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How To Walk From Villa O’Higgins, Chile To El Chaltén, Argentina


by Viviyan Eberle



Embarking on an adventurous journey from Villa O’Higgins, Chile to El Chaltén, Argentina is a thrilling experience that offers breathtaking scenery, remote trails, and a sense of accomplishment. This remarkable trek allows you to traverse through the untamed beauty of Patagonia, exploring its diverse landscapes and immersing yourself in its rugged charm.


The route from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén is not for the faint of heart. It requires a combination of physical endurance, mental resilience, and careful planning. However, the rewards are plentiful, as you’ll be treated to stunning vistas of snow-capped mountains, vivid blue lakes, and expansive forests along the way.


This article serves as a comprehensive guide, providing you with all the necessary information to successfully navigate this challenging adventure. From route overviews to preparation tips and gear recommendations, we will ensure that you have everything you need to make the most of this incredible journey.


So, lace up your boots, pack your backpack, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén, where your stamina and determination will be rewarded with the awe-inspiring beauty of Patagonia.


Route Overview

The trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén spans approximately 125 kilometers (77 miles) and takes you through some of the most pristine and remote areas of Patagonia. The route can be completed in about 3 to 5 days, depending on your pace and the weather conditions. Keep in mind that this is a challenging trek that requires a moderate level of fitness and hiking experience.


The journey starts in Villa O’Higgins, a small town located in the Aysén region of Chile. From there, you’ll hike along the Carretera Austral, a scenic road that winds through lush forests and past turquoise lakes. After about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), you’ll reach the end of the road at the southernmost point of the Carretera Austral.


At this point, you’ll need to take a ferry across the challenging and unpredictable Lago O’Higgins/San Martín. The ferry ride itself is an adventure, as you navigate through the icy waters surrounded by towering glaciers. Once across the lake, you’ll arrive at Candelario Mancilla, the starting point of the legendary Southern Patagonian Ice Field.


The next section of the trek involves crossing the ice field, a vast expanse of ice and snow that stretches for hundreds of kilometers. This is a challenging and technical part of the journey, requiring experience with glacier travel and navigation skills. It’s recommended to hire a guide or join a guided tour for this section.


After crossing the ice field, you’ll descend towards Lago del Desierto, a stunning lake straddling the border between Chile and Argentina. From there, you’ll continue hiking through the scenic Los Huemules Natural Reserve and make your way towards El Chaltén, known as the trekking capital of Argentina.


The final stretch of the trek takes you through the majestic Fitz Roy mountain range, offering breathtaking views of towering peaks and glacial lakes. The journey concludes in El Chaltén, a vibrant town nestled in the heart of the Patagonian wilderness.


Overall, the route from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén is a challenging and rewarding adventure that will push your limits and immerse you in the raw beauty of Patagonia. It’s a journey that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.


Preparation for the Journey

Embarking on the trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén requires careful preparation to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are some essential steps to take before setting off on this epic adventure.

Physical Fitness

The trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén is physically demanding, encompassing long days of hiking over rugged terrain. It’s important to have a good level of cardiovascular fitness and endurance before attempting this trek. Engaging in regular aerobic exercises such as hiking, biking, or jogging can help improve your stamina and prepare your body for the physical challenges ahead.

Hiking Experience

Prior hiking experience, especially in remote and challenging environments, is highly recommended for this trek. Familiarize yourself with navigation skills, trail etiquette, and basic survival techniques. Practice hiking with a loaded backpack to simulate the weight you will carry during the journey.

Route Research

Thoroughly research the trail, available maps, and guidebooks to familiarize yourself with the route. Study the terrain, elevation changes, and potential hazards along the way. Plan your itinerary accordingly, considering the recommended daily distances and available camping spots.

Gear and Equipment

Invest in high-quality hiking gear and equipment. This includes a sturdy and comfortable backpack, a reliable tent, a warm sleeping bag suitable for cold temperatures, a lightweight and durable stove, cooking utensils, appropriate clothing for varying weather conditions, waterproof hiking boots, trekking poles for stability, and a reliable GPS device or compass for navigation.

Permits and Documentation

Check if permits or special permissions are required for certain sections of the trek, such as crossing the Lago O’Higgins/San Martín. Ensure you have all the necessary travel documents, including valid passports, visas, and identification cards.

Food and Water

Plan your meals and snacks carefully, taking into account the length of your journey and the availability of resupply points. Pack lightweight and nutritious food that provides enough energy for your daily activities. Carry a sufficient supply of water or purification methods to ensure safe drinking water along the way.

Weather and Safety Considerations

Research the weather patterns and seasonal conditions in the region. Pack appropriate clothing layers to protect against rain, wind, and cold temperatures. Be aware of potential hazards such as river crossings, steep sections, and changing weather conditions. Carry a first aid kit and familiarize yourself with basic wilderness first aid techniques.


