Dirt Road Chile Argentina

Driving to Cristo Redentor de los Andes

Julie Argentina, Chile 3 Comments

Cristo Redentor de los Andes (Christ the Redeemer of the Andes in English) is a statue of Jesus Christ that sits high in the Andes Mountains, straddling Chile and Argentina. Most people make the journey here for a view of the statue and for the awesome views of this part of the Andes.

Cristo Redentor de los Andes

The Cristo Redentor statue is a symbol of peace between Chile and Argentina. It sits at 3,832 meters (12,572 ft) at the pass of La Cumbre, the old road that links Chile and Argentina. The only way to get here is via a dirt road with numerous switchbacks. Mostly it is tourists that journey here, most of them on a tour from Mendoza, Argentina.

Cristo Redentor de los Andes

About the Drive

There is a dirt road that links the towns of Las Cuevas in Argentina to Parada Caracoles in Chile. It takes drivers up and over the Andes Mountains for a white-knuckle driving adventure. It is a 17 km drive with 65 hairpin turns. The road is steep, there are many spots where the road has drop offs way down to the valley below, and there are no guard rails.

This is a road that can only be driven in the best of conditions. It is closed during the winter months when it is covered with snow and this a drive that should not be attempted while it is raining. Even in the best of conditions it is very dangerous.

Cristo Redentor Andes drive map

About Our Experience

We heard great things about this drive. While entering Argentina from Chile, we bypassed the drive, not sure if our little Chevy Cruze was up to the challenge of crossing the Andes Mountains via a high mountain dirt road.

When returning to Chile, we hit a back up of cars waiting to cross the border into Chile. This was a traffic jam of legendary proportions. Traffic was backed up from the town of Las Cuevas in Argentina to the Immigrations office in Chile, many kilometers away. We had a choice to make: sit and wait in this absurdly long line of cars or bypass the traffic by driving up and over the Andes.

And this is when we decided to put our little Chevy Cruze (and Tim’s driving skills) to the test.

From Las Cuevas, there is a turnoff onto the dirt road that goes up to Cristo Redentor de los Andes. There were other vehicles slowly winding their way up the mountain, most of them tourist vans, but there were several cars like ours. We decided to give it a try; if it seemed too dangerous we could always turn around, right?

Slowly, we climbed the mountain. The roads were in better condition that we expected. They are dirt roads with a thin layer of gravel on top. Still, it was a unnerving experience, especially when passing other cars on the road. The roads are narrow, there are no guardrails, and there is no room for error.

Dirt Road Argentina to Chile

Driving Paso Internaciaonal los Libertadores Argentina

Narrow road

Driving Cristo Redentor de los Andes Dirt Road

It took us about 25 minutes to climb to the top. Our reward were the best views of the Andes that we have seen yet, even better than on our hike to Confluencia, the first base camp of Aconcagua.

At the top it is windy and very chilly. Also, we could feel the effects of the altitude, since we were at 3,800 meters. We took a few photos, climbed back into the car, and began our descent into Chile.

Cristo Redentor de los Andes Road

Christ the Redeemer of the Andes

This is the part we were more concerned about. Looking at the map, the Chilean dirt road is one switchback after another, a tightly wound road dropping quickly to the valley below. Would our little car be able to handle this?

Warning Sign

Fortunately, we were the only car on this part of the road. Most people drive up and down the Argentinian side and never cross over to Chile. I guess we were the only crazy ones trying to bypass the traffic to border control. Even if this drive did not save us any time, it was worth it just for the adventure of it.

Dirt Road Andes Mountains

Like in Argentina, we found these dirt roads to be in very good condition. Without any other cars on the road it was an easy drive down the mountain. Still, this is a drive that only experienced drivers should undertake and only in the best of conditions. Those with vertigo or motion sickness may have serious issues on this road.

Dirt Road Cristo Redentor

Driving Dirt Road Chile Argentina

Driving Cristo Redentor Chile

Far below, we could see the main highway, our destination, and the place where we would resume our wait in line to cross into Chile.

Paso Internacional los Libertadores Drive

As much as the traffic into Chile was a nuisance, without it we never would have attempted this drive. We thought we were insane for doing this in a rental car, but that is what also made the drive so thrilling.

Things to Know About the Drive

The road to Cristo Redentor de los Andes is not open during the winter months. We did the drive at the beginning of April and the road was still open. Since it was low season, there were not many cars on the road.

