Into No Man’s Land: How to Cross the Border from Chile Chico to El Chalten/El Calafate (Argentina)

Chile Chico to Los Antiguos Argentina is a remote border crossing post in South America. For all the backpackers who travel south on Carretera Austral and feel uneasy walking 22-kilometers in the forest to Argentina from Villa O’Higgins, this is the last border you can cross before the road ends.

Chile Chico is on the south shore of General Carrera Lake, the second largest lake in South America after Lake Titicaca. The facility in this town is basic but still makes it a beautiful stop to walk on the waterfront, which is filled with a blue and turquoise colored lake. This will be the last time you take in the remote beauty of Carretera Austral before you enter Argentina.

how to cross the border from Chile Chico to Argentina towards El Chalten/El Calafate

The complications of this border crossing are nothing compared to the one in Villa O’Higgins but it still proved to be difficult because of the heavy luggage I was carrying and the long walk under the intense heat. The main tip is to start early, take it easy, and enjoy the remote Patagonian landscape.

Plan your travels to Carretara Austral? Click Here to download the Carretera Austral Mini-travel Guide ABSOLUTELY FREE.

How to get to Chile Chico

A budget-friendly option is hitchhiking but be sure to exercise patience. There are not many cars along the southern part of Carretera Austral and not every car will take you. It depends on your time, the number of people in your group, and your luck. Sometimes there is no waiting and other times it takes days to get a ride.

In Puerto Rio Tranquilo, there is a daily bus leaving for Chile Chico at 3:30 pm for 15,000 CLP. If possible, try not to sleep on this route because the landscape is absolutely surreal. It is the place where mountains surround the valleys, the emerald-colored General Carrera meets the horizon, and trees and flowers show their varied colors. The scenery touches your soul and offers you the best of Patagonia’s remote landscape as a farewell.

how to cross the border from Chile Chico to Argentina towards El Chalten/El Calafate
View on the road trip from Puerto Rio Tranquilo to Chile Chico, Chile

Cards and cash in Chile Chico

You need cash to pay the bus to Chile Chico and your accommodation. A Visa card is acceptable in most shops. Try changing Argentinian pesos in Martin Pescador at Chile Chico town center, as there are no money exchangers at the border.

Where to stay in Chile Chico

There are several hostels and hotels in town. An advanced booking is not necessary and you can walk into the hostel and ask for a room. I stayed at the Don Luis, which is close to the main road and I don’t recommend that anyone stay there.

The hostel is basic and offers a shared bathroom, kitchen, Wi-Fi, and a private room for $10,000 CLP. Nothing happened the night I arrived but the following day the owner disappeared until 12 pm while another traveler and I waited for her in the common area for check-out. She firmly asked us to pay for another night as it was already past the check-out time of 11 am. We refused. She was not happy and asked us to leave the hostel immediately.

Chile Chico to Argentina towards El Chalten/El Calafate: the entire route

  • Chile Chico to the Chilean border (immigration), 5km
  • Chile’s border to Argentina’s border(immigration), 7km
  • Argentina’s border to Los Antiguos bus station, 2km
  • Overnight bus from Los Antiguos to El Chalten/El Calafate: 11-14 hours
How to cross the border from Chile Chico to Argentina towards El Chalten/El Calafate
Los Antiguos, Argentina

Chile Chico to Chile’s border

The border is five kilometers away from the town center and there is a collectivo taking passengers to Chile’s border at 11 am and 5 pm daily. Be aware that the border closes at 8 pm and it is not advisable to cross the border on the same day of arrival to Chile Chico from Puerto Rio Tranquilo.  If you have time, check out Lago Jeinimeni National Reserve and around Chile Chico town center; there is a waterfront for you to walk around.

The next day, you can start early and get a taxi to the Chilean border for CLP 5,000. There are not many taxis on the street. We tried hailing a taxi from the town center and only found them whisking by. We walked a few blocks to Martin Pesdador and the owner called us a taxi immediately.

The taxi costs CLP $5,000 and you should not pay more than that. The taxi will drop you off at Chile’s border and you will see an old building line up in front of you. Just walk straight to the left side and you will find Chile’s immigration office.

Because of the remoteness of this border, the immigration office is fairly empty and there is no line. They will stamp you out and take away your PDI card. Then, you are on your way to Argentina.

how to cross the border from Chile Chico to Argentina towards El Chalten/El Calafate
Chile border

Road to Argentina: a seven-kilometer no man’s land

Unlike most borders in South America with the immigration office within a few-hundred-meters reach, the border between Chile Chico and Argentina is actually a 7-kilometer paved road that is flat and deserted. Bus and taxis are not permitted to travel through this border from Chile’s side, so you have to walk and hitchhike through this route.