By adequately preparing for the trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén, you’ll set yourself up for a successful and enjoyable journey. Remember, safety should always be a top priority, and it’s essential to be well-equipped and informed before venturing into the wilds of Patagonia.


Day 1: Villa O’Higgins to Candelario Mancilla

The first day of the trek takes you from Villa O’Higgins to Candelario Mancilla, marking the beginning of your adventure from Chile to Argentina. This section covers approximately 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) and can be completed in around 5-6 hours, depending on your pace.


Start your day early in Villa O’Higgins, ensuring you have a hearty breakfast and double-checking all your gear and supplies. The trail begins by following the Carretera Austral, a scenic gravel road that winds through lush forests and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains.


The initial part of the hike is relatively flat and easy, allowing you to warm up and settle into a comfortable pace. As you walk, you’ll pass by crystal clear rivers, tranquil lakes, and vibrant meadows that showcase the natural beauty of the region.


After a few hours of hiking, you’ll arrive at the southernmost point of the Carretera Austral, where you’ll reach the end of the road. From here, the trek becomes more isolated and adventurous, as you leave civilization behind and venture into the wilderness.


Prepare to cross the challenging Lago O’Higgins/San Martín, a large glacial lake that separates Chile and Argentina. The crossing involves taking a ferry, which operates only during specific months and is subject to weather conditions. It’s crucial to check the ferry schedule in advance and plan your trek accordingly.


The ferry ride itself is a highlight of the journey, offering incredible views of glaciers, mountains, and the vast expanse of the lake. Keep in mind that the weather can be unpredictable, making the crossing choppy and potentially challenging. Dress warmly and secure your belongings to avoid any mishaps.


Once you reach the other side of the lake, you’ll arrive at Candelario Mancilla. This small, remote village is the starting point for the Southern Patagonian Ice Field crossing. Take some time to rest, set up camp, and enjoy a well-deserved meal. The surroundings offer stunning views of the snow-capped mountains and pristine wilderness.


As you settle in for the night, take a moment to appreciate the solitude and serenity of this remote location. Rest up and prepare yourself for the next day’s adventure, as the journey from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén continues to unfold.


Remember, it’s essential to be well-prepared, carry enough water and food, and adhere to Leave No Trace principles by respecting the environment and leaving nothing behind. Stay hydrated, take breaks when needed, and enjoy the incredible natural beauty that surrounds you on this unforgettable trek.


Day 2: Candelario Mancilla to Lago del Desierto

On the second day of your trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén, you’ll embark on a challenging and awe-inspiring journey from Candelario Mancilla to Lago del Desierto. This section of the trek covers approximately 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) and can take around 7-8 hours to complete, depending on your pace and weather conditions.


As you bid farewell to Candelario Mancilla, be prepared for a day of breathtaking views, challenging terrain, and a sense of remoteness. This section of the trek takes you deep into the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, offering a taste of the rugged beauty that lies ahead.


The trail initially ascends through a picturesque valley, surrounded by pristine glaciers and towering mountains. It’s important to stay alert and navigate carefully, as the path can be rocky and uneven. Trekking poles can provide added stability and support.


As you continue on, you may encounter moraines, large rock formations left behind by retreating glaciers. Take your time crossing these sections, ensuring your footing is secure and maintaining a steady pace. The views around you will be nothing short of awe-inspiring, with glaciers glistening in the sunlight and the sound of rushing rivers filling the air.


During this stretch, it’s crucial to remain aware of the ever-changing weather conditions. Patagonia’s weather can be unpredictable, with sudden wind gusts and rapid shifts in temperature. Dress in layers and be prepared for rain, wind, or even snow, depending on the season. Always prioritize safety, and if the conditions become too severe, seek shelter and wait for them to improve.


Eventually, you’ll reach the highest point of the trek, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Take a moment to absorb the magnificence of this frozen wonder, a vast expanse of ice and snow that stretches as far as the eye can see.


From here, the trail descends towards Lago del Desierto, a stunning lake that marks the border between Chile and Argentina. The descent can be steep and challenging, so proceed with caution and use trekking poles to maintain balance.


Arriving at Lago del Desierto is a triumphant moment, as you’ve successfully navigated through the rugged Patagonian landscape. Take a well-deserved break, find a peaceful spot along the lake’s shore to rest and refuel, and soak in the beauty of the surrounding mountains and crystal-clear waters.


As you settle in for the night, consider camping near the lake or at one of the designated camping areas nearby. Take the time to reflect on the day’s adventures and prepare for the journey ahead, as the trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén continues to unfold with every step.


