Going by foot from Bariloche to Puerto Varas
Looking at a map in Puerto Varas, Kai pointed at the way our bus would take to go from here to Bariloche. But he also noticed that there was a small path leading from a place south west from Bariloche called Pampa Linda in the direction of Puerto Varas. And suddenly, his decision was taken: we would not go back to Chile by bus, we would make our way back by crossing the Andes by foot. As I don’t like buses, I quickly agreed to his proposal!
Ruta de los Jesuitas
After some research on the Internet, we learned the name of our intended hike: “La Ruta de los Jesuitas“, also named “Paso de los Vuriloches” after the pass we would take while crossing the Andes. According to the information we found, we had to buy enough food for 5 or 6 days, depending on how fast we would walk. Here is the itinerary we had planned:
If some hikes are very famous around Bariloche, this one is quite unknown. We had found only a couple of websites where this hike was thoroughly described. We decided to leave as many things as possible in Puerto Varas and took only what was necessary for a few days in Bariloche and the 5 to 6 days we would walk between Pampa Linda and Ralun.
When we asked some questions in Bariloche at the National Park Information Center, we were told that this hike was “impossible to do without a guide“, that there would be “at least 5 meters of snow at the pass” and that “technical equipment was necessary“. At this point, I have to admit I had doubts about the feasibility of this hike. But somehow, we wondered how there could be 5 meters of snow at the pass. Indeed, we had crossed the Andes by bus from Puerto Varas to Bariloche, and at the pass, there was around 20 centimers to 1 meter of snow… As the pass we were to take was 100m lower than the one we took by bus, and it was located some 70 kilometers more to the South, we thought that the conditions might be quite similar.
So we decided to get in contact with a local guide in order to ask him about the path’s condition. After asking around, we quickly got the contact details of an experimented guide and called him. He told us there would be a little bit of snow at the pass, but nothing to worry about. He explained that we should have good and waterproof hiking shoes and warm sleeping bags. And finally, he told us to be cautious while crossing rivers as the water level was high at the time. Our decision was taken: we would leave in 2 days!
How we found a hikking buddy
Everytime we spoke about this hike around us, people looked at us with round eyes before wishing us good luck xD So we definitely didn’t expect to find someone to join us on this crazy adventure. But it seems that Bariloche is a good place to find other adventurous people! While we were biking the Chico Circuit around Bariloche, we met a German woman, Valerie, to whom we explained our plan. She instantly liked our idea and asked if she could join. As we say in France, “Plus on est de fous, plus on rit” – litterally, the more crazy people around, the more you laugh, but the English version is something like “the more, the merrier” – so we said welcome and decided to meet on the next day to organize the last details.
Day 1 / 10km, +600m, -150m
We woke up excited at the thought of what was awaiting us! We had made a bus reservation with Club Andino the day before and our bus was leaving at 08:30am. After a beautiful 2 hours ride, we arrive at the park entrance where we had to pay the National Park fee, 250ARS/person. There, we learned bad news: that day, the park was closed because of strong winds. The bus could drive until Pampa Linda, but once there, it would be forbidden to start walking.
The people with us in the bus had booked a day trip with a guide, he was seriously surprised as he found the weather was actually very good that day. He could not understand why the guards would close park. He decided to keep driving until Pampa Linda and ask there once again if the park was open. This was a very good decision, as the park was indeed open when we arrived at Pampa Linda! The guide wished us luck for journey and we started our walk in the direction of Chile after checking out of Argentina.
The first part of the hike was quite easy, though we had to fight our way against bamboos and mud! At some point, the path crossed a river and we had to undress our shoes and trousers in order to cross it. Like our previous experiences, the water was cold and the current strong! But luckily, it only reached mid-tights height, meaning our backpacks were safe!
The path was more and more steep as we slowly but surely made our way toward the pass. After arriving at the top, we had to cross a swampy area before we finally reached the camping site, Mallin Chileno. There, we saw the border post for Chile: sadly, there was nobody in it. We thought it might be too late and decided to check again tomorrow. Additionnally, there was a small hut in which we decided to stay for the night in the hope that it would offer us a better shelter from the biting cold than our tents. While I prepared dinner, Kai and Valerie even managed to start a fire 😀 after discussing for a while around it, we headed for our sleeping bags to gather strenght for the day to come!
