Cruce de Lagos

There are many ways to cross from Argentina into Chile. However, the most pleasant and most scenic must surely be the Cruce de Lagos from Bariloche in Argentina via a combination of bus and boat, crossing three fiord-like lakes and a low pass across the Andes to Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt in Chile.

It had been highly recommended to us; thus we found ourselves boarding a bus at the Port at Bariloche on yet another clear blue autumn day to head off on a thirty minute trip along the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi, lined with hotels, residences, campgrounds and the paraphernalia of a tourist hotspot, to Puerto Pañuelo.

Here, beneath the imposing presence of the luxury Llao Llao Hotel, we boarded the first ferry, a large and comfortable catamaran, along with a couple of hundred other tourists. We were pleased to find out that most were only day trippers and would be returning to Bariloche that afternoon.

Only twenty people were heading on to Chile. Once away, the ferry quickly left the trappings of humanity behind as we headed down the long Brazo Blest, one of several long arms of Lago Nahuel Huapi.

The Llao Llao Hotel beneath Pico Lopez

Soon we were surrounded again by the landscapes of the National Park, the steep beech-lined lake shores merging into barren rocky ridges and peaks. It was hard to believe that only a few days earlier we had crossed these mountains on foot, looking down from above to the distant lake we were now on.

The valleys and ridges of Nahuel Huapi National Park

The shorelines of Lago Nahuel Huapi

Puerto Blest
An hour later, we reached the end of the arm and Puerto Blest, a tiny settlement with one hotel and a cafeteria, but with an important place in history. It was here in 1922, that Nahuel Huapi was declared the first national park in Argentina. We had a two hour break here, time for an early lunch and a wander beneath the dark green canopy of the Valdivian Selva - the cold rainforest of the Andes.

Rio Frias in the Valdivian rain forest

The chilco - from whence all garden fuchsias originated

The 2m wide leaves of the nalca

A 3km bus ride from Puerto Blest brought us to the northern end of Lago Frias, the smallest and, perhaps because of this the most beautiful, of the three lakes crossed. It is a long and narrow lake, surrounded by high forest-clad walls; the pale green colour of the water giving away its origins in the glaciers of Monte Tronador.

Puerto Frias in its magical setting

Monte Tronador appearing from behind the forested walls of Lago Frias

We boarded a small barge-like ferry for the 20 minute journey down the length of the lake; soon after leaving port, the majestic white dome of Monte Tronador slowly appeared from behind the steep tree-lined slope of the Pared del Eco. The oohs and aaahs of the passengers were audible!

Looking north up Lago Frias


We quickly reached the far end where, at Puerto Frias, those of us going on to Chile passed through the Argentine customs post and met our Chilean guide who would be with us for the remainder of the trip. For the others, it was time to rest in the sun, take in the magnificent scenery and then go back to Bariloche. We few cross-border travellers climbed into a bus and continued on for 2 hours in a state of political limbo - no longer legally in Argentina, but not yet legally in Chile.

Zorro rojo

Kept amused by a continuous banter from our Chilean guide, the bus wound its way up a winding dirt road through the rain forest to cross the frontier at a low (1022m) pass and begin a long descent through the Perez Rosales National Park into Chile. We stopped briefly to get one last view of Tronador, looking back up a glacial valley from the Chilean side. It was sad to farewell the mountain that had been a constant presence for the last 10 days.

One final view of Tronador up a braided river valley

Soon the landscape opened out into a broad, flat valley, complete with braided river and steep mountain walls at its edge. Gradually farmlands began to appear and then the small settlement of Puella. Here we finally checked through Chilean customs and legally came to exist again. Some people take two days to do the crossing and break it by spending a night at one or other of the two hotels in Puella. I am glad that we didn't, as the place is overpriced and its setting is one of the least interesting of the trip.

From Puella, we boarded another large and comfortable catamaran, joined by lots of day-trippers from the Chilean side, for the 1 hour 40 minute journey down the deep blue-green coloured waters of Lago Todos los Santos. Again we were surrounded by tall tree-lined slopes beneath more barren rocky topped ridges. A couple of times the catamaran slowed down to allow new passengers to jump aboard from waiting fishing boats - no roads access these shores (the bus for the cross-frontier trip was brought in by barge).

A view eastward on Lago Todos los Santos

The catamaran waiting beyond the reedbeds of the lake

Waiting to pick up the ferry

Rounding one bend we were greeted with the sight of 2190m needle-like peak of Pico Puntiagado, an old volcanic plug, silhouetted against the sun. Rounding the next, the perfect 2652m snow-capped cone of distant Volcan Osorno welcomed us, softly backlit by the afternoon sun, and growing ever larger as we progressed up the long reach of the lake.

Pico Puntiagado slhouetted in the afternoon sun

As we headed down the lake the perfect snow-capped cone of Volcan Osorno came ever nearer

We disembarked beneath the shadow of Osorno at Petrohue, once more boarding a bus for the final leg to Puerto Varas. There was one quick stop to visit the Salto del Petrohue riverfalls, a section of powerful rapids where the river has forced a passage through crevices and tubes in the old lava flows from the volcano. An hour or so more in the bus driving alongside the shores of the large Lago Llanquihue and we reached our destination of Puerto Varas as the sun set on the western horizon. It had been a fascinating and enjoyable crossing, made particularly pleasant by the mild and sunny, and for this time of year, unusual autumn weather.

Volcan Osorno and the lava field rapids
of Rio Petrohue

Salto de Petrohue

We had allowed ourselves a day's rest to roam the streets of Puerto Varas, explore the quaint shingle, weatherboard and galvanised iron architecture of its older houses and discover the strong German influence in this part of Chile, that makes "ja" an alternative to "si" and ensures a good supply of delicious kuchen and fine beers. The next stop would be Pucon and our 3-week intensive language course; our stomachs were already starting to tighten up a little.

View across Lago Llanquihue to Volcan Osorno from Puerto Varas

The shingle and weatherboard architecture of Puerto Varas