Remember to leave no trace, respect the environment, and ensure you have enough food, water, and essential supplies for the next leg of your adventure.


Day 3: Lago del Desierto to El Chaltén

Day 3 of your epic trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén is the final stretch of your journey, taking you from Lago del Desierto to the trekking capital of Argentina. This section covers approximately 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) and can take around 9-10 hours, depending on your pace and the trail conditions.


As you bid farewell to the serene beauty of Lago del Desierto, prepare for a day of stunning landscapes and the grand finale of your trek. The trail winds through the enchanting Los Huemules Natural Reserve, where you’ll be surrounded by lush forests, meandering rivers, and the towering peaks of the Fitz Roy range.


The initial part of the hike involves crossing a swing bridge over the Río de las Vueltas, a picturesque river that cuts through the Patagonian wilderness. The bridge offers a thrilling experience as you sway gently over the rushing waters below, but be careful and cross it with caution.


As you continue, keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife that calls this reserve home. You may be lucky enough to spot guanacos, Andean condors, or even the elusive puma. Remember to admire and appreciate these creatures from a respectful distance, as they are wild and should not be disturbed.


The trail meanders through dense forests of lenga trees and opens up to breathtaking vistas of the Fitz Roy range and its surrounding peaks. Prepare to be captivated by the natural beauty that unfolds before your eyes, with glaciers clinging to the mountainsides and sparkling alpine lakes dotting the landscape.


One of the highlights of this section is Laguna Capri, a stunning mountain lake with unparalleled views of Mount Fitz Roy. This is the perfect spot to take a break, enjoy a packed lunch, and soak in the majestic scenery. Remember to leave no trace and carry out any waste you generate.


After passing Laguna Capri, the trail gradually descends, leading you closer to the town of El Chaltén. As you approach your destination, the lively atmosphere of this trekking hub becomes palpable, with fellow hikers and adventurers exchanging stories and basking in the shared sense of accomplishment.


Finally, after a day of hiking, you’ll reach El Chaltén, the ultimate reward for your efforts. This charming town offers a well-deserved respite, with cozy accommodations, delicious meals, and the opportunity to reflect on your incredible journey through the Patagonian wilderness.


Take the time to explore El Chaltén, indulge in a celebratory meal, and revel in the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing this challenging trek. The Fitz Roy range looms majestically in the background, a constant reminder of the epic adventure you’ve conquered.


As you conclude your trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén, savor the memories and soak in the beauty of Patagonia. This journey will forever hold a special place in your heart, a testament to your strength, resilience, and love for adventure.


Congratulations on completing the trek, and may your future journeys be filled with as much awe and wonder as this unforgettable experience.


Essential Gear and Supplies

When embarking on the trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén, having the right gear and supplies is crucial for a safe and enjoyable journey. Here is a list of essential items to consider packing for this epic adventure:

Hiking Gear

  • Sturdy and comfortable backpack
  • Trekking poles for stability
  • Waterproof and breathable hiking boots
  • Moisture-wicking socks
  • Quick-drying hiking pants
  • Lightweight and breathable hiking shirts
  • Warm insulating layers for cold temperatures
  • Waterproof and windproof jacket
  • Sun protection gear (hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen)
  • Gloves and a beanie for colder weather

Camping Gear

  • Durable and lightweight tent
  • Warm sleeping bag suitable for cold temperatures
  • Inflatable sleeping pad for insulation and comfort
  • Cooking stove and fuel
  • Cooking utensils (pot, pan, and utensils)
  • Lightweight and packable camping dishes and utensils
  • Water purifying system or tablets
  • Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries
  • Basic camping toiletries and a microfiber towel

Navigation and Safety

  • Maps, compass, and/or GPS device for navigation
  • Whistle for signaling in case of emergencies
  • First aid kit with essential supplies and medication
  • Emergency shelter or bivvy sack
  • Phone or satellite communication device for emergencies
  • Emergency contact information and relevant permits/documents

Food and Water

  • Lightweight and high-calorie backpacking meals
  • Nutritious snacks for quick energy boosts
  • Water bottles or hydration bladder
  • Water filter or purification tablets
  • Collapsible water container for additional water storage

Clothing and Miscellaneous

  • Quick-drying underwear and socks
  • Breathable and moisture-wicking base layers
  • Insulating layers such as fleece or down jacket
  • Rainproof and windproof outer shell
  • Hiking hat and sunglasses
  • Insect repellent and mosquito net
  • Personal toiletries and medication
  • Repair kit (sewing kit, duct tape, cable ties)
  • Camera or smartphone to capture the stunning landscapes

Before embarking on the trek, make sure to thoroughly test your gear and ensure it is in good working condition. Pack smartly, distributing weight evenly in your backpack for a more comfortable hike. It’s also essential to familiarize yourself with how to use your equipment properly, including setting up your tent and operating your stove.


