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Hike through a Patagonian forest, as you do a visa run to Chile

It has been 90 days since our pesky visa run to Colonia, Uruguay. This time we trekked to Chile and back. It wasn’t pesky at all, only bad ass.

Lake Puelo crossing was the natural choice for us. It’s the nearest place where you can get a stamp on your passport, and the Chilean visa post can only be reached by foot across the Lago Puelo National Park. Of course I don’t recommend it to someone who is adverse to long walks, tenting it in a Patagonian forest, or bathing in pristine lakes full of delicious, fresh water from the glaciers.

But even if you don’t need a visa renewal and like the outdoors, I strongly recommend a visit to the park. It expands over 23,000 hectares of untouched forest and is home to a massive water system. More information about LPNP and every other national park in Argentina can be found here.

Argentina and Chile share a 5,300 km border, there are 48 border crossing points along it, 8 of those are in Chubut province, and Rio Negro, the province next door to the North has 3 more.

You can find information on all border crossings between Argentina and contiguous nations at Gendrarmeria Argentina’s website, such as absolute geographic location (coordinates, altitude, climate, temperatures), services available and authorities present at the point, main access routes and it’s characteristics, directions and warnings, attractions, and data on the nearest town in the
next country.

Because of Lago Puelo’s particularities (low altitude, and lakes that break the mountains), it has been a natural pass across the Andes since the time of the hunter gatherer, then for Chilean traders who found markets on the Argentinean side of the mountains more profitable, and today by cheap ass hippies who refuse to pay for bus tickets to Osorno and back. Last year there was 399 of the later, 150 the year before that, and this year it’s going to be in the 400 region.

If you want to do a visa run through this point, all you need to do is get to the National Park entrance (a bus can take you there from El Bolson for AR$5), then hike to Gendrarmeria Argentina’s post (6 km), get your exit stamp, then hike to Chile’s Carabineros post, get the entry stamp to Chile, and get an exit stamp before you hike back to Gendrarmeria where you’ll get your new 90 day, tourist visa.

If you have extreme time constrains or want to put Ironman contestants to shame, it is possible to do the entire run in one day, as long as you make it back to the Argentinean post before they close at 8pm. But even with enough determination and fitness there would be little time to enjoy the place and no room for mistakes, and there is plenty of room for those on the Chilean side where path markings are close to non-existent.

It should also be noted that if Rio Azul’s delta is overflown, 7 km extra should be added to the hike, or a short, but costly boat ride (don’t be ashamed to haggle like an Asian). My advise is to set aside from 2 to 4 days depending on how much time you have to spare. 2 days if you want to do it fast, and 4 if you want to enjoy it fully without burdening your body too much.

Altogether, I counted 5 spots were camping is possible, some have better views than others. Fire wood abounds but you should stick to small bonfires and make sure they are completely extinguished before you go to sleep. There is no need to take water as plenty of fast moving streams cross the paths, instead, take extra food in case you decide to stay a little longer.

If you get to Carabineros and decide to explore a little further, bear in mind that in Chile the area is not a national park and path markings are poor. A popular option among the few that use these paths, is to hike 4 hours to Llanada Grande, where you can take a bus for CHP$2500 (About USD$5), to a ferry that services Puerto Montt. The port is on the end of the line, so feel free to sleep on the ride.

Topographic maps of the area are hard to come by around here. This is the best I could find online. Screen capture, enlarge, print, and pen the dots you need according to the detailed maps hanging from the wall on the park ranger’s office.

For some visual inspiration from our version of the forest check out our photo dump.

Before you start your trek remember to check your visa requirements for Chile. Don’t forget to pack your passport, and a fishing rod if you have one.


Edit: More info added. And love.

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