On the Puerto Varas to Bariloche Lake Crossing, you’ll navigate an emerald-green lake, visit a village in the middle of a national park which is only accessible from the outside world via boat, and have the chance to take a helicopter flight around the crater of an extinct volcano. This is no average border crossing! […]
On the Puerto Varas to Bariloche Lake Crossing, you’ll navigate an emerald-green lake, visit a village in the middle of a national park which is only accessible from the outside world via boat, and have the chance to take a helicopter flight around the crater of an extinct volcano. This is no average border crossing! Given the incredible sights on offer, the full-day lake route between Puerto Varas in the Chilean Lakes Region and Bariloche in Argentina has become a popular travel experience.
But is the lake crossing from Chile to Argentina really worth it, when you can take a quicker, cheaper, easier bus? What’s it like to cross by boat, and how much of the experience do you lose if you choose to do the whole journey by bus instead?
Keep reading for more information about both the Puerto Varas to Bariloche lake crossing and the Chile-Argentina bus to help you make an informed decision.
About the Route
The passage, known as the Lake Crossing, runs from Puerto Varas on the shores of Lake Llanquihue in Chile to Bariloche on Nahuel Huapi Lake in the Argentinean province of Río Negro, and vice-versa.
Originally used as a trade route by the indigenous people of the region and later established by German settlers, nowadays many travelers opt to cross from Chile to Argentina this way, via a combination of buses and boats which take you through National Park land and across three lakes: Lago Todos los Santos Lake (Emerald Lake), Lago Fria, and Lago Nahuel Huapi.
See the map below for both the lake crossing and bus route. The lake crossing overland portions are marked in purple, with lake navigation in orange. The all-bus route is blue.
If you choose to do the lake crossing, you are in for a treat of unique, breathtaking scenery. Even Che Guevara couldn’t resist checking it out on his epic 1952 motorbike journey across South America (you can see Lago Fría appear in the film remake Motorcycle Diaries).
How to Book the Lake Crossing
You can easily book through Keteka. A one-way ticket costs about $295 in the summer high season (October-April) and $240 in winter low season (May-September). Only one company actually runs the ferry service and this monopoly accounts for the prices. We recommend booking in advance – especially in high season – to reserve your spot.
Make sure you see all the best sights around Puerto Varas before heading to Argentina.
What is the Lake Crossing like?
Going from Puerto Varas to Bariloche this journey takes a full day. The first bus leaves Puerto Varas around 8:00 am, and is the first in a series of buses that will take you between the three ferry crossings before reaching Bariloche at around 21:00 pm.
Part of the reason why the trip takes the entire day is because of a 3-hour lunch stop in Peulla, a small village on the western shores of Lago Todos los Santos in an otherwise inaccessible part of Vicente Perez Rosales National Park.
Many passengers who’ve come over on the ferry will be there for a day trip and not to cross into Argentina, so this stopover is designed to give those day-trip passengers the chance to take part in optional adventure activities like canopy treks, horseback riding, and even a helicopter ride past nearby Mount Tronador before heading back on the ferry to Puerto Varas.
However, if you’re not in the market for an adrenaline rush, you’ll still have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery. The village’s only hotel has a restaurant where you can eat lunch.
Lake District Weather
This region is known for its rainy weather, with 280 days of rain per year. Occasionally, heavy rain can also wash out unpaved roads and complicate bus transfers. If your itinerary allows for it, wait until it’s a really nice, sunny day in Puerto Varas before buying your tickets. That way, you’ll be able to enjoy a warmer day with unobstructed views of the volcanoes and forest.
For a lesser chance of rain, we highly recommend visiting the Lake District in the Chilean summer, between November and March.
About the Bus Route
The bus drives north, along the western edge of Lake Llanquihue, then turns east. After crossing the border, you’ll turn south, and drive around the eastern edge of Lake Nahuel Huapi to San Carlos de Bariloche. This route also takes you through incredible scenery, passing by lakes and mountain peaks. The bus from Puerto Varas to Bariloche takes between five and six hours, depending on the operator and the border crossing.
How to Book a Bus Ticket to Bariloche
Buses keep to their timetables and there are generally lots of available seats. We recommend booking in advance during the Chilean summer (November-March). In the shoulder seasons or winter, you can easily leave booking until the day before you want to travel.
Puerto Varas doesn’t have a central bus station, so the buses leave from their offices, many of which are on San Francisco Street. Here are some bus operators and their Puerto Varas addresses:
If you’d rather book online, see buses and schedules on Busbud.
Buses from Puerto Varas to Bariloche cost about $18,000 CLP (about $27 USD), or you can take a bus with the same companies from Puerto Montt or Osorno.
When you book your bus tickets, you’ll be given the option to choose from the available seats on a screen. Go for the front row of the upper deck and you’ll get a great view of the of the mountains and lakes that appear further along during the drive.
What is taking the bus like?
This fuss-free bus ride over the border is a good alternative to the lake crossing if you are traveling on a budget and wary of possible rain.
If you’re not already acquainted with the high-quality experience that is Latin American bus travel, get ready to be impressed. Given the non-existent railway system and the expense of domestic flights, most Chileans and Argentinians use buses for long-distance travel, and this means that bus companies are highly competitive in terms of price and comfort.
Whether you go by boat or bus, the border crossing itself tends to be free from hold-ups. In the past, to enter Argentina and Chile, travelers from certain countries had to pay a reciprocity fee online ahead of time, then print the receipt and present it at the border. Check the current entry requirements (site in Spanish) based on your country before traveling. Here are explanations in English for citizens of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
Note: You cannot take any fresh food, plants, seeds, etc. from Argentina to Chile. The customs laws in Chile are strict and fines are high. If you aren’t sure if something is allowed, put it on the declaration form and a customs officer will tell you if you can take it with you into Chile or not.
Doing a quick comparison, we see quite a difference in time and price between the two options. If money is no problem and you’re willing to brave some possible rainfall, go for the lake crossing – you’ll visit remote, incredible landscapes that very few get to see. But if you prioritize comfort and all you care about is getting to Argentina, then the bus is a more than adequate alternative.
|Boat||13 hours||$295 USD||5/5|
|Bus||6 hours||$27 USD||3/5|