Day 2 / 14km, -700m
This morning, we had a lot of difficulties getting out of our sleeping bags. The night we had just spent had been bitterly cold, with strong and permanent wind blowing through the badly fitted wood planks of our hut. So far, this night was actually the coldest night we spent in our sleeping bags in South America, with temperatures between -5° to -10° Celcius… Valerie was the bravest one and got out first of her sleeping bag to check if the border post was finally open. Sadly, it was still closed and around 10:30am, we decided to leave. It was a good decision, as the hiking day that was awaiting us was the longest and hardest of the whole hike!
The previous day, we had a little bit of snow but nothing too bad. This morning, the path led us to an area where the snow was a lot higher, covering the entire ground and making it impossible to find the path. We only had Maps.me to give us a global idea of where the path was supposed to be. We spent 2 hours walking up and down hills, crossing streams covered by thick layers of snow we hoped would bear our weights. When we finally got to an area where the snow cover started to vanish and the path was visible again, we checked our map to realize that we had only covered 2 kilometers during the last 2 hours 🙁 we still had 12 kilometers to go! We started our way downhill in a patagonian rainforest area and arrived a short while later in a beautiful open area.
After a needed break, we continued our hike further along the Rio Blanco until we had to cross the river. There, we encountered a problem: the first bridge was not reassuring as it definitely leaned to the left. But the second bridge was even less encouraging! Here is a picture of it:
We thought about crossing directly in the river, but the water level was too high. We finally decided to try crossing on the bridge by carefully stepping on the remaining wood planks and hanging on the steel wires on the right side. Let’s just say I am happy to have arrived on the other side!! After that, we walked in a forest area, where we had to cross several small streams. While jumping above one, Valerie sliped and fell into it!! Luckily, she did not hurt herself and her backpack remained almost dry… Around 18:30, we arrived at an open area with several unoccupied houses and decided to set our tents there. It has drizzled the whole day and we went to bed hoping for better weather for the next day.
Day 3 / 10km
The sun woke us up that morning, and as we got out of our tent, we see only blue sky around us! We let our shoes and rain jackets dry for a while in the sun before packing everything and starting our walk. We had heard about some hot springs but sadly looked for them in vain as we couldn’t find their location 🙁 we consoled ourselves by eating our lunch in the sun while enjoying a beautiful view on the Tronador in the background!
The way that day was quite easy to find and the slope very gentle, but we were still tired from our previous day. So after 10 kilometers, we decided to set camp at the crossing of two rivers. The tought of having to cross a river directly in the morning didn’t set well in my mind, but the place was beautiful and well protected from the wind. Moreover, we were not sure to find a better camping spot after the river… We played cards while drinking tea and went early to bed.
Day 4 / 16km
Today, we planned walking until we reach a small lake where we wanted to set camp. We also knew we had to start our day by crossing a river, which always costed us a lot of time… Therefore, we tried to start early but still did not manage to get ready before 09:00am! The river’s water level was high and the current really strong. After looking for the best possible spot, we all took different paths to cross it. The way was nice, mainly in meadows, and the sun was shinning. At some point in the afternoon, we arrived at the first crossing since days. We could either take the direction of Rio Blanco, or the direction of Ralun, the ending point of our hike!
When we finally arrived at the lake, we couldn’t find any satisfaying camping spot. We decided to continue walking until we find a good place to set camp: the way went up, it was very muddy and steep! We were tired and dreamed only about finally setting our backpacks on the ground… It was only once we were back at the lake level, at the other side of the lake, that we found a nice camping place. We only had to cross one final river and were rewarded with a beautiful place to sleep.
Day 5 / 13km
Yesterday, I was so happy because we had crossed the river BEFORE setting camp. I thought it was nice that we wouldn’t have to cross one directly after starting walking… Well, so much for the hope, 5 minutes after leaving our camp, we arrived at a deep river and had to undress shoes and trousers to cross it! After the river, the way was almost impossible to find, there were many horses and cow tracks and we get lost in a huge swamp. We tried to cut through the swamp in the direction of where the way was supposed to be, but there was mud everywhere and it was hard to find a proper ground to walk on. After 45 minutes, we decided to turn around, walked back on our tracks and tried to find the way from the beginning! We finally found the trail and headed toward our aim of the day, the Laguna Cayahuté.
Today is not a good day for Kai. We had to cross 3 more rivers and many small streams: he fell twice inside of the same stream. And while we were crossing a swampy area, he fell into the swamp when the trunk he was walking on suddenly broke 🙁 his shoes, mattress and trouser were full of mud and smelly stagnant water… Around 06:00pm, after 8 walking hours, we arrived at the Cayahuté Lake and set camp on the beach, where we had an amazing view on the Puntiagudo Volcano.
Kai droped everything and jumped inside of the lake to get rid of the dirt, and after good dinner – Valerie had bought a kind of risotto 😀 – we went to bed, amazed at the idea that tomorrow would be our last hiking day. I fell asleep while thinking about food, a hot shower and a comfortable bed 😉
Day 6 / 14km
Today, we tried to leave early, again! Indeed, we wanted to arrive as early as possible on the main road close to Ralun in the hope of catching a bus or a hitchhike to Puerto Varas. The lake was higher than usual and we had seen yesterday that after some 20 meters along the beach, the lake reached until a cliff and we could not pass without getting inside of the water. We had to walk barefoot inside of the lake, which luckily was not too cold, and after 50 meters, we could return to the trail leading up from the lake into the mountain. Later on, the “path” actually turned to be a small stream and we had to walk, this time with shoes, in water for about 2 hours before reaching a dry unpaved road shortly after 10:15am.
From there, we walked for around 3 hours, including a long and nice lunch break, the unpaved road before reaching the paved road leading to Puerto Varas!! Finally, after 6 long and beautiful walking days, we had reached our aim: the Pacific Ocean 😀 Even better, we did not have to wait more than 1 minute before a car stoped at our first hitchiking attempt and a very nice man offered to drive us to Puerto Varas! After a good hour of driving, our driver dropped us in the city center and we profusely thanked him before heading to the police station for immigration clearence. As the border post was not occupied on the chileanen side, we still had not officially entered Chile although we crossed the border on our first day. Somehow, they must have been used to this issue because 5 minutes after explaining our problem, we got our passports back and were welcomed to Chile 🙂
Our impressions about the Ruta de los Jesuitas
It’s a hard thing to describe, the amazing feeling of freedom that camping and hiking can give sometimes. Around you, there is nothing else than nature, it’s quiet and noisy and the same time. You know that the next few days, you will get no Internet connection, you won’t use you cellphone unless you want to check your way on Maps.me and you definitely won’t open you computer. On remote hikes, you don’t even cross people for a few days. This was especially true on this hike as the valley we walked in was so remote that we only saw 2 persons in 6 days, except for one group of horse riders. To distract you, there are only your thoughts, your hiking buddy(ies) and the landscape. Your body is your limit and the only thing you have to do is walk.
Crossing the Andes by foot was one of the most amazing experiences of our trip through South America. It was also probably the most challenging hike we did so far. It was not really that we hiked many kilometers per day – we actually walked a lot more kilometers during other hikes. But we couldn’t walk fast because we were permanently searching for the way and also because the ground was very muddy and we had to fight our way through trees and bamboos. Therefore, even if we only covered between 10 to 16 Kilometers, we still walked on average 7 to 8 hours per day.
As this hike is not very famous and it was still early in the hiking season, very few people had walked this path in the last months. As a result, the trail was covered by trees and bamboos and very hard to find. We got lost at least once every 2 hours, meaning we had to look for the way and lost a lot of time… After a few days, we actually figured out that it is way better in this situation to track a Little back and try to find the right path from the moment you were sure to be on the correct trail. Indeed, we tried many times to go directly from where we were to the direction of where the trail was supposed to be. The major issue with this solution is that we very often had to cut through bushes, swamps and forests in order to get to the path and we lost an amazing amount of time by doing that. Try to squeeze between two trees and get our 65 liters backpack through while avoiding roots and mud pools and you will likely arrive at the same conclusion than us: better go backward and try to walk on the trail from the beginning!
If you like spending time in undisturbed and wild places, this hike is probably for you 😉
To get to Pampa Linda
From Bariloche, we booked transportation to Pampa Linda with Club Andino for 400ARS/Person. It is quite expensive, but except hitchhiking, there is no other way to get there… The bus leaves at 08:30 in the morning and it takes approximately 3 hours.
In Pampa Linda
Once in Pampa Linda, you have to Pay 250ARS/Person for the National Park entrance fee. If you want to stay there for a few nights – there are several beautiful day hikes to do around this place – there are two camping sites available: one free with no installation and one with toilet and shower for 260ARS/Person/night.
For the hike
Take enough food with you for 6 or 7 days as there is not grocery shop on the way!! We heard about the possibility to buy eggs at a local farmer house, but when we were there, there was nobody in the farm… Water won’t be an issue, there are streams and rivers everywhere.
For this hike, it is necessary to have a GPS system with you, such as offline Google.maps or Maps.me on your cellphone.