There is no separate part for pedestrians, so we walked on the right side of the road, which can be described as a walk into no man’s land. Seven kilometers after is Argentina’s border and this part is neither Chile nor Argentina. It is like being in neither country or both countries at once.

how to cross the border from Chile Chico to Argentina towards El Chalten/El Calafate
Road to Argentina; 7-kilometer no man’s land, where travelers can only walk and hitchhike from Chile’s side

It takes a while to walk through this border with all your travel possessions. This is where we had to start hitchhiking. There were travelers getting a ride immediately after they left the Chilean border and the car took them all the way to the bus station. We did not get that lucky. We walked for an hour till we saw a car stop and offer to take us to Argentina’s border. The drive takes a while and, at some point, we saw the blue-and-white colored flag fluttering in the air next to Argentina’s immigration office. This is the sign that you have arrived in Argentina.

Plan your travels to Carretara Austral? Click Here to download the Carretera Austral Mini-travel Guide ABSOLUTELY FREE.

Entering Argentina

The immigration office on Argentina’s side was empty. Few policemen stood outside the building and there were no money changers or taxi drivers around the area. The bus station on the Argentinian side is two-kilometers away from the border. With no public transport or another choice, we had to walk that length with our luggage. There is not much information on how to get to that bus station and locals do not have the same information, so you need to keep asking around.

how to cross the border from Chile Chico to Argentina towards El Chalten/El Calafate
Argentina border, where you see the white and blue colored flag in the air next to the immigration office

Bus to El Chalten/El Calafate

Once you are at the bus station, you can purchase bus tickets to El Chalten and El Calafate leaving at 8:00 pm and 8:30 pm. The bus to El Calafate takes 14 hours for $1,100 pesos. You can purchase tickets with a credit card or cash. Being totally exhausted after all the walk and hitchhike, I slept through the night and woke up to the Fitz Roy looming in the distance on Ruta 40.

how to cross the border from Chile Chico to Argentina towards El Chalten/El Calafate
Fitz Roy on Ruta 40 under the morning sunlight, Argentina

El Calafate

Arriving in El Calafate, I was surprised by how expensive Argentina’s Patagonia is. Chile’s Patagonia already blew half of my South America travel budget and the price on the Argentinian side, from food, attractions, public transport to accommodation, was twice and three times expensive.  A typical example is that I paid $1,100 pesos ($600 pesos for an hour bus trip and $500 park entry) to visit Perito Moreno Glacier. The astronomical costs to travel on Argentina’s side convinced me to return to Chile after two days.  Luckily, the border crossing from El Calafate to Puerto Natales was surprisingly easy.

how to cross the border from Chile Chico to Argentina towards El Chalten/El Calafate
The coast of Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate, Argentina

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How to cross the border from Chile Chico to Argentina towards El Chalten/El Calafate

Julie Cao

Julie is the creator of Always On The Way. She lived in Hawaii and has made her way to Toronto Canada. In 2017, she went on an overland trip from Bogota Colombia to Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world. She believes travel is not only about visiting tourist attractions but more about getting to know the culture, people and the place.

2 thoughts on “Into No Man’s Land: How to Cross the Border from Chile Chico to El Chalten/El Calafate (Argentina)

  • February 1, 2018 at 5:11 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks Julie – this was really interesting and helpful and current information- especially knowing I can catch a bus from Puerto Rio Tranquilo to Chile Chico at 3.30 p.m. It is so difficult to find information on the Internet or to get tour companies to respond to your queries! I am planning to spend time in early April going to the Marble Caves and Glacier San Rafael and was thinking it would be great to slip over into Argentina and see the Cueva de las Manos as it is so close. The thing is am Australian and the cost of the visa is quite hefty – AUD S180 – and so I was wondering if it was worth it just to see the caves or whether I could risk not being checked by the Immigration authorities.
    At what time of the year did you travel over the border between Chile and Argentina – when I go it is just the start of the winter season so buses and tours etc. are not so reliable, constant it seems.
    🙂 JOC

    Reply
    • February 1, 2018 at 5:25 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Jillian, I am glad this post helps you! I traveled through this border on December 1st when the summer just started. The bus schedule can change so if you decide to cross this border be sure to check with the bus company in advance. Marble Caves in Puerto Rio Tranquilo is definitely worth visiting. I have never been to Cuea De Las Manos but I read it is definitely worth seeing, and from there you can continue to El Chalten where there are lots of free hiking opportunities. I don’t recommend to walk through this border without checking with the immigration.

      Reply

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