Cruce Andino Lake Crossing: A Step by Step Guide

The Cruce Andino lake crossing connects Puerto Varas, Chile with Bariloche, Argentina. This international excursion involves four buses and three boats through stunning Andean scenery. I came away with a variety of helpful tips so that you can get the most from your experience. You’ll also find a FAQ section at the end of this post.

Note: Cruce Andino had no knowledge that I was going to write this post. I paid in full for my ticket.

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What is the Cruce Andino Lake Crossing?

The Cruce Andino lake crossing is a tour that allows you to travel from Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina or vice versa. During this scenic journey, you’ll cross three lakes: Todos los Santos, Frías and Nahuel Huapi. The traditional route involves four buses, however bikers can opt to bike the land portion instead. This post will cover the bus and boat route, but you can read more about the bike and boat option here.

Fun fact: The route that we now call the Cruce Andino lake crossing was developed in the 1800’s for trading as far away as Europe. The route collapsed due to lack of demand after the Panama Canal opened.

Boat during Cruce Andino lake crossing.

Cruce Andino Schedule

The Cruce Andino runs 365 days of the year. You can begin either from Puerto Varas or Bariloche. The stops are exactly the same coming from either direction.

The tour begins between 8:00am – 8:30am and ends approximately 12 hours later. Getting on and off seven different boats/buses can sound daunting, I know. But for so many, it’s worth it!

Money: What’s the Cost?

The costs are broken down from high season (July 1st – April 30th) and low season (May 1st – June 30th). You’ll save about $50 USD by traveling during the low season, but with that comes the highest chance for bad weather.

There are child rates for kids from 2 – 11 years old. However, I didn’t notice too many children on the boat. In fact, the majority of the travelers seemed firmly in the middle-aged/retired bracket. This makes sense when you consider the hefty price tag for the tour. You can view prices here.

Take note that the tour doesn’t include the entrance fee to Petrohue falls (4,000 Chilean pesos, credit cards are accepted). It also doesn’t include lunch or extra activities in Peulla (we’ll get into these details later).

If you’re a budget traveler, you’re better off taking the eight hour bus between Puerto Varas and Bariloche.

Weather: Best time of year to take the Cruce Andino

Tronador volcano lookout point during Cruce Andino lake crossing.

If you’ve read my post on Puerto Varas, you already know that weather in the lake district is consistent in being inconsistent. 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. This time of year receives the least amount of rain. Highs average in the 60’s but the nights cool off quickly. 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 this time of year. Temperatures become cooler (40 – 50 degrees). 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 about the Cruce Andino are the views. So, if you’re going to spend your money on this experience, 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 increasing this time of year, along with daylight hours. The heaviest rain showers start to taper off, although year-round rain is prevalent in the area. Aim for early December, if you’re hoping for nicer weather and fewer tourists.

Weather Conclusion

Since Bariloche and Puerto Varas are in Patagonia, albeit the very northern part, the area experiences extreme fluctuations in weather year-round. As a matter of fact, in many cases, the weather fluctuates 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 winter rain.

Different Ways to do the Cruce Andino Lake Crossing

A stop in Peulla during the Cruce Andino lake crossing.

You have a few choices when considering how you’d like to approach your Cruce Andino lake crossing:

  1. One way in one day from Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina.
  2. One way in one day from Bariloche, Argentina to Puerto Varas, Chile.
  3. 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 middle destination.
  4. 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 the experience, 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, this is the order I’ll follow here. However, if you’ll be traveling from Bariloche, the experience is exactly the same, just in the opposite direction.

Let’s start with a map outlining the journey:

Map of the Cruce Andino lake crossing.  Photo credit: Cruce Andino.
Map of the Cruce Andino lake crossing route. Photo credit: Cruce Andino.

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). We departed Puerto Varas at 8:30am, but from my understanding, the departure time can vary depending on the season.

They ask 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. They tagged my check through luggage with the address of the place I was staying at in Bariloche.

I recommend arriving early to claim your seat. From Puerto Varas, sit on the driver’s side and as close to the front as possible. Sitting on this 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.

The Osorno volano showing through clouds.

Keep in mind: If you’ll be coming 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’s an audio recording that came on periodically to talk about the geography and history of the area. These audio recordings were a theme throughout the day. They played in both English and Spanish. I found the English recording in Argentina to be easier to understand than the recording in Chile.

Step 2: Visit the Petrohue Falls

The first stop during the Cruce Andino lake crossing is at the 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 tour revolves around the 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 timing, I was told when I booked the tour that we would have 30 – 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.

Yikes!

