El Chaltén is the ideal base for beautiful walks in Argentine Patagonia. It is a small village at the foot of the southern Andes. There are hiking trails for hikers of all levels: from several hours to multi-day hikes. El Chaltén is therefore also called the trekking capital of Argentina. The hiking trails run through lush valleys with rivers, waterfalls and lakes and over hills with views of glaciers and the striking peaks of Cerro Torre (3102m) and Cerro Fitz Roy (3405m). In addition to hiking, the area offers several outdoor sports activities, such as horse riding, mountain biking, kayaking and mountain climbing. The stay is therefore not limited by the range of options, but by your available time. What are beautiful and popular hiking trails in the area?
Popular hiking trails in Patagonia
Five well-marked hiking trails of varying length and difficulty start from El Chaltén (400m). The hiking area is located in the northern part of Los Glaciares National Park (the southern part is accessible via El Calafate).
Source: Rainer Zenz, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain) Laguna de los Tres (1170m)
This moderately difficult hiking trail takes you in 12 km (4 to 5 hours) to the lake of the same name at the foot of the Cerro Fitz Roy (3405m). The first 5 km run gradually uphill, after which you can choose between a path via the Fitz Roy viewpoint or a path along the Laguna Capri lake (where there is a free camping spot). The paths converge again, after which the route winds fairly flat through forests and open terrain. With a clear sky, the peak of Fitz Roy dominates the panorama. The last kilometer is a steep climb to the lake, but this is the only challenging part of the route. Fit walkers can walk the route back and forth in one day. Another option is to spend the night at the free camping site Poincenot near the Río Blanco river, two kilometers from Laguna de los Tres. This makes it possible to see the morning sun shining on the mountain massif when the weather is good. You can also take a shuttle bus from El Chaltén to the north of the hiking area and walk via the Rio Blanco valley towards Laguna de los Tres and from there back to El Chaltén. The advantage is that you do not have to walk the path twice and the wind usually blows at your back.
Source: Davide Brighenti, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-2.5) Laguna Torre (634m)
This 8.5 km route is undulating, without long steep sections, and is the easiest of the three longer trails from El Chaltén. After more than 4 km you will reach the Cerro Torre viewpoint. The glacial lake can be reached in two and a half to three hours and the return journey takes about the same time. Along the north side of the lake the path continues for 2 km (45 – 60 minutes) up to the Mirador Maestri viewpoint. The view of the Cerro Torre (3102m) and adjacent peaks is beautiful. Just below the lake is the free camping spot De Agostini. About two-thirds of the way there is a turnoff to another path. After 8 km (2 to 2.5 hours), this path joins the path of Laguna de los Tres, 1 km from the Poincenot camping site. This connection makes it possible to make a two- to three-day tour of the area. Due to the prevailing wind direction, the walk should be counterclockwise.
Lomo del Pliegue Tumbado (1490m)
This 9 km route ascends almost continuously, but moderately, and can be completed in about 4 hours. Only the last half hour to the highest viewpoint is quite steep. You can ignore this part if you are short of time or tired and stop at the first viewpoint. The panorama is wide and offers a view of the peaks of the mountain massif and an overview of the hiking area. This gives you a view of the lakes Laguna Torre and Laguna Capri, which are located on the other two long walking routes. The route starts at the National Park Visitor Center, south of the village. The first part of the path goes up through forests and open fields. The last part is over open rocky terrain with loose stones. The wind has free rein there and can blow strongly in your face. The path is indicated there with thin posts and is less clearly visible. The return journey is of course a lot faster.
Source: Elvis Boaventura, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-3.0) Mirador de los Cóndores and mirador de las Águilas
If you have half a day to spare, stretch your legs with a short walk to two viewpoints: Los Cóndores and las Águilas. These walking routes start at the National Park visitor center and are therefore ideal to combine with gathering information about the area on the day of arrival. The walk to Mirador de los Condores takes more than half an hour and offers an overview of El Chalten, with Fitz Roy on the horizon. The walk to Mirador de las Aguilas continues south and after an hour offers views over Lake Viedma southeast of El Chalten.
Chorillo del Salto
The simplest walking route ends at a waterfall, about 4.5 km north of El Chalten (1 to 1.5 hours). This almost flat walk is ideal for a quiet day between two heavy walking days.
Source: Liam Quinn, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-2.0)
General information about El Chaltén
El Chaltén was founded in 1985 in a successful attempt to claim the area following border disputes with neighboring Chile. Nowadays the village exists purely for tourism and fills up in the high season (November and February). The construction activities and unpaved streets (apart from the main road) give El Chaltén a pioneer atmosphere. Yet, in addition to accommodation for the budget traveler, there is plenty of choice for the more affluent tourist. This also applies to the restaurants.
El Chalten is relatively isolated, but easily accessible. KLM operates a direct flight from the Netherlands between Amsterdam and Buenos Aires. From Buenos Aires you take a domestic flight from Aerolineas Argentinas to El Calafate. Several bus companies depart from there. The bus ride from El Calafate to El Chaltén takes about three hours over 213 km of well-paved roads, part of which is on the RN40.
How many days to stay?
El Chaltén is a logical destination during a tour of Patagonia and a must see for outdoor sports enthusiasts. You can easily spend a few weeks’ holiday there, but the reality is that travelers from Europe want to see more of Argentina. Still, a week’s stay on a month-long tour will not be out of place. Two nights is the minimum. This allows you to do some short walks on the day of arrival and a long walk on the second day. Make the trek to the base of Fitz Roy your priority. But keep in mind that due to the changeable weather, there is a risk that bad weather may hinder a good view of the mountain massif.
Tips for a pleasant stay
El Chaltén offers essential supplies for a carefree stay for an outdoor sports enthusiast. When visiting, consider the following tips:
- Bring enough cash. The two ATMs can run out and sometimes there are malfunctions that prevent credit card payments.
- When you arrive at the bus station, pick up the informative map of the village and the walking routes in the area. The visitor center and hotels also have the map.
- For enthusiasts, there is a handy map with contour lines and walking routes of the area. This can be purchased at various locations in El Chaltén.
- Accommodation fills up quickly during the summer holidays in Argentina (from Christmas to February). Book in advance or avoid high season.
- Bring clothes for all seasons, including comfortable walking shoes, of course. The weather is changeable, especially in summer. March and April are more stable in that respect.
- Go out on a gloomy and drizzly day. You may be rewarded with a beautiful view of the mountain massif later in the day when the weather turns.
- You can buy packed lunches for the walk at the bakery.
- There is Wi-Fi in most hotels, restaurants, cafeterias and bars. But this is usually slower than you are used to, often even very slow.