The Binational Circuit, "There are no borders between gauchos" is comprised of approximately 1,190 Km, an amazing exploration along the highways and back roads of the most pristine and remote sectors of Patagonia; the Capitan Prat Province in Chile and the Santa Cruz Province in Argentina. The circuit is organized around four Stages, based on the prevailing ecosystems each crosses: 1) The Patagonian Grasslands, 2) the Austral Steppe, 3) the Andes, to the Southern Ice Field, and 4) an endless array of Glaciers, Fiords, and Rivers.
The Circuit begins in the town of Cochrane, Chile. When you arrive in town you will find many opportunities to relax and enjoy your new surroundings. When you have taken them in, you will be ready to set out and discover. The first Stage, Meander within the Patagonian Grasslands (188.5 Km), winds through the Patagonia Grasslands of the Chacabuco Valley, a cool temperate Grassland ecosystem which provides the transition from the lush deciduous forests that border the fiords and the cool arid desert Steppe in Argentina. There are a total of five Sections within this Stage. The second stage, Follow the Sun through the Austral Steppe (603 Km), takes you deep within the sun-filled, arid desert Steppe of Argentina, traveling through the Santa Cruz Province from Bajo Caracoles to El Chaltén, including hikes in Los Glaciares National Park. Again, Stage 2 features five Sections. The third stage, Traverse the Andes to the Ice Fields (123.5 Km), is the shortest of the four stages; with only three Sections. However, for most, this Stage offers the biggest adventure, with a back country Border Crossing that offer you choices of combining biking, hiking, boat rides, 4x4s, horses and a spectacular grand finale visit to the O’Higgins Glacier, originating in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. The final stage invites you to slow down a bit and Dwell within Glaciers, Fiords and Rivers (274.7 Km), as you leisurely make your way back to the starting point. Within its final five Sections, you will traverse high mountain passes, hanging glaciers, the fiords of the Pacific, lush native forests and raging rivers.
Each of the Sections of the Stages were based on the kilometers that can be traveled by bicycle in one day. If you are traveling in a motorized vehicle, you may be tempted to combine Sections, covering several in one day. This approach is absolutely feasible; however, if your time allows, we encourage you to travel slowly, uncovering the secrets and treasures of each Section at a pace that allows you the time to relax. Side of road camping is still quite common in Patagonia; thus, while many are not within formalized Campgrounds, each Section ends in a place where you can camp.
We have talked to a number of travelers who have explored the Circuit. They note many advantages in starting from Cochrane and crossing the Patagonia Grasslands toward the Argentinean Steppe. First, as Cochrane provides you valuable options for final logistics and supplies. Then, after crossing east, you will travel south through Argentina’s vast desert-like landscape, with the wind at your back. Mid-way through, you’ll be able to pamper yourself, taking time to fully enjoy the city of El Chaltén, with its incredible views of Mt. Fitz Roy, numerous trails, and groovy outdoor scene. Finally, travelers tell us they love returning to Chile to “slow down” and finish their trip immersed in the greens and blues of the ancient forests, glaciers, fjords and rivers that comprise the final Stage.
Of course, there are no hard-fast rules! Follow your spirit and meander through the Circuit in the way you prefer. Join or skip Stages and Sections, depending on the time you have available, your budget, and your modes of transportation. The only rule is that you travel in the direction that best suits your dreams.
Getting Here. To get to Cochrane, Chile, the recommended start point for the circuit, you can fly into Balmaceda Airport (BBA), Chile, traveling nationally, from the cities of Santiago and Puerto Montt. From the airport, you can rent a car (4x4s are suggested) or hop a transfer and head into Coyhaique, the Regional capital (58 Km). In Coyhaique, you can arrange transportation for your adventure; there are bike rental outfitters, bus terminals, and several local guiding services which provide full-service, including transportation and coordination of all your logistics (recommended).
You’ll travel 345 Km south, along the Carretera Austral (Route 7), through amazing landscapes and small towns, which offer interesting side excursions along the route. These include, in order of passing, Cerro Castillo, home of the Cerro Castillo National Reserve, Puerto Tranquilo, home of the Capillas de Marmol and gateway to the Exploradores Glacier and San Rafael Lagoon National Park, and Puerto Bertrand, origin of the Baker River. Arriving in Cochrane, you will find a variety of welcoming options for accommodation, food, and adventure.
If you prefer to start the Circuit in Argentina, the routes will depend on where you start. From the north, follow National Route 40 and Begin the circuit at the start of the Second Stage, in Bajo Caracoles. From the Atlantic coast or El Calafate, head to El Chaltén, where you can join the Circuit at the end of Stage 2, in Section 2E.
When to Come? The best months are November through April, if your dream includes completing the entire Circuit, including Stage 3, which crosses the Frontier between Argentina and Chile in the back-country. The rest of the Circuit can be visited whenever your time allows!
We hope that after your trip, you’ll also share stories, experiences and lessons, so that we can constantly improve the information we provide and the quality of our services.