The Cruce Andino lake crossing connects Puerto Varas, Chile, with Bariloche, Argentina. This international excursion involves taking four buses and three boats through stunning Andean scenery.
I took the Cruce Andino myself and learned a variety of helpful tips, right down to the best side to sit on the bus. So, grab a coffee or tea and settle in for this read.
Accessibility Note: Unfortunately, the Cruce Andino lake crossing isn’t wheelchair accessible.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
A Disclaimer to Your Benefit
Cruce Andino had no knowledge that I would be writing this post. As far as I’m aware, they still have no clue I exist.
I paid in full for my ticket, so you’re receiving my 100% uninfluenced opinion 🙂
What Is the Cruce Andino Lake Crossing?
The Cruce Andino lake crossing is a transportation method and tour wrapped into one that allows you to travel from Puerto Varas, Chile, to Bariloche, Argentina, or vice versa.
During the scenic journey, you’ll cross three lakes: Todos los Santos, Frías, and Nahuel Huapi.
The traditional Cruce Andino route involves four buses. However, bikers can opt to bike the land portion. I’ll cover the bus and boat route in this post, but you can read more about the bike and boat option here.
Fun fact: The route we now call the Cruce Andino lake crossing was developed in the 1800s for trading as far away as Europe. The route collapsed due to a lack of demand after the Panama Canal opened.
Cruce Andino Schedule
The Cruce Andino runs 365 days a year. You can begin either from Puerto Varas or Bariloche. The stops are exactly the same coming from either direction.
The tour begins between 8:00 am to 8:30 am and ends approximately 12 hours later.
I know it can sound daunting to get on and off boats and buses seven different times. But for many, myself included, it’s worth it.
You can check the availability for taking the Cruce Andino from Puerto Varas to Bariloche using the calendar below.
And you can check availability for taking the Cruce Andino from Bariloche to Puerto Varas with this calendar:
How Much Does the Cruce Andino Cost?
In the past, Cruce Andino’s cost depended on the time of year you travel.
However, according to their website, it appears that April 30, 2023, will be the last opportunity to lock in low season rates. Starting on May 1, 2023, the price jumps up and remains at high season rates through April 30, 2024.
For travel dates starting May 1st, one-way adult Cruce Andino tickets cost $325 and round-trip tickets cost $486. There are child rates for kids from 2 – 11 years old, costing $162 and $243, respectively.
However, I didn’t notice many children on my tour. The majority of the travelers seemed firmly in the middle-aged/retired bracket. That makes sense when you consider the excursion’s hefty price tag.
It’s worth pointing out that the tour doesn’t include the entrance fee to Petrohue Falls (6,000 Chilean pesos; credit cards are accepted). It also doesn’t include lunch or extra activities in Peulla (I’ll get into these details shortly).
In my opinion, it’s a shame that Cruce Andino is no longer offering discounted rates for the low season, given that it comes with a higher chance of poor weather and visibility.
You can purchase your Cruce Andino tickets here.
Is There Another Way to Travel?
If you’re a budget traveler, you’re better off taking the eight-hour bus between Puerto Varas and Bariloche.
Not only is it cheaper, but you’ll also arrive at your destination faster.
Best Time of Year to Take the Cruce Andino
If you’ve read my post on Puerto Varas, you already know that the weather in the lake district is consistent with being inconsistent.
Nevertheless, below is a breakdown by season of approximately what you can expect:
Summer (Mid-December – Mid-March)
The warmest time of year with the longest daylight hours. This means that you’ll get to enjoy the full Cruce Andino tour in the daylight.
Summer is also ideal because it receives the least amount of rain. High temperatures average in the 60s, but the nights cool off quickly. The summer is the best time of year weather-wise to visit the lake district.
Fall (Mid-March – Mid-June)
The rain and clouds pick up in the fall. Temperatures also become cooler (40 to 50 degrees).
That said, the mid to end of March is a nice shoulder time when there are fewer tourists, but summer-like days are still possible. The daylight is also still fairly long this time of year.
Winter (Mid-June – Mid-September)
The fewest number of tourists visit the lake district in the winter. In my opinion, it isn’t worth traveling in winter to avoid crowds for the trade-off of having higher chances of clouds, precipitation, and cold weather.
One of the best parts of the Cruce Andino experience is the views. So, if you’re going to spend your money on this tour, you should set yourself up to travel during a time of year when you have a better chance of enjoying nicer weather.
Spring (Mid-September – Mid-December)
Temperatures start rising in the spring, along with daylight hours. The heaviest rain showers start to taper off, although rain occurs in some form year-round in the lake district.
Aim to take the Cruce Andino in early December if you’re hoping for nicer weather and fewer tourists.
The Bottom Weather Line
Since Bariloche and Puerto Varas are in Patagonia, albeit in the very northern part, the area experiences extreme fluctuations in weather year-round.
In many cases, the weather even fluctuates drastically by the hour.
Be prepared by wearing clothes you can layer and packing sunscreen and rain attire. You could very well need them all during your tour!
Travel Tip: The water level at Petrohue Falls, and the other small waterfalls you’ll pass, is significantly lower during the summer. If seeing a fuller waterfall is important to you, aim to travel in spring when the water should still be full from the winter rain.
Different Ways to Approach the Cruce Andino Lake Crossing
You have the following four choices when deciding how you want to book your Cruce Andino lake crossing:
- One way in one day from Puerto Varas, Chile, to Bariloche, Argentina.
- One way in one day from Bariloche, Argentina, to Puerto Varas, Chile.
- Round trip Puerto Varas – Bariloche – Puerto Varas. Or, Bariloche – Puerto Varas – Bariloche. You’d need at least two days for this, although you’ll surely want to build in extra days to explore the new destination.
- Either of the first three options with an overnight in Peulla and/or Puerto Blest. This would make your trip two to three days long.
Step-by-Step Cruce Andino Lake Crossing Experience
Now let’s get to the fun stuff!
You’re probably wondering exactly what your Cruce Andino experience will be like. Not only will I describe my experience to give you a firsthand understanding of it, but I’ll give you tips along the way that will make your fellow Cruce Andino goers envious of your uncanny foresight.
I took the Cruce Andino in one day from Puerto Varas to Bariloche. Therefore, that’s the order I’ll talk about here.
However, if you’ll be traveling from Bariloche, the experience is exactly the same, just in the opposite direction.
Below is a map outlining the journey:
Step 1: Depart Puerto Varas
The meeting point to start the Cruce Andino lake crossing is at the Cruce Andino office in Puerto Varas (or Bariloche, if you’re starting from there).
My bus departed Puerto Varas at 8:30 am. But from my understanding, the departure time can vary depending on the season.
They asked everyone to arrive at the meeting point 15 minutes in advance. Being the early bird I am, I got there 30 minutes ahead of time and the bus and guide were already there.
My driver tagged my check-through luggage with the address of the accommodation I was staying at in Bariloche. Be sure to keep your valuables in your carry-on bag, just as you would at an airport.
I recommend arriving early to claim your seat.
If you’re traveling from Puerto Varas, sit on the driver’s side and as close to the front as possible. Sitting on the driver’s side will give you views of Llanquihue Lake and the Osorno Volcano.
That said, the passenger side will give you views of the Calbuco Volcano.
Sitting in front, regardless of the side, has a variety of advantages which I’ll cover in the upcoming steps.
Keep in mind: If you’re traveling to Puerto Varas from Bariloche, you’ll want to sit on the passenger side of the bus for this part, which will be the last leg of your journey.
During the bus ride, there was an audio recording that came on periodically to talk about the geography and history of the area.
These audio recordings were Cruce Andino’s primary education mode throughout the day. They played in both English and Spanish, but I found the English recording in Argentina easier to understand than the English recording in Chile.
Step 2: Visit the Petrohue Falls
The first stop during the Cruce Andino lake crossing is at the entrance to Petrohue Falls. The drive from Puerto Varas to Petrohue took about an hour.
I was already concerned about not having enough time at Petrohue before beginning the tour, so I wasn’t thrilled when our bus got a ten-minute late start.
Since the Cruce Andino tour revolves around set boat departures, any time lost during the bus trip can’t be made up for during the land stops.
To give you an idea of the timing, I was told when I booked the tour that we would have 30 to 45 minutes at Petrohue. When we headed out of Puerto Varas, our guide said we’d have 30 minutes.
In reality, we had 28 minutes from the time the bus parked. This 28 minutes included everyone on the bus needing to get in line to buy their ticket.
This is where getting on the bus early and picking a front seat makes all the difference. Our guide led us to the ticket booth and after that, we were on our own to manage our time.
Within minutes, I had purchased my ticket, beating the bus crowds and having more time to spend at the falls since I had sat at the front of the bus.
Visiting Petrohue Once vs. Twice
The stop at Petrohue with Cruce Andino was a whirlwind. But, even so, I felt that I got to see the falls fairly well, as I didn’t see any other hiking paths around that were open.
So, aside from the few-minute walk from the ticket booth to the falls and looking at the tourist shop, there isn’t much to do there.
That said, if I did it again, I would visit Petrohue on a separate trip from Cruce Andino. That way, I’d feel less rushed and have a second chance of having clearer skies at the falls.
Although thick fog hung over Puerto Varas in the morning, a small clearing opened over the volcano at Petrohue. That ended up marking the start of a beautiful rain-free day.
Since you’ll be closer to the Osorno Volcano at Petrohue than in Puerto Varas, you will have a better chance of seeing the volcano even if you couldn’t see it that morning from Puerto Varas.
Step 3: Take the Bus to Todos los Santos Lake
The drive from Petrohue to the port was a quick 10 minutes. Our boat was there waiting for us, and the people from my bus, along with people from other buses, boarded.
Our boat was spacious, with two stories of indoor seating and outdoor viewing areas. There’s no seating outside, though.
At 1 hour and 45 minutes, cruising Todos los Santos Lake is the longest boat ride of the day.
Weather permitting, you’ll get to enjoy views of the Osorno and Puntiagudo volcanos, along with all the beautiful mountains and small islands around the lake.
If you’re lucky, the boat will make a “water stop” for locals to disembark. That was the case for my boat.
It was fun watching a little motorboat waiting in the middle of the lake to pick up a local family!
The Todos los Santos Lake boat was comfortable, with plenty of space indoors and outdoors. It also had restrooms and a small snack stand.
Step 4: Spend Time in Peulla
Peulla is the longest land stop during the Cruce Andino tour. And for most people, myself included, it’s an unnecessarily long one.
During the Todos los Santos Lake excursion, you’ll hear the staff on board promoting different tours you can do in Peulla.
Of these, the one most boasted about was the $300 USD per person helicopter ride that requires four people to sign up for it to run.
It was neat watching one fly by our boat.
Other tours offered include horseback riding, canopying, and 4 x 4 safari tours.
Since spending money on the Cruce Andino in and of itself was a splurge for me, I opted out of taking a tour in Peulla. Unfortunately, that meant LOTS of time to wander around the Peulla hotel grounds and a long sit-down meal at the hotel’s restaurant.
The views from the restaurant were beautiful. So, if you opt out of a tour, I recommend having a meal there rather than at the bar/snack area of the hotel, which is the only other place to eat in Peulla.
There’s absolutely nothing in Peulla infrastructure-wise other than the hotel.
No non-hotel-owned restaurants.
The setting is stunning, though, and there’s an option to walk up to a small waterfall. It’s around a ten-minute journey.
Since you’ll have around 2.5 hours in Peulla, there’s no need to rush your waterfall visit.
Step 5: Bus Ride to Puerto Frías
The meeting point to get on the next bus is by the hotel. You’ll board a different bus than the one from earlier.
You also may have picked up some new passengers who had spent the night at the Peulla hotel.
What does this mean for you?
You’ll need to do whatever it takes to secure a seat toward the front of the bus. Trust me on this for now; I’ll explain why in step six.
I recommend sitting on the driver’s side of the bus since it’ll give you an excellent panoramic view of Todos los Santos Lake as you leave Peulla.
Later in the journey, the Tronador Volcano will be on the passenger side. However, the bus will stop there, letting you get off to take pictures of it.
Regardless of the side of the bus you sit on, the ride is beautiful.
This portion of the journey lasts about 1.5 hours. It follows a dirt road through the countryside and forest.
Chile Border Crossing
Within minutes of getting on the bus in Peulla, you’ll get off to complete customs for exiting Chile.
The customs process was quick, and the only question they asked me is if I enjoyed my stay. It makes me grateful for the privileges that come with being an American passport holder; I know travel isn’t that easy for people of certain other nationalities.
Since you will have sat at the front of the bus, you’ll have some time while waiting for everyone else to get through the line.
So, if you happen to be traveling in February or March, head to the nearby raspberry bushes for a free and healthy snack.
Once everyone gets back on the bus, you’ll drive 29 kilometers to Puerto Frías, where the Argentina customs office is located. During that time, you may see condors flying through the mountains.
Twenty-five kilometers into the 29 km ride, you’ll cross the actual Argentina border.
Your guide will let you off the bus so you can take a picture of the “Welcome to Argentina” sign. Then, you’ll continue the remaining four kilometers to beautiful Puerto Frías.
Step 6: Arrival in Puerto Frías
We’ve arrived at the part where sitting at the front of the bus has the absolute biggest advantage.
Puerto Frías is a little countryside port, and its seafoam green water is absolutely mesmerizing. Unfortunately, the allotted time spent there is for going through Argentina’s customs.
Since you’ll be among the first off the bus and, therefore, the first in line at customs, take advantage of your free time and walk a couple of minutes back along the road you arrived from.
That’s where you’ll get enjoy views like this:
Do you see that white dot in the distance in the photo? That’s the boat coming to pick everyone up, but most people were still in the immigration line.
The silver lining?
They ensured everyone cleared immigration before departing. But, in my opinion, it would be such a shame to be among the last in the immigration line, missing out on the chance to enjoy views of Puerto Frías.
I was the only person on my bus who walked along the road; I don’t want you to miss out on this opportunity, too, dear reader!
A Head’s Up: The Argentina immigration officers will take some luggage off the bus for inspection. If your bag is among the few chosen, rest easy. The inspection is quick, and you’ll need to be present before they open your luggage.
Step 7: Lake Frías Boat Ride
The Lake Frías crossing was the one that I was most excited about, despite it being so short. Its emerald blue waters didn’t disappoint during the 15-minute boat ride.
If you’re lucky, the clouds will work in your favor so that you get to see the Tronador Volcano from behind as you ride away from the port.
That said, I ended up enjoying the views more from the port than from the boat. The clouds over Tronador may have played a role in this, though.
For starters, the boat was the smallest of the three boats. It felt cramped inside and out, making it hard to get a picture without other people’s heads in the way.
My tip for you?
Make walking down the road to take pictures of the lake from the shore your priority. Second to that, try to be among the first people to get on the boat.
When you board the boat, make a beeline for the top floor, where there are outdoor benches. This is the only boat with outdoor seating.
Unfortunately, there isn’t room for many people, so the seats fill up quickly.
The outdoor seats will give you 360-degree stranger-free views of the lake.
A disadvantage to doing the Cruce Andino lake crossing from Puerto Varas in late February is that by the time we reached Frías Lake, the sun was starting to lower in the sky to the point where the mountains created dark shadows on the lake.
That said, if you’re traveling earlier in the summer, that shouldn’t be an issue.
And besides, one shouldn’t complain about the sun being out in Patagonia!
Step 8: Arrival at Puerto Alegre
When you get off the boat at the other end of Frías Lake, you’ll board an unattractive bus that will take you to Puerto Blest. It felt like a repurposed public bus that should have retired years ago.
The good news is that the bus ride only lasts ten minutes.
Don’t worry about which side of the bus you sit on or how far back you are. You’ll be surrounded by woods on either side.
Plus, there’s no need to rush to claim a seat on the next boat.