The drive is 17 km long. It took us one hour to drive the entire length of the road, including a very quick stop at the top for photos.

Most people do the drive as part of a tour from Mendoza, Argentina. There are other sights to see in the area, such as Mt. Aconcagua, Puente del Inca, and smaller towns on the road between the Chile border and Mendoza. For more on what there is to see in the area (and what it is really like to cross the border between Chile and Argentina), read our post Driving from Santiago to Mendoza. Should You Do It?

If you are looking for a great hike to do nearby, you can hike to Confluencia, the first base camp on the way to the summit of Mt Aconcagua. The hike starts just a few kilometers away from Las Cuevas in Argentina in Aconcagua National Park. The hike is 18 km long (10 miles) and takes four to six hours. For more on the hike, read Hiking to Aconcagua Base Camp in Argentina.

If you are crossing the border between Chile and Argentina, you can do this drive. By driving up and over the border in the Andes Mountains, you will not miss any important border checkpoints or Immigrations offices. If you are traveling from Argentina into Chile, when you get back to the main highway (Route 60), turn left. Approximately 6 km later you will arrive at the Immigrations office. If you are driving from Chile to Argentina, the turn off for the drive up to Cristo Redentor is just before the tunnel. The dirt road is not well marked but there is a small sign identifying the road. Once you arrive in Las Cuevas, continue east a few kilometers and you will arrive at the Immigrations office in Horcones.

You do not need 4×4. We were in a manually-operated Chevy Cruze and had no problems at all. Tim has had lots of experience driving on both dirt roads and switchback roads. Even so, this drive made him nervous since we did not know what road conditions would be like for the entire length of the drive (until we got there). Some experience driving on roads like this is advisable. It is a dangerous drive and there is the possibility of sliding off the edge of the road. Do not attempt this drive if it has rained. The road will be slippery and muddy making your drive extremely difficult and dangerous.

According to the dangerousroads.org website, “only the suicidal, the insane, or the paid-to-do-this should ever drive down.”


 

Crossing the Andes on Dirt Roads

Comments 3

  1. Several of us from California are planning a day-trip from Santiago over the Andes between Saturday, January 13 and Tuesday, January 16, 2018. Tentatively, we plan to drive the old road to Christ the Redeemer, then as far as possible toward Mendoza with return through the Christ the Redeemer Tunnel. Our major concerns are weather and time allotted to cross the border.
    1. Generally, how is the weather during mid-January?
    2. What are the best days/hours for processing with border control?
    3. Are there local van tours that might accomplish this route better?

    Your advise is appreciated

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Cary. We only did this drive twice during the month of April so I am no expert on the drive, but here’s what I know. In January it is summer, so road closures due to snow should not be an issue. I would assume that weather would not impact your drive too much in January. Again, this is an assumption, but early in the morning or late in the day are usually the best times to avoid traffic on the roads. Midday is the worst time to get through border control. You could probably hire a driver, but you will still have to wait in the border control lines. If you feel comfortable driving on the winding dirt roads, you can rent a car and do the drive on your own. If you choose to go on your own, ask the rental car these same questions. They will be more knowledgeable than me, especially since we were only here in April. By the way, it is very doable to drive from Santiago to Mendoza (and vice versa) in one day. Cheers, Julie

    2. Hi Cary,
      I drove over this road several times between 1961 and 1972 while I was living in Argentina. The road at that time was unsealed and many sections were single lane. Nowadays the road from Mendoza up to the tunnel is sealed and has been widened to accommodate the heavier traffic load. My first drive was in a 700 cc two cylinder air cooled Goggomobil 700. I was unsure if the little engine could actually pull our little car over the steeper sections. It did! Subsequent trips were in a Peugeot 404. Both vehicles handled the road conditions well, the air cooled engine was preferable because at high altitudes water boils at much lower temperatures and it is common to have a radiator boil over if the weather gets hot, which in summer it can. During Autumn it can be very cold. I needed to cover the front of the radiator with newspaper to allow the water to get hot enough to provide warmth into the cabin. Carburetor engines tended to develop fuel problems – too rich a mixture – (the local mechanics said the engine became ‘apunado’ due to the low atmospheric pressure at high altitude and recommended changing the carby jets before driving there). Today’s engines are mostly fuel injected so this should not be a problem. Definitely a trip for the adventurous driver to consider. Dangerous if you don’t take care or have experience driving on high altitude unsealed mountain roads. Make sure your vehicle is in good mechanical conditions and has good tires fitted.

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