Remember, pack light and only bring what is necessary. The weight of your backpack can significantly impact your comfort and endurance during the trek. Prioritize lightweight and multi-purpose gear to maximize efficiency.


By having the appropriate gear and supplies, you’ll be well-prepared to tackle the challenges of the trek and fully immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of Patagonia.


Safety Considerations

When embarking on the trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén, it’s crucial to prioritize safety to ensure a successful and enjoyable journey. Here are some important safety considerations to keep in mind:

Weather Awareness

Patagonia is known for its unpredictable weather, so it’s essential to stay informed about the current and forecasted weather conditions. Be prepared for sudden changes in temperature, high winds, and potentially heavy rainfall. Dress appropriately in layers and carry waterproof and windproof gear to protect yourself from the elements.

Trekking Experience

The trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén is a challenging endeavor that requires a moderate level of fitness and hiking experience. Familiarize yourself with navigation skills, trail etiquette, and basic survival techniques. It’s recommended to have prior experience with multi-day hikes and remote wilderness environments.


Carry reliable navigation tools such as maps, a compass, and a GPS device. Study the trail and familiarize yourself with key landmarks and intersections. Pay close attention to trail markers and maintain a constant awareness of your surroundings. If you’re unsure about a route or encounter poor visibility, err on the side of caution and consider turning back or waiting for better conditions.

Glacier Safety

If you plan to cross the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, it’s important to have the necessary experience and equipment for glacier travel. Hiring a guide or joining a guided tour is highly recommended for this section. Understand the risks associated with glacier travel, such as crevasses and shifting ice, and acquire the appropriate knowledge and skills for safe passage. Always have the necessary equipment, including crampons, ice axes, and ropes, if required.

Wildlife Encounter

Patagonia is home to diverse wildlife, including guanacos, foxes, and birds of prey. While observing wildlife can be a remarkable experience, it’s crucial to maintain a respectful distance and avoid approaching or feeding them. Always store food securely to avoid attracting animals to your campsite. Familiarize yourself with the proper procedures for encounters with larger wildlife, such as pumas, and know how to respond in a safe and responsible manner.

Medical Preparedness

Carry a well-stocked first aid kit and familiarize yourself with basic wilderness first aid techniques. Be aware of any pre-existing medical conditions and bring necessary medications. It’s also important to inform a trusted contact about your itinerary and estimated return date. In case of emergency, know how to call for help and carry a means of communication, such as a satellite device or phone with reliable coverage.

Leave No Trace

Respect the environment and leave no trace of your presence. Pack out all trash and waste, including biodegradable items. Stick to designated campsites and established trails. Use established fire rings or designated stoves for cooking, and properly extinguish all fires. Minimize your impact on fragile ecosystems and contribute to the preservation of this pristine wilderness.


By adhering to these safety considerations, you’ll significantly enhance your experience and mitigate potential risks during the trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén. Remember, your safety and the preservation of the natural environment should always be top priorities when exploring this awe-inspiring region.



The trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén is a remarkable adventure through the untamed beauty of Patagonia. It offers breathtaking scenery, challenging trails, and a profound sense of accomplishment. This epic journey allows you to immerse yourself in the rugged charm of the region, traversing remote landscapes and experiencing the raw power of nature.


From the moment you set foot in Villa O’Higgins to the final steps taken in El Chaltén, each day presents new challenges and rewards. The route takes you through diverse terrains, including dense forests, glacial lakes, and majestic mountains. You’ll have the chance to witness the magnitude of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, marvel at the beauty of Fiz Roy and its surrounding peaks, and encounter the captivating wildlife that call this region home.


Throughout the trek, physical fitness, hiking experience, and careful preparation are essential. From choosing the appropriate gear to ensuring you’re equipped with essential supplies and safety considerations, proper planning is key. It’s also important to stay aware of changing weather conditions, use reliable navigation tools, and respect the environment by practicing Leave No Trace principles.


As you conquer each day’s challenges and push your limits, the sense of achievement and connection to the wilderness will deepen. The memories made and the experiences encountered on this trek will stay with you for a lifetime. It’s an adventure that tests your resilience, rewards your effort, and leaves you with a profound appreciation for the grandeur of nature.


So, whether you’re an experienced hiker seeking a new challenge or an adventurer looking to embark on a transformative journey, the trek from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén offers an unparalleled opportunity to reconnect with nature, push your boundaries, and immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes of Patagonia.


Start planning your adventure, gather your gear, and prepare yourself for a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you in awe of the wonders of Patagonia. Lace up your boots, embark on this extraordinary trek, and discover the beauty that awaits you on the path from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén.