The 72nd and 73rd border crossing of the Trans-Americas Journey road trip turned out to be the most gorgeous ones yet featuring Andean peaks, high-mountain lakes, waterfalls, a freshly paved road (bonus), and even condors and foxes. We did a round-trip crossing of this border because our 90-day Argentinean entry permit was nearing its end and we needed to spend several days in Chile before crossing back into Argentina to get a fresh entry stamp. Here’s what you need to know about procedures and facilities at the Paso Pehuenche border between central Argentina and Chile.
Date: September 26, 2019 (Argentina to Chile) and October 1, 2019 (Chile to Argentina)
Lay of the land: The Paso Pehuenche Border is named after the 8,350 foot (2,590 meter) pass of the same name and both were named after a local indigenous group. The drive from the town of Malargüe, Argentina (the nearest city of any size) travels and climbs along Route 40, then at Bardas Blancas you turn onto Route 145 passing through gorgeous valleys (be aware of the many free-range sheep and horses on and near the road). It took about 1.5 hours on fresh pavement (the road to the Pehuenche Pass on the Argentina side was entirely paved in 2018 and it’s also fully paved on the Chile side) to reach the Argentinean border post which is located about 18 miles (30 km) from the actual border with Chile which is located at the pass itself.
We spent about 20 minutes at the Argentinean facility to get stamped out, cancel our Temporary Importation Permit (TIP) for the truck, and watch as an aduana official half-heartedly poked around our truck. Officials canceled and kept our TIP here but assured us that it was fine for us to drive with no TIP until we reached the Chilean border facilities. From the Argentinean facilities, we drove another 40 minutes up and over Paso Pehuenche (which marks the actual physical border), then winding past snowy hills and the huge and brilliantly blue Laguna de Maule. There’s a mirador turnout above the lake (near sheds that house snowplows and other road work equipment) and that’s a great place for a tailgate picnic.
Another 15 miles (23 km) past the lake we reached the large and clean Chilean border facilities. We spent about half an hour getting our Chile entry stamps, getting a Chilean TIP for the truck, and bringing bags from the cab of our truck into the facility to be x-rayed. An aduana agent then came out to the truck and looked around the cab and riffled through a few of the rubber bins and duffel bags in the cargo box in the bed of our truck for a few minutes before waving us through. The drive down on the Chile side follows the lively Maule River with many waterfalls and some wacky rock formations.
Be alert for wildlife, especially in the higher elevations along this route. We saw two condors (one in flight and one on the ground) and two very large foxes during this crossing. Just below the Chile facilities on the Chile side of the border, there’s also a rough turnout on your right above the river. Look for a wooden sign that says Cascada Arcoiris (Rainbow Waterfall) which marks the access point to a short flat trail that leads to a viewpoint over two dramatic waterfalls. It’s a good place to stretch your legs before continuing on. As you descend on the Chile side, the valley becomes green and lush with pastures, pine forests, and roadside poppies.
Elapsed time: It took 20 minutes to get through formalities on the Argentina side of this border followed by a one hour drive to the Chilean facilities where it took another 30 minutes to complete all procedures there. Not including drive time, the formalities took about 50 minutes. When we crossed this border in the opposite direction (Chile back into Argentina) things went even quicker.
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 to drive legally in Chile and 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, Brasil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia.
Where to fill up: Generally speaking, fuel is more expensive in Argentina. But when we crossed, an economic crisis in Argentina meant that fuel was cheaper in Argentina than in Chile for those with dollars or euros or pounds as home currency, so we filled up in Malargüe which happens to have some of the least expensive fuel in the country and is the last place to fill up on the Argentina side before the border. If you’re crossing into Argentina at this border and continuing south, be aware that the next place to reliably get fuel is in Chos Malal. On the Chile side, the nearest fuel is in San Clemente, shortly before arriving in the city of Talca, which is 87 miles (140 km) from the pass.
Need to know: This border was open 8 am to 6 pm when we were there and you will gain an hour when crossing from Argentina into Chile (or lose an hour crossing from Chile into Argentina) during some months of the year, so ask what time it is locally. On the Argentina side, there are a handful of simple restaurants and guesthouses in a riverside community near the border facilities. There are also bathrooms at the Argentinean facilities but the bathrooms at the Chilean facilities were closed. On the Chile side, there’s just one restaurant and don’t count on it being open. There are no money changing facilities or fuel stations on either side of this. Check the status of border crossings in Chile here. And check the status of border crossings on the Argentina side here.
Overall bordering rating: The most beautiful border crossing of our road trip, so far, was also one of the calmest, most efficient, and swiftest. We saw only a handful of other travelers and there were no cargo vehicles on either side of this border when we were there. It was such a pleasure that we decided to re-enter Argentina from Chile at this border rather than at one of the more southerly crossings.
Our video, below, shows this border crossing from Bardas Blancas in Argentina to San Clemente in Chile then back into Argentina.
Here’s more about travel in Argentina
Here’s more about travel in Chile