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 my ticket was purchased and I was able to beat both the bus crowds and have more time to spend at the falls since I sat at the front of the bus.

A stop at Petrohue falls during the Cruce Andino tour.

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. 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 as a separate trip on my own. This way, I’d feel less rushed and have a second chance of clearer skies.

Although thick fog hung over Puerto Varas in the morning, an opening in the volcano appeared at Petrohue. This ended up marking the start of a beautiful rain-free day! Since you’ll be much closer to the Osorno Volcano from Petrohue, 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. The boat was spacious with two stories of indoor seating and outdoor viewing areas (no seating outside).

A view of the Osorno volano from Todos los Santos lake.

At 1 hour 45 minutes, Todos los Santos Lake is the longest boat ride. 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. This was the case for my boat. It was fun watching a little motorboat waiting in the middle of the lake to pick up a family!

Family getting off during Cruce Andino lake crossing.
“Water stops” in the middle of the lake are sometimes made to let locals off.

The boat was comfortable with plenty of space indoors and outdoors. It also has restrooms and a small snack stand.

Step 4: Peulla

Grassy area of Peulla.

This is the longest land stop during the tour and for most people, an unnecessarily long one.

During the Todos los Santos Lake excursion, you’ll hear the staff on board promoting different tours that 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 pretty neat watching one fly by our boat!

Other tours include horseback riding, canopying, and 4 x 4 safari tours.

Helicopter flying around our boat.
Helicopter rides are offered in Peulla.

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. This meant LOTS of time to wander around the Peulla hotel grounds and a long sit-down meal in the hotel’s restaurant. The views from the restaurant were beautiful. So, if you opt out of a tour, I recommend aiming to have a meal there rather than the bar/snack area of the hotel, which is the only other place to eat in Peulla.

There is absolutely nothing in Peulla infrastructure wise other than the hotel. No town. No non-hotel owned restaurants. No shops.

The setting is stunning though and there is the option to take a walk up to a small waterfall. The waterfall takes around 10 minutes to get to. Since you’ll have around 2.5 hours in Peulla, there’s no need to rush this one!

Peulla hotel where a restaurant is located.

Step 5: Bus ride to Puerto Frías

The meeting point to get on the next bus is by the hotel. It’ll be a different bus than the one from earlier. You also very well may have picked up some new folk who were staying at the Peulla hotel.

What does this mean for you? That you need to do whatever it takes to secure a seat towards the front of the bus. You’ll learn the reasoning for this in Step 6.

I recommend sitting on the driver side of the bus since it will give you perfect access for taking a 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 so that you can get off to gawk and take pictures of it.

Either way, the ride is beautiful. The journey lasts about 1.5 hours and is down a dirt road through the countryside and forest.

Viewing area for the Tronador volcano.
A viewing area for the Tronador Volcano.

Chile Border Crossing

Within minutes of getting on the bus in Peulla, you’ll get off to complete customs for exiting Chile. The process is quick and the only question they asked me is if I enjoyed my stay. Since you sat at the front of the bus, you’ll have some time while waiting for everyone else to get through. If you’re there in February or March, head over the raspberry bushes for a snack.

From there, you’ll drive 29 kilometers to Puerto Frías where the Argentina customs office is located. During this time, you may get to see condors flying through the mountains.

Twenty-five kilometers into the 29 km ride you’ll cross the actual Argentina border. Your guide will offer the option to get 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 to Puerto Frías

This is where sitting at the front of the bus has the absolute biggest advantage. Puerto Frías is a little countryside port and the green water is absolutely mesmerizing. Unfortunately, the allotted time spent here is for going through Argentina’s customs.

Since you’ll be among the first in line at customs, take advantage of your free time and walk a couple of minutes back along the road you came from. This is where you can take photos like this one:

View of Puerto Frías lake from the port.

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 good thing? They make sure that everyone has cleared out of the immigration office before departing.

I was the only one in my group who walked along the road and I don’t want you to miss out on this opportunity too, dear reader!

Side note: 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.

Step 7: Lake Frías Boat Ride

This was the lake crossing that I was most excited about. Those emerald blue waters didn’t disappoint during this 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 (clouds over Tronador may have had played a role in this!). 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.

Boat ride on lake Frías during Cruce Andino lake crossing.

My tip to you- make walking down the road to take pictures of the lake from the shore your first priority. Second to that, try to be among the first 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). There isn’t room for many people, so they fill up quickly. This will give you 360-degree stranger-free views of the lake.

A disadvantage to doing this trip 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, this shouldn’t be an issue. And besides, one shouldn’t complain about the sun being out in Patagonia!

Step 8: Arrival to 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 seemed like these were repurposed public buses.

