Paso De Aqua Negra

Crossing the Andes is something we already have some experience with from our last trip in 2013. This time however we really want to reach to the sky and go higher as ever before. Time is (too) limited in this trip and we decide that one crossing is all we can do. For this we choose the Paso De Agua Negra which is within reach and gives us also the opportunity to do some Pisco tasting on the other side in Chile. Besides we saw quite intriguing pictures from other travelers. So let’s go and see for ourselves.


As we are getting close to the first border control station (there are two stations) it is already after 6 pm. Much later as we had planned to be here initially. It was always clear that we wouldn’t make it much further as the whole trip to the other side is around 180 km across the Andes. Not something that makes sense nor you would want to do during night.


Our plan however was to stop around 40 km after the first border control on a nice spot next to a small river. This was recommend to us. What we did not know is that the first border control is only open from 7 am to 5 pm. As there was no other camping possibility we asked the guards from the border control if we could stay here for the night. Although not the most scenic place it at least gives us access to fresh water and toilets. It also means we are pole position for the next morning when they open up the border again.

While we usually don’t get up that early during vacation we manage to get out of bed shortly after 6 am the next day. Plan is to have the whole day for crossing the Andes and taking pictures. Unfortunately when we got out of our camper the sky is overcast and the top of the mountains are  hidden behind the clouds. We decide to pass the border and get going as the first 40 - 50 km are not that spectacular. Let’s try to find a nicer spot to have breakfast a bit later.


The clouds never vanish completely and it remains a mix of sunny spells with patches of clouds. It is also very cold and some of the streams are partly frozen. Luckily we have two opportunities to see this scenery and take pictures because we will come back the same way in a couple of days.


At the top we are at 4753 meter according to the sign post. This is also where the actual border is between Argentina and Chile. You can say what you want but it always looks much nicer when the sun is out compared to being in the clouds. ;-)

After spending one night in Pisco Elqui in Chile with some great Pisco tasting we make our way back to Argentina. It is already early afternoon when we leave the valley as the Pisco tasting was in the morning (maybe not the best time for this though ... ;-) and we also stayed for lunch. Before we head back to Argentina we need to refuel the car. Unfortunately we can’t get a fuel station without making some extra 30 km that would accept credit card. As we don’t have enough Chilean Pesos nor enough fuel to get back it is however the only option. No, there is no bank or cash machine close by either. It comes as no surprise then that we face the same problem with the closed border control on this side, too. It of course closes at 5 pm as well.


We share a spot (S 29.97542 W 70.09551) close to the border control with a french cyclist who is heading the same way. We really love cycling but not sure if this is something we would do. He already crossed parts of Europe going into Russia and China. He did cycle for three months through Australia and now is heading north along the Andes to Alaska. He did not do a lot of practicing before his trip. Just bought a good bike and hit the road. Hey, this is really impressive!


The street up to the border control in Chile is in pretty good shape and in fact looking rather new. The next kilometers after border control they are building a whole new road. As this is after the border control all the workers need to pass this point. Every worker and every car needs to be registered. And there are many workers. We again start early but not early enough and so we get stuck behind all the workers on a Sunday morning around 7 am. Hard to believe, isn’t it. ;-)


About an hour later we finally have our passports stamped and are on our way back to Argentina. We didn’t have breakfast so far as our plan is to stop by a laguna. It’s a beautiful and sunny day. Much different compared to a couple of days ago when we came over from Argentina. Initially our plan was to camp here for the night in this spot (S 30.22947 W 70.03617) but as we were to late to pass the border we at least have a nice breakfast up in the Andes to warm us up and prepare for the rest of the day.

The Chilean side of the Paso De Agua Negra we find much more spectacular compared to the Argentinian side. Also very different to the high mountains in Europe.  They have more soft lines here but produce a stunning play of colors. Especially with this super sunny day Karin wants to stop every two meters to take another picture. It really looks very different with no clouds compared to light snowfall a few days ago. Both had it’s charm but sunshine is definitely what we prefer.


While not many spots are left we still can see some of the “nieves penitentes”. These are formations at high altitude that take the form of tall thin blade and consist of hardened snow or ice. The blades are oriented towards the general direction of the sun according to Wikipedia.  We have seen pictures of this phenomena before but in reality it looks even more fascinating compared to the pictures.


Crossing over from Chile to Argentina we meet again Adrian and Jean-Pierre from Switzerland right at the summit. We first met them in El Leoncito, then again after visiting Cerro El Alcazar and now - as almost expected as we knew they would cross over here - at Paso De Agua Negra. They have a lot of stories to tell after being on the road for more than 8 years. After a short chat and a few more pictures we say good by for the last time on this trip. You can follow what they are doing and where they currently are on their homepage here:


As we cross over from to Argentina to Chile and back we get stopped by fellow travelers twice that encounter some technical problems. On the first crossing a fully occupied mini bus from Chile stops us after about 30 minutes of decent. Their engine died and they are stuck at a very steep section. They have sent for help but ask us if we could tow them up to the summit. Initially Michael is not so sure if our car will make it. However, by shifting to 4x4 and going really slow up the mountain we make it in the end. The people are very grateful for our help and want to give us food and drinks. Not that we need anything you also can’t take a lot across the border into Chile anyway.


Going back to Argentina a couple of days later another car stops us as their engine got really hot and they ran out of cooling water. We give them one of our big water bottles and stay with them until the engine runs again. Although we didn’t have any problems it clearly shows that going across the Andes at this altitude is very demanding for the engine as well.


Side note to ourselves: Once we really go about building our own expedition vehicle the engine needs to be strong and working well on high altitude. ;-)


There is a lot of building work going on on both sides. The plan seems to open up this route as another main commercial crossing between Argentina and Chile. There is a project under way to build a 15 km long tunnel to avoid having to go all the way over the top. This is already destroying a lot of the charm of this area and you should hurry up if you want to see some of what is left.


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