Richard travelled through the Andes mountains in South America, experiencing the superb Lakes Crossing, between Chile and Argentina. Below he shares his experiences and rates it as one of the best single day trips to be found anywhere.
Andean Lakes Crossing – Chile to Argentina
It’s been touted as one of the finest day trips in the world – the celebrated ‘Lakes Crossing’ through the Andes in South America, linking Chile and Argentina. During the research for our inaugural South America brochure I was sure I had to include a visit to the area and see for myself what all the fuss was about.
The Andes mountains run almost the entire length down the west coast of this vast land mass. They are particularly beautiful in the southern section of the continent and form a natural barrier between the two countries. More than 100 years ago, Jesuit Missionaries found a way through the mountains, from the flat pampas of Argentina walking to the coast in Chile where there was a Christian Mission on Chiloe Island. By using a little known series of walking paths, and lakes they made the traverse. These paths had been here for more than 400 years used by the indigenous Huillches people, native to southern Chile prior to the arrival of the Europeans.
It’s possible to make the crossing in either direction – which makes tour planning much easier for our team here at Active Travel. My crossing was from west (Chile) to east (Argentina). I’d arrived in the gorgeous lakeside town of Puerto Varas. This area is scenic and dramatic with perfectly formed, snow capped volcanoes all around. Being so close to the coast in Chile, the seafood restaurants here are fantastic. (Nearby Puerto Mont is one of the largest centres for aquaculture in the world!)
The whole Lakes Crossing experience is brilliantly organised, with a bus coming around to the hotels in town to collect all of those undertaking ‘the crossing’. Your luggage it ticketed when you are picked up, much like an airline – and you won’t see that again until it’s unloaded at your hotel in Bariloche. We drive along the edge of Lake Llanquihe and reach a series of stunning waterfalls at Petrohue. A short walk through the forest brings us to the falls where bright blue water thunders underneath a series of walkways. All the while we are afforded a staggering view of the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. Soon after we arrive at the ferry wharf and our lake cruiser awaits.
The cruise boat is substantial and has a café and small store on board. The cruise takes almost two hours, as we travel across the dark waters of Lago Todos los Santos. The views are breathtaking, with pristine forests coming right down to the edge of the lake and mountain scenery as far as they eye can see. You arrive into Puerto Peulla – the halfway mark just before lunch.
It’s possible to stay here for the night and break the journey, but most of our guests are content to push on through and make the trip in one day. You’ll be invited into the hotel here where lunch is available (not included). There’s time for a bit of a stroll around the ground and before long you’ll be invited back onto a coach, drive a few minutes where you officially exit Chile, through the small Customs and Immigration office. For the next hour or so, our coach takes on a superb mountain drive through forests and alpine meadows and before long you reach the border with Argentina. A sign delineates the border – here almost 1km above sea level – and the Argentine Immigration office is still several kilometres further on, at the small outpost of Puerto Frias.
Here you are required to enter Argentina and have your passport stamped. It’s all very straightforward, but the Customs officials sometimes pick a few random pieces of luggage for inspection. Nevertheless, we are underway before you know it.
Another boat takes us just 5kms up Lago Frias, where we board yet another bus for the 3km journey next to the Frias River – and we shortly arrive at the more substantial village of Puerto Blest. We are well and truly in Argentina now and a short walk brings us to a sizeable catamaran, ‘Victoria Andina’ for what will be the final boat trip of the day. We cruise the waters of the Blest arm of Lake Nahuel Huapi. This deep gorge affords us truly jaw dropping views of the Andes, and all the while we are joined by gulls that follow in the wake of the boat as we make out way to Puerto Panuelo. You’ll know you are approaching Briloche as before long sizeable holiday villas appear along the edge of the lake. It’s like something out of the Swiss Alps at this point.
With one last bus trip to make, we bid farewell to our guides who have accompanied us all the way from Chile. Arriving in Bariloche around 7.30-8.00pm, you’ll be feeling exhilarated from the trip and ready to head out for dinner (your first Argentine steak perhaps?) and a glass of Malbec. “Bienvenidos a Argentina!“ (Welcome to Argentina).
Fast Facts: The trip takes around 10-12 hours depending on weather conditions and how busy the two border posts can be. It sounds like a long day but it’s never dull, and you don’t actually do much other than enjoy the views and the transition from boat to bus and back to boat. A multi lingual guide travels with you to answer questions and point out scenic and historic highlights as well as flora and fauna. Your luggage is tagged all the way through, but make sure you see it go on to your coach for the final run into Bariloche, and your hotel drop off that evening.
The Andean Lakes Crossing features in a number of our tours in Chile and Argentina, and as it runs every day – in both directions – it can easily be built into a tailor made journey – our speciality at Active Travel.