The good news is that the bus ride only lasts 10 minutes. Don’t worry about which side 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 to Puerto Blest

Arrival to Puerto Blest during Cruce Andino lake crossing.

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 and sightsee from both inside and outside.

Given this, when you arrive in Puerto Blest, head straight down to the end of the peninsula located downhill from the hotel. Here, you’ll get to see the meeting of the waters with the emerald green water mixing with deep blue colored water. Absolutely stunning!

Meeting of the waters in Puerto Blest.

After you’ve oohed and aahed over this area, spend any remaining time at the lookout deck over the river. This 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 our luggage loaded. During this time, I got to enjoy exploring all of these areas while most 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!

Seagulls flying over Nahuel Huapi lake.

As you approach Puerto Pañuelo, you’ll begin noticing beautiful Swiss-style architecture which is iconic of Bariloche.

Step 11: Arrival to Bariloche

Once you’ve arrived to Puerto Pañuelo, your Cruce Andino journey has just about come to an end. When you get off the boat you’ll be ushered into the small Puerto Pañuelo terminal. Exit through the terminal and your bus will be waiting to take you to Bariloche. The drive is about 40 minutes.

The driver and guide already know where you need to get off, thanks to the information you left on your luggage tag.

Even if you won’t be staying at a hotel, they may be able to drop you off at, or near, your accommodation. For example, I had an Airbnb in Bariloche and was dropped off one block from my apartment. If your accommodation isn’t a part of their route, they’ll take you to their office in downtown Bariloche, or Puerto Varas, if you’re coming from Bariloche.

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 the case of Peulla). But for me, it was totally worth it to see so much of the lake district!

Turisur boat used during Cruce Andino lake crossing.

My Top Cruce Andino Lake Crossing Tips

This is a long post, I know. So, if your time is short, below is a summary of my top tips to help you make the most of your Cruce Andino experience:

  1. Sit as close to the front as possible on the buses.
  2. 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 the boats.
  3. 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 will be harder to know whether or not a visit to Petrohue warrants a visit prior to taking the Cruce Andino. It’s best to weigh this option against the other activities you want to do in the area.
  4. Make sure to backtrack a few minutes down the road in Puerto Frías after you get your passport stamped. To me, the views from the lakeshore were even better than from the boat!
  5. Visit the peninsula at 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 little detour.
View from Puerto Blest.

FAQ Section

Before I end this post, I’ll address some lingering questions you may have about the Cruce Andino lake crossing.

Where can I buy a Cruce Andino ticket?

You can buy your ticket directly online at the Turisur website. 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 to sell out.

You’ll be given a paper packet with tickets for each leg of your journey. Make sure to keep this in a safe place!

Can I change the date of my ticket?

Yes, and free of charge! This is incredibly advantageous if you have flexible travel plans since it can be hard to hit the lake district on a clear(ish) day. As long as the new date you want to aim for has availability, you’ll be able to switch your ticket without a fee. You can change your ticket at a Turisur office.

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 this is an absolute must-do part of your trip, book the Cruce Andino as soon as you have your plans set. Otherwise, if you’re on the fence you can go with fairly good confidence that you’ll be able to book the Cruce Andino for any day you end up choosing.

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 will tag your luggage in the morning and will give it back to you when they drop you off at/near your accommodation. An entirely hands-off experience!

Make sure to bring any valuables with you. For me, that meant lugging around my two laptops. However, since so much of the journey involves enjoying the views from the bus or boat, 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 travelers struggling with this.

How much cash do I need for the tour?

None, if you bring a credit card. There is nothing on the Argentine side that requires spending money. On the Chilean side, you’ll need to pay for the Petrohue Falls (4,000 pesos) and lunch in Peulla, if you wish to purchase a meal. You’ll also need money if you opt to take a tour during the 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. However, not only did I notice people not tipping, but it became clear that it would be difficult to tip since staff changes throughout the day. I also didn’t see any signs or tip jars encouraging it.

Is there WiFi?

No. 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.

Are there outlets?

There aren’t any outlets on the buses or boats. However, the wall along the picture windows of the Peulla hotel restaurant has a number of outlets. It’s a great point to recharge your camera halfway through the journey! Remember, Peulla is in Chile which has plug type C and L. If you’ll be traveling from Argentina, come prepared with the appropriate adapter.

Are there English speaking staff?

You will always be accompanied by English speaking staff. All of the staff I encountered had an excellent command of the English language.

Will I get altitude sickness?

No. 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, you may want to bring some Dramamine, if you’re prone to motion sickness.

Lake view during Cruce Andino.

Conclusion

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, feel free to leave a comment.