Where Chile and Argentina meet
Our next experience while in Chile brought us to visit the Andes, and this time, not from the distance but from the top in the middle of them! The highest point we went was at 3820 meters, right at the place where you can be at both Chile and Argentina soils; and what a better place to mark this than the Christ the Redeemer of the Andes. Specifically built to commemorate the 1904 peace resolution between the border dispute of both countries.
This is also the only direct road route between both countries across the Andes from Santiago in Chile towards the Mendoza region in Argentina. The first small city you will pass by is Los Andes. Nothing special about it, but it’s here from where the road split on direction towards Portillo. In this section you will start to get great views of the mountains and nature, following the parallel route of the now disused railway line that once connected Santiago and Mendoza.
Right before you reach Portillo comes the famous 32 curves ascending road. Quite a sight on its own, but slowly, you will be climbing up and up in two sets. Once you are after the last curve, you are already in Portillo where the main sky resorts are located. By the time of the year we travelled here (April) these were still closed, but was for matter of few more days until the first snow would come. I would refrain by all means from doing this route during winter time. First of all because how dangerous the road can be, and second, because there will be almost no visibility, and this place is really to be seen as clear as possible in order to admire the incredible beauty and grandness. We’ve been very lucky to have such a sunny and clear day.
In Portillo right behind the large hotel is the Laguna del Inca. This lake is of special beauty before the sun sets in the high mountains around it. The water turns from turquoise to deep blue but it takes only matter of minutes from having full sun covering the entire lake, to be shadowed by the mountains.
But what made this journey a memorable experience was reaching the Christ the Redeemer of the Andes. Even though this was quite a challenging way to drive on an unpaved narrow bending road, with many sharp curves, nothing to compare to the ones reaching Portillo; it was in all senses the worthiest part of the day! You will be rewarded with the most spectacular views of the Uspallata Pass, with the highest peaks in the Southern Hemisphere at over 6000 meters (after the Aconcagua and Tupungato), also nearby. This was, too, the first time I saw a glacier in person, yet from the observation terrace at the Christ and just a very small one. I can only imagine how huge can those be when heading south of the country. It will be for another trip, the perfect excuse to return to Chile.
An anecdote to remember, which in any case it will happen to you as well, was that out of the sudden, while you drive after Portillo and up in the tunnel where in the other side you would be in Argentina; even if you do not cross the tunnel it is nevertheless like if you would have left Chile! You can see the border to enter Chile in the opposite direction of the traffic flow. We did not pay too much attention on this fact, since we took the path leading up to the Christ the Redeemer that starts meters before this tunnel. Although we physically did not leave the country, when you drive back you will have to “enter” Chile again!. People at the border got quite confused when we were telling them that we did not cross to Argentina but went only up the Christ. In any case, and forgetting any misunderstanding you might have with them at the border, you are obliged to fill in any case a form; not like the one you had to fill when entering Chile for the first time but a simpler one with your passport and name in written and then handled over to the border agents. A car inspection comes afterwards nevertheless. It will be rare the occasion where they let you pass without previous car inspection, but it happens. We were the only ones to drive through without any check.
For more information about Portillo, check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. For a description and history about the Christ the Redeemer of the Andes, this article describes it very good. Chile’s currency is the Peso (CLP). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in the area
- Los Andes Although this small city is not of any special beauty, it is the doorstep to the Andes mountain range and the beginning of the road leading to Argentina either by the tunnel or through the scenic Uspallata Pass.
- Portillo It is one of the main sky resorts and the nearest from Santiago. There are options for everyone here, from beginners to experts, and even if you are not skying or you are coming here during summer time when they are closed as we did, you will enjoy the nature and landscapes nearby, and the beautiful Laguna del Inca lake with the incredible deep blue/turquoise colour.
- Christ the Redeemer of the Andes As explained above, this was without doubt the highlight of this entire day trip. Not because of seeing a Christ statue, but because of the location, it could not be any more spectacular. From here you will get some of the finest views of the Andes in this area, with some of the highest peaks in the Southern Hemisphere all nearby.