Step 9: Arrival at Puerto Blest
Welcome to Puerto Blest! Here again is where I feel that my fellow passengers seriously missed out.
After getting off the bus, people immediately created a line to get on our next and final boat, presumably from fear of how small our Frías Lake boat was.
But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter where you sit on the boat for the Nahuel Huapi Lake crossing.
The boat is large, and there are plenty of places to walk around for sightseeing inside and outside.
Given this, when you arrive in Puerto Blest, head to the end of the peninsula located downhill from the hotel. There, you’ll get to see the meeting of the waters with the emerald green water mixing with deep blue colored water.
It was absolutely stunning!
After you’ve oohed and aahed over this area, spend any remaining time at the lookout deck over the river. The viewing spot is located to the left when you’re starting at the hotel from the end of the peninsula.
You can also visit the rocky beach on the right-hand side.
It took about 30 minutes for our boat to arrive and for our check-through luggage to be loaded.
During that time, I enjoyed exploring all of the areas mentioned here while almost everyone else from my group waited in line.
Step 10: Nahuel Huapi Boat Ride
The final boat crossing is on Nahuel Huapi Lake. The ride takes about one hour, and you’ll be surrounded by beautiful mountains on either side.
I stood outside at the front of the boat the entire ride to soak in the views. The boat makes a traditional three-horn beep at Centinela Islet for Perito Moreno, an Argentine hero.
Make sure to bring some bread with you. Hold a piece in the air and the seagulls will grab it right out of your hand!
As you approach Puerto Pañuelo, you’ll begin noticing beautiful Swiss-style architecture, which is iconic of Bariloche.
Step 11: Arrival in Bariloche
Once you’ve arrived in Puerto Pañuelo, your Cruce Andino journey has just about come to an end.
When you get off the boat, the staff will usher you into the small Puerto Pañuelo terminal. Once you exit the other side of the terminal, you’ll find a bus waiting to take you to Bariloche.
The drive is about 40 minutes.
Your driver and guide will already know where you need to get off, thanks to the information you left on your luggage tag.
Even if you aren’t staying at a hotel, they may be able to drop you off at—or near—your accommodation. I had an Airbnb in Bariloche and they kindly dropped me off one block from my apartment.
If your accommodation isn’t on their standard route, your driver will take you to the Cruce Andino office in downtown Bariloche or Puerto Varas, if you’re traveling from Bariloche.
You Made It
Phew, that’s quite a day!
It definitely gets tiring getting on and off so many forms of transportation (and having too much free time in Peulla). But for me, it was totally worth it to see so much of the lake district.
My Top Cruce Andino Lake Crossing Tips
This is a long post, I know.
So, if you don’t have time to re-read it to extract the main takeaways, below is a summary of my top tips to help you make the most of your Cruce Andino experience:
- Sit as close to the front as possible on the buses.
- It doesn’t matter as much where you sit on the boats, except for the Lake Frías crossing. For Lake Frías, try to sit on the top outdoor floor if it isn’t raining. You’ll be free to roam around inside and outside all of the boats.
- Consider visiting Petrohue a second time, especially if you’re traveling from Bariloche and weren’t able to catch it on a day when you could have the Osorno Volcano as a backdrop. If you’re traveling from Puerto Varas, it’ll be harder to know whether Petrohue warrants a visit before you take the Cruce Andino. It’s best to weigh this option against the other activities you want to do in the area.
- Make sure to backtrack a few minutes down the road in Puerto Frías after you get your passport stamped. In my opinion, the views from the lakeshore were even better than from the boat.
- Spend time at the peninsula in Puerto Blest, where the different colored waters meet. Between waiting for the boat to arrive and the crew needing to load luggage, you should have plenty of time for this detour.
FAQs About the Cruce Andino Experience
I’ll address some lingering questions you may have about the Cruce Andino lake crossing. If I miss any, leave your questions in the comments and I’ll get back to you.
Where can I buy a Cruce Andino ticket?
You can buy your Cruce Andino ticket directly online here. There are also tour offices in Bariloche and Puerto Varas where you can buy your ticket.
