Los Libertadores Pass – Mendoza to Santiago by Bus

Facing east from the Chilean side of the border.

If any bus ride can be forgiven for being stretched from seven hours to nearly eleven, it’s this one, linking Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, the Chilean capital.

Driving distance: 360 km
Duration: Seven to eleven (!) hours
Travel date: 17-Mar-2013

Notebook

The trip is a fairly quick study in geographic contrasts, the most extreme of the five crossings I’ve now made between the two countries. Beginning along the sprawling vineyards that stretch west from Mendoza (746m above sea level), Argentina’s finest wine region, the road then gradually begins its ascent, first through a range of foothills before it begins to cut its way through the Andes. By the time you reach the border check point at the Los Libertadores Pass, the road has climbed to a peak height of 3,500m, or 11,483ft. You begin to recount how many times, if ever, you’ve been at a higher elevation.

Los Libertadores 13

Once you’re well into Los Libertadores (aka Cristo Redentor), you’re surrounded on all sides by peaks that stab the sky at 4,000m and beyond. You catch glimpses of Aconcagua, at 6,962m (22,837ft) the highest mountain on the planet outside of Asia. You watch nearly dry riverbeds and small waterfalls (it’s the beginning of autumn here) regularly interject themselves into the rocky landscape.  You’re glad that the bus steward hasn’t interrupted the show that’s playing on your windows with a really bad movie.

As a train geek, I was captivated by the railroad tracks that run parallel with much of the two-lane highway. At times they appear well-maintained only to lead into a pile of broken boulders. Between the handful of small villages that dot the pass are dozens of abandoned and deteriorating structures once used to protect the tracks from wind, snow and ice. There exists a nostalgic harmony between the mountain landscape and the well-worn and rugged appearance of the old buildings.

Los Libertadores 07

The Chilean side is very different, with a very steep and slow descent down hairpin bends carved into the mountainside.  Once the road levels a bit, it follows the Aconcagua River and its eponymous valley.

So, why the delay?

It was a Sunday, which made the busiest land crossing between the two countries even busier. Construction, which limited the hours cars and trucks could cross in either direction, further complicated matters. When our bus reached immigration and customs, there were eight other buses in front of us.

Both countries’ border formalities are taken care of in the same large building. First the Argentine exit stamp, then the Chilean entry, then customs. The latter requires bringing all of your luggage into the customs building, where, after a dog sniffs everything and everyone in the queue, your bags are sent through an x-ray machine. Some, such as mine, are also hand inspected as well.

Cost: I went with CATA; ticket price was 230 Argentine Pesos (45 USD / 35 EUR) for a semi-cama. A light lunch with a fizzy drink was served.

And finally, not that all the photos but one were taken through the bus windows which thankfully, were remarkably clean.

 

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  1. restlessjo says

    Awesome landscape! I’m feeling kind of small.

  2. travelingaround50 says

    Holy awesome! Happy you! Bien suerte!

  3. rondje says

    Great photos, long time since i did it but enjoying it again, thanks, Ron.

    1. BobR says

      Thanks!

  4. jcalberta says

    spectacular … no wonder the aliens like this place.

    1. BobR says

      Ha! I’ve heard that too!

  5. Josie Leung says

    I took the same bus ride! We were gonna cross to Chile from Bariloche but there was a volcanic eruption (this was in 2011 summer) so we had to bus up to Mendoza from Bariloche and cross to Santiago from there. It was an awesome ride though. very pretty scenery!

  6. Playamart - Zeebra Designs says

    “you’re surrounded on all sides by peaks that stab the sky at 4,000m and beyond.”

    ah! i loved that description!

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  10. Elena says

    Shame you didn´t take a picture of “Puente del Inca” – the most impressive thing on this trip! Maybe your bus didn´t stop there, don´t know. It´s a bit before Cristo Redentor pass. When I was there I was stuck in Mendoza for a whole week because the pass was closed due to the snowfall. Pretty normal in winter the locals said!

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks for that – no, my bus stopped only at the border.

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