia better through your write-ups Thomas. Thanks much for sharing the adventure.
    Happy cycling!

    Martin, LU5DX

  3. Tony Graham says:

    The one photo above your “feet in the mud” photo I have seen before on another cyclists blog and I remember them talking about pushing their bikes up here – it’s great. It must be a well known cyclists trek up here between the lakes.

    My new bike would love it where you are!


  4. Yes Tony, I think something like 50% of the people who do this border crossing must be cyclists. And there really is a lot of cyclists on Carretera Austral, more than I have met anywhere else I think. When you are joining me then? 🙂

  5. Sebastia says:

    very nice blog and pictures.
    I’m now in Tolhuin on Tierra del Fuego.
    I will do the same like you. The bordercrossing to Villa O’Higgins. How did you paid for the two lake crossings by boat?

  6. Sebastia says:

    Sorry, I mean: How much did you paid? I forgot the a word.

  7. Hi Sebastian! You have a great ride in front of you. Hope you will enjoy the amazing Patagonian landscapes and that the wind will not be too hard on you! Oh, and nice bakery in Tolhuin isn’t it? 🙂 If I remember correctly I payed 150 pesos for the small boat in Argentina and 80 USD for the bigger one in Chile. Happy cycling!