From what I gathered, it’s extremely rare for the Cruce Andino tour to sell out, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Can I change the date of my ticket?
You can change the date of your Cruce Andino ticket free of charge. That’s incredibly advantageous if you have flexible travel plans since poor weather and visibility are common in the lake district.
As long as the new date you want to aim for has availability, you’ll be able to switch your ticket without a fee.
How far in advance should I book?
Upon asking a few different Cruce Andino representatives and employees, I got the feeling that the Cruce Andino rarely sells out. I personally booked this excursion one week in advance, although I could have just as easily booked it the morning I wanted to go.
If experiencing the Cruce Andino is an absolute must-do part of your trip, I’d book it as soon as you have your plans set.
Otherwise, if you’re on the fence, you can be fairly confident that you’ll be able to book the Cruce Andino on shorter notice. That said, I’d be more cautious about last-minute bookings during local holidays and the high tourist season (summer).
You can check the availability for taking the Cruce Andino from Puerto Varas to Bariloche using the calendar below.
And you can check availability for taking the Cruce Andino from Bariloche to Puerto Varas with this calendar:
Luggage: What happens with my stuff?
Among the things that impressed me the most about the Cruce Andino was how well organized they are. They’ll tag your check-through luggage in the morning and give it back to you when they drop you off at or near your accommodation in the afternoon.
It’s an entirely hands-off experience.
Make sure to bring any valuables with you. For me, that meant lugging around my two laptops. However, since much of the journey involves enjoying the views from the bus or boat from a seat, it wasn’t as big of an issue as I thought it would be.
How physically fit do I need to be?
The Cruce Andino is a low-impact tour. The most walking you’ll do is to the Petrohue Falls, which is a less than 10-minute walk each way over a nearly flat dirt trail.
While you don’t need to be very physically fit to take this tour, you do need to be able to climb up and downstairs to get on and off the buses and boats.
There are a lot of transportation changes during this tour, and I noticed some older passengers struggled with them.
How much cash do I need for the tour?
You don’t need cash for the Cruce Andino tour if you bring a credit card.
There’s nothing on the Argentine side that requires spending money. On the Chilean side, you’ll need to pay for the Petrohue Falls (6,000 pesos) and lunch in Peulla if you wish to purchase a meal.
You’ll also need money if you take a tour during your free time in Peulla. However, everything can be paid for by credit card.
How much should I tip?
As an American, I came prepared to tip the Cruce Andino cruise staff. However, not only did I notice people not tipping, but it became clear that it would be difficult to tip since the staff changes several times throughout the day.
I also didn’t see any signs or tip jars encouraging it.
Is there WiFi?
You might be able to squeeze a password out of the restaurant staff at the Peulla hotel, but it’s best to count on no WiFi during your Cruce Andino experience.
Are there outlets?
There aren’t any outlets on the Cruce Andino buses or boats. However, the wall along the picture windows of the Peulla hotel restaurant has several outlets. That’s a great point to recharge your phone halfway through the journey.
Remember, Peulla is in Chile, which has plug types C and L. If you’re traveling from Argentina, come prepared with the appropriate adapter.
Is there English-speaking staff?
You will always be accompanied by English-speaking staff during the Cruce Andino. All the staff I encountered had an excellent command of the English language.
Will I get altitude sickness?
No, you don’t have to worry about altitude sickness during the Cruce Andino tour. All of the areas you’ll be passing through are significantly under the elevation where altitude sickness occurs.
Will I get seasick?
The lakes were calm on the day of my tour. However, on a windy day, I can see how rocking would occur. So, bring motion sickness medicine if you’re prone to getting ill in such situations.
Are You Ready to Embark on the Cruce Andino?
I hope this post helped to give you a better idea of what to expect from the Cruce Andino lake crossing.
If you have any questions that I didn’t cover, or if you’d like to share your own experience taking the Cruce Andino, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
P.S.—Since you’ll be in Puerto Varas, don’t miss my guide on how to find the iconic volcano view. As I learned from firsthand experience, it’s not as easy as you might think.