El Chalten is, in our opinion, a very cool place to spend a few days. The city is small, internet barely working and getting good fresh fruits or vegetables is harder than finding water in the Atacama desert. BUT its location is simply magic. No buses, shuttles or uncertain hitchhiking to get to the starting place of your hike. You just put on your hiking shoes, walk maximum 10 minutes from the city center and you are already on the trek’s trail. Which also means that the landscape around the city is very beautiful. And we haven’t mentioned the Fitz Roy yet. By clear weather, its summit towers over the city – and what a view it is! One of our first morning activities consisted of looking out the window to check if the weather was good enough for us to see this beautiful mountain 🙂
There is another great thing about El Chalten: the National Park around the city is free. And the camping sites don’t cost anything either! That’s such a rarity for Argentina, it is really enjoyable. We actually liked El Chalten and its surroundings so much that we went there twice. The first time, it was only the two of us and we stayed there 5 days. The second time, two weeks later, we were with my parents and a friend, Anne-Marie. Both time, we were amazingly lucky with the weather as we had only half a day of rain!
Hiking around El Chalten
There are many hikes available around El Chalten. What’s really nice is that the trails’ difficulty level ranges from very easy to very hard, so everyone will find something interesting to do! Here is a short list of some hikes you can do around El Chalten.
Los Cóndores Mirador
- Distance: 5km
- Estimated duration: 45 minutes to 1 hour
This viewpoint offers amazing views on El Chalten, the Fitz Roy and Torre massifs. It is also the easiest hike around the city as the trail is short and not very steep. It is quite crowded if you go there during the day – but early in the morning, there is almost nobody! We actually went twice there, once the first time we were in El Chalten and a second time with my parents and Anne-Marie. If you are lucky, you might even see an armadillo: we saw one both times we were there 😉
Laguna Torre & Laguna de los Tres with the Fitz Roy
- Distance: 24km for Laguna Torre and 26 km for Laguna de los Tres
- Estimated duration: 7 to 8 hours for Laguna Torre and 8 to 9 hours for Laguna de los Tres
Those are actually two separates hikes, but it is possible to combine them. As we like to camp, we decided to go for the 2 days hike version. The plan was first to go to the Laguna Torre and from there, take a small path in the direction of the Laguna de los Tres. We planned to spend a night at the Poincenot camping site before going up to the Laguna de los Tres for the sunrise on the Fitz Roy. Here is a map of our itinerary:
From El Chalten, it took us around 3 hours to reach the Laguna Torre. The first hour and a half, the way goes up until you arrive at a plateau with a beautiful view on the Torre massif. From there, it is another one and a half hour to reach the Laguna Torre: the path is flat and easy to walk on, only the last hundred meters before arriving at the Laguna go up again.
From the Laguna Torre, we went back in the direction of El Chalten until we reached the intersection with the way going toward the camping site Poincenot. There, we turned left and started a short ascent leading to two beautiful lakes: the Laguna Madre and the Laguna Hijo. Sadly, the weather had worsened and the wind was becoming stronger and stronger. We had troubles standing upright and I had to use my hiking poles more than once to stabilize myself. We could see the rain clouds coming nearer and we hurried up in the hope of reaching the camping site before it started to rain too much.
We luckily managed to set the tent before the pouring rain started! The night there was impressive, with heaving rain and very strong winds beating the tent. The camping site was located inside a small forested area and the trees offered some protection from the weather. However, it also meant that branches could break and fall on our tent. Just before going to bed, we saw a couple having to move their tent as a park guard told them the tree under which their tent was located would soon break because of the wind: that was not really reassuring…
As our alarm rang at 03:45am, we decided against leaving the tent. The rain and wind were both still strong and we knew we wouldn’t be able to see any sunrise on the Fitz Roy. Around 08:00, we left our tent and heavy backbags in the camping site and made our way toward the Laguna de los Tres and the Fitz Roy. One kilometer before reaching the Laguna, we were told by a park guard to turn around as the wind was too strong: it would have been to dangerous to go any further as the path was narrow and steep… A little disappointed, we went back to our tent, pack all our stuffs together and started walking toward El Chalten. As it was still raining, we walked at a brisk pace and were back in El Chalten in 2 hours.
- Distance: 12km
- Estimated duration: 3 to 4 hours
We did this hike with my parents and Anne-Marie. The trail starts at the Northern end of El Chalten. after a steep ascent, it arrives at a mirador with a beautiful view on the valley below and the Rio de las Vueltas. From there, the path slopes gently upwards until you reach the Laguna Capri and its wonderfull view on the Fitz Roy. If you don’t leave too late from El Chalten, you will even be able to take your lunch break at the Laguna!
Once you are at the lake, you can either go back on your steps toward El Chalten or you can take a small loop leading you to a Mirador on the Fitz Roy. From there, you will need approximately one hour and a half to go back to El Chalten at a relaxed pace. If you are lucky like we were, you might even see a Huemul on your way 😀 this shy animal looks very similar to a small European deer and can only be found in the Argentinian and Chilean mountains. And finally, if you pay attention to your surroundings, it is very likely that you spot a woodpecker. We saw many of them on this trail!
Hiking around the Lago del Desierto
The Lago del Desierto is located North from El Chalten and offers stunning views on the Fitz Roy massif. We walked along this lake when we hiked from Villa O’Higgings to El Chalten, therefore we didn’t go there for a day hike. But it is definitely worth spending a day there if you have the time. In order to reach the Lago del Desertio, you have to ride 37km on an unpaved road, which should take you around an hour. There are buses driving there for 400ARS/person way and back. Once you are at the lake, there are two hikes available:
- the first one takes you on the East side of the lake to the Huemul Glacier. You will need approximately one hour to reach a turquoise-blue lagoon with a beautiful view on the glacier.
- the second hike is harder and longer. You have to take a boat across the Lago del Desertio toward its Northern point. From there, you can hike back in the direction of the Southern point of the lake. The boat costs around 20 USD and the way is quite tiring, going up and down all the time. However, both the physical efforts and the costs are rewarded by a forested trail offering splendid views on the lake and the Fitz Roy in the background.
We stayed at Hostel del Lago, in a bungalow that we shared with 2 Americans. The accommodation is great, with a small kitchen and living room area, two private rooms and a shared bathroom. It is a quiet place, located only 2 minutes away from El Chalten main street. We paid 860ARS/night.
If you arrive by bus, you will be dropped next to the information center. Take the time to make a short stop their: you will be provided with a map and many useful information about El Chalten and the possible hikes around the city.
There is one bus leaving everyday to El Calafate at 07:30am in the morning and one in the afternoon. It costs around 600ARS/person. If you want, it is possible to make the way El Chalten – Puerto Natales in one day, though you will arrive late in Puerto Natales.
Where to eat
El Chalten is not really a cheap place. There are many “tourists traps” and it is hard to find a good restaurant with reasonable prices. We went once to the restaurant Ahonikenk: don’t expect anything extraordinary, there are mainly simple dishes. However, the prices are ok, the portions huge and the Milanesa & Pizzas very good 😉