The remote Rio Don Guillermo border crossing is well used by travelers because it’s the most direct connection between Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonia region of Chile and Los Glaciares National Park in the Patagonia region of Argentina. Though these two parks are just 30 miles (47 km) apart as the crow flies, the Andes and a lack of roads mean the shortest driving route between the parks is more than 200 miles (320 km). Here’s how the 77th border crossing of our road trip went, including how you can avoid one of the worst dirt roads we’ve seen in a while.
From: Cerro Castillo, Chile
Date: January 26, 2020
Lay of the land: The small and efficient Chile border facilities, where you cancel your entry visa and the Temporary Importation Permit (TIP) for your vehicle, are right on the edge of Cerro Castillo town which is right on the edge of Torres del Paine National Park. After exiting Chile (it took about 10 minutes to process our formalities), you have to travel about 15 minutes to the Argentinean facilities which are in the middle of nowhere. The moment you enter Argentina, the pavement disappears and you’re traveling on a pot-holed and washboarded dirt road. It took about 10 minutes to process our formalities on the Argentina side as well, despite the fact that the power was out and everything had to be done by hand. The customs (aduana) agent waved us through without looking at our truck at all which may have been a first. Shortly beyond the Argentinean border facilities, you have a choice: stay on Ruta 40, as we did, for the shortest route to El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park and endure one of the most brutal dirt roads we’ve been on in a while. Or take Ruta 7 to El Calafate which is a route that’s 50 miles (80 km) longer, but mostly paved. In hindsight, we should have sucked up the extra miles and taken Ruta 7 to avoid the wear and tear and aggravation of this stretch of Ruta 40.
Elapsed time: 35 minutes including 20 minutes in total for border formalities plus about 15 minutes of driving between border posts which makes this one of our fastest border crossings ever
Number of days given: 90 days for us and 90 days for our truck
Vehicle insurance needed: You must have third party insurance for your vehicle in order to drive legally in Argentina. When we crossed into Argentina from Bolivia we bought a long-term policy that covers us in the MERCOSUR countries of Argentina, Chile, Perú, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia.
Where to fill up: Generally speaking, fuel is cheaper in Chile, so fill up in Chile unless the Argentinean peso remains down as it was when we crossed this border. It pays to check. The first reliable gas station on the Argentina side of this border is about a 30-minute drive into the country at the junction of Ruta 40 and Ruta 7. The prices at this tiny, independent station were about 30% higher than normal and they only accepted cash (we needed some fuel, so look for our Trans-Americas Journey sticker on a pump at this station). From the junction, it’s nearly 100 miles (160 km) on direct but unpaved Ruta 40 to El Calafate where there is a YPF station with more normal fuel prices. If you chose the paved Ruta 7 route to El Calafate, which is 150 miles (240 km) to El Calafate, there is a fuel station along the way at La Esperanza. On the Chile side, there is no fuel available near Torres del Paine National Park. The closest station is in Puerto Natales about 40 miles (65 km) south of the border crossing. It pays to have enough fuel leaving Chile to get you to your destination in Argentina.
Need to know: The Rio Don Guillermo border is not a 24-hour border. It is open from 8 am to 10 pm only. This remote border does not suffer from big rig traffic, or much traffic at all. When we crossed in the middle of the South American summer, we saw less than 10 other vehicles and all of the border traffic was tourists in their own vehicles, rented vehicles, or traveling in tourist vans. And remember that you lose an hour in the South American winter when entering Argentina from Chile because Argentina does not observe daylight savings time but Chile does, so check the time. Check the status of border crossings in Chile here. And check the status of border crossings on the Argentina side here.
Overall border rating: A+ (even with no electricity), except for the dire condition of the road on the Argentina side (so take the 50-mile detour we recommend above, and avoid that stretch)
Here’s more about travel in Argentina
Here’s more about travel in Chile