El Chalten: The Hiking Capital of Argentina
El Chalten, a village near borders between Chile and Argentina is known as Argentina's hiking capital for a good reason. Are you planning on traveling to El Chalten and do the most well-known hikes in the area, trek to Cerro Torre and Mount Fitz Roy? Our guide got you covered.
El Chalten is a world-known hiking and trekking destination which attracts travelers and outdoor lovers from all around the world.
You don't need to go that far to appreciate the real mountainous beauty as most of the trails start right in El Chalten and visitors can choose from wide range of one day or multi-day trekking routes.
It only depends on your budget, level of fitness and your adventurous soul what trek will you decide to hike.
In this article we covered the best things to do, where to stay, how to get there and must-do hikes.
Enough said, here is our guide to El Chalten, Argentina.
We must admit that despite truly stunning mountains towering everywhere around El Chalten, this village did not become our favorite one for many reasons.
Right after we crossed borders from Villa O'Higgins, Chile to El Chalten in Argentina in one day which was both long and tiring, we were facing several challenges we had to solve no matter how tired were we.
First, we needed to withdraw money, but would you believe that the limit in all ATMs in one of the most touristy places in Argentina is whopping $50?
Yes, you can do it as many times as you want (until the ATM runs out of money), but unless you don't want to pay high bank fees we recommend you to withdraw only what is necessary and wait until you reach your next destination, for example, El Calafate, a base for visiting Perito Moreno Glacier.
Second, when we came to a hostel we booked, a very 'welcoming' receptionist told us we don't have a reservation there, although we had confirmation on our Messenger App. She told us we did not pay a deposit, although she did not ask for it when we communicated together. After more than 12 hours of commuting that day, we did not have the strength to argue plus we did not feel we want to support this type of behavior, so for the next hour, we were desperately walking around El Chalten trying to find a room.
Luckily at the end, we found two beds in a dormitory in a questionable-looking hostel.
The third problem was to find something to eat. Prices in restaurants in El Chalten were above our budget, so we had to go shopping and were quite in shock what we found in shops in premier Argentina's destination - poor selection and rotten fruits and vegetables. After several minutes when we were aimlessly walking around empty shelves, we grabbed some pasta and tomato sauce and finally headed to our hostel.
After those experiences, you cannot blame us that our first impression of El Chalten was not positive. But thankfully, this small village close to the borders have one of the most beautiful mountains, glaciers and lakes we've ever seen, so after doing two of the most popular hikes in the area, trek to Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, we quickly forgot about it and gave El Chalten second chance.
After road tripping Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia for two weeks, the bar was set very high as it is not easy to equal to Cerro Castillo, Hanging Glacier or Marble Caves, but the mountains around El Chalten definitely made it to our list of top things we've seen in Patagonia, it even exceeded the jewel of Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park.
HIKING IN EL CHALTEN
Since you arrive in El Chalten, you will quickly understand that hiking is the thing here.
You will meet plenty of people dressed up in functional and expensive-looking clothes every other one carries walking sticks (sometimes even when going only to a restaurant), and on trails to the world-known natural attractions you will meet groups of people of every age you can immediately tell that this adventure in the mountains is their first in their lives (and often they look like it is going to be their last).
This is absolutely fine, but before setting off, please realize that weather in Patagonia, especially near El Chalten can be pretty harsh, and you should come prepared to avoid any unpleasant experience.
WEATHER IN EL CHALTEN, ARGENTINIAN PATAGONIA
And we are talking serious here.
Only a couple days after we left El Chalten we read a message that two mountaineers (incidentally one of them was from the Czech Republic) died during an attempt to climb Fitz Roy. Although it was summer season, weather was windy and rainy for several days in El Chalten, and all outdoor activities were incredibly dangerous, even hiking!
The high (and most expensive) season is from December to March when your chances to have nice weather with reasonable temperatures are higher. Shoulder season, November and April should guarantee you fewer crowds, lower prices and picturesque contrasts of colorful leaves and jagged mountains behind.
During winter, temperatures drop significantly, and although winds usually cease, trails can be inaccessible because of snow.
What to Pack for Hiking in El Chalten
Weather in Patagonia is unpredictable and changeable, it can rain any time of the year and winds are so strong that at times it is even hard to walk straight. You should always pack rain poncho, windproof jacket, and extra warm layers, although you are starting your trek when the weather is sunny and clear.
Here are 7 essential things you should pack.
- Waterproof Jacket for Him & for Her | Down Jacket for Him & for Her | Beanie for Him & for Her | Gloves for Him & for Her | Hiking Boots for Him & for Her | Sunscreen | Lip Balm with Sunscreen
We've also created a useful post Patagonia packing list where you can find more detailed packing guide.
THINGS TO DO IN EL CHALTEN
Los Glaciares National Park is home to some majestic peaks, but two one day hikes you should not miss by no means are treks to Laguna Torre, where you can see Cerro Torre and Laguna de Los Tres with characteristic Cerro Fitz Roy.
Both treks are well-signposted, similar in length (24 and 26 kilometers) and what we liked the most, both trails start right in El Chalten, so it is easy to reach trailheads.
For more intrepid travelers there is an option to pack camping gear (there are plenty of rental shops in El Chalten), buy food for several days and get lost in the national park and escape the crowds.
CERRO TORRE AND LAGUNA TORRE
The hike to Cerro Torre climbs up at first but once you'll get to the first viewpoint, the path is mