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Border Crossing - Paso Rio Don Guillermo, Chile to Argentina

A photo of the Chilean border building and boom gate at Paso Rio Don Guillermo

Crossing Date: 08 January 2024
Direction: Chile to Argentina
Altitude: 100m
Vehicle: UK-registered motorcycle
People: 1
Total time: 2 hours
Rating: 3/5 (easy, but slow)

Paso Río Don Guillermo is the main border crossing for the northern part of Chilean Patagonia. It’s relatively small, but due to being on the route between two major tourist centres – Puerto Natales (Chile) and El Calafate (Argentina) – it can be fairly busy.

The Process

Coming from Chile, most journeys will start in or at least be via Puerto Natales - about 60km on a sealed road all the way (but see below). The border station itself is on the southern side of a small settlement called Cerro Castillo. It’s well-signposted and accessible via a roundabout just before you enter town. There’s parking out the front of the building.

The Chilean facility is fairly modest and houses the usual functions: PDI (Chilean immigration police), Customs, and Agricultural services (more Customs). Exiting Chile for immigration purposes is the first step at a dedicated window inside the building. Next window is Customs – cancelling the Chilean temporary import permit (TIP) for the bike. Agricultural Customs isn’t necessary when exiting Chile. With both procedures complete, you return to your vehicle and drive up to the barrier gate. This is then raised remotely from the building, allowing you to proceed.

The actual border is marked where the road abruptly turns from tarmac to gravel. The Argentinian station itself is about 8km down the road from it's Chilean counterpart. Parking is mostly a matter of finding a spot wherever you can before heading into the small building to complete immigration and customs procedures. There are separate windows for each, so you start with immigration and get stamped into Argentina. You then move to the Customs window to obtain an Argentinian TIP for the bike.

Both processes complete, you return to your vehicle and can continue onwards. There are no gates or barriers on the Argentinian side. From here it’s around 6km on fairly rough gravel to Ruta 40 and the first sealed road.

How it Went for Me

The ride from Puerto Natales was mostly on brand new sealed tarmac, but there were some gravel sections in areas where road construction was still underway. As with most border crossings I’ve done in South America, so much of your experience is determined by timing, or to be precise, lucky timing. In my case, I arrived at the Chilean facility mid-morning. The weather was fine, but extremely windy, so everyone, including those not actually doing any formalities, were inside. Chilean immigration took all of 5 minutes to complete, most of which was waiting for an official to return to the window. I then joined a long line for Customs.

As more people entered the building, there was a lot of confusion as to which line to be in. Most saw the Customs line and instinctively joined, only to find that they needed to do immigration first. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that only one Customs officer was serving the line, and they were doing procedures both for people entering and exiting Chile (the former obviously taking more time per person). Things were slowed down further when, despite having the situation with the line explained, a group of Americans queue-jumped by feigning confusion to the point that an exasperated Customs official just dealt with them to get rid of them. And much to the chagrin of the large number of people who’d been waiting patiently for some time.

When I eventually made it to the Customs window, cancelling the TIP was a 5-minute process. I then returned to the bike and rode up to the barrier. After a couple of moments it was raised from inside and I was on my way. The ride to the Argentina station was quick, not least due to the very strong tail wind. But I did spare a thought for the bikers I saw coming the other way, head on into it all.

Parking at the Argentinian post (coming from Chile) was a pretty chaotic affair. With a bike, no problem, but cars and buses just parked wherever they could. Inside, the small facility was also quite busy, caused in part by the presence of the buses. The main queue was for immigration which, despite having several windows staffed, took some time due to the large number of people.

The tone-deaf Americans from the Chilean side were performing the same trick here, ratcheting up the level of grump in the queue considerably. This boiled over into an argument between several people when another small group of Americans also jumped the queue, claiming they had a right to do so, rather bizarrely, because they had “already been queuing on the bus”. Eventually I made it to the window and was swiftly stamped into Argentina.

Fortunately, most of the queue-jumpers were travelling by bus so the line for Customs was very short. Ten minutes or so and I was issued with a new Argentinian TIP for the bike and was happily on my way. No checks of the bike or my luggage. The road from the border station back to Ruta 40 is fairly rough gravel and rocks. This resulted in slow going for those in low clearance 2WD cars. But thanks to a 21-inch front wheel on my KTM - and motorcycle suspension - I was able to sail past.

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