The Lake District Experience

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Chilean Lakes Crossing

Cruce a Chile por Los Lagos (Chilean Lakes Crossing). The Cruce a Chile por Los Lagos is a unique excursion by land and lakes. You can do the tour in one or two days in either direction. Board the boat at Puerto Pañuelo west of Bariloche, you'll stop for lunch in Puerto Blest, then travel by bus up to Laguna Frías, a cold glacial lake frozen in winter. After crossing that lake to Puerto Fríos, you pass Argentine customs, then board another bus that climbs through lush rain forest over a pass before descending to Peulla. Clear Chilean customs just before a lodge by Lago Todos los Santos. You may spend the night at the lodge (recommended) or head straight to Chile by catamaran from Peulla, with volcano views. An overnight stay is mandatory in winter. The boat trip ends at the port of Petrohué. Your final bus ride skirts Lago Llanquihue, stopping at the Petrohué waterfalls, passing the town of Puerto Varas, and arriving, at last, at Puerto Montt. Guides on the Argentina side speak little English, and passenger literature in English isn't available; if your Spanish is shaky, do this trip with a tour group. In Argentina: Puerto Blest S.A., Mitre 219, Bariloche, Río Negro, 8400. 2944/426–228. www.cruceandino.com. Daily 8:30–3.

If you're pressed for time, return to Bariloche by paved road via Osorno, crossing at Cardenal Samoré (aka Paso Puyehue) to Villa La Angostura (125 km [78 mi] from the border to Bariloche on RN231).

Other Crossings

Paso Hua Hum is the only crossing open year-round. It may be the shortest route—only 47 km (29 mi) from San Martín de los Andes on RP48—as the condor flies, but it's the longest journey by road, after factoring in the 1½-hour ferry ride across Lake Pirehueico on the Chilean side. There are three ferries daily, and buses leave regularly from San Martín de los Andes. You can also make this crossing by raft on the river Hua Hum.

Farther north, and accessible via Junín de los Andes, are two passes that require a longer excursion. Mamuil Malal (aka Paso Tromen) is 67 km (41½ mi) northwest of Junín de los Andes on RP60. This dirt road crosses Lanín National Park and passes through a forest of ancient araucaria trees as it heads for the foot of Lanín Volcano. Just before the park office, a road leads to good picnic spots and campsites on Lago Tromen. If you continue on to Chile, you'll see the Villarrica and Quetupillán volcanoes to the south and Pucón to the north.

Paso Icalma is 132 km (82 mi) west of Zapala on RN13. Villa Pehuenia, 10 km (6 mi) before the pass, is a small village on the shore of Lake Alluminé with modern accommodations and restaurants. Rafting or fishing the Alluminé River, a visit to an araucaria nursery, plus horse, bike, and raft rentals might tempt you to stay awhile.

No fresh fruits, meats, or vegetables are allowed across the border, so bring a power bar for long stretches without food. Lake crossings are not fun in driving rain and high waves. Snow may close some passes in winter. If you're driving, double-check with your rental agent that you have all the necessary paperwork. It's also a good idea to have some Chilean pesos with you, as it can be expensive to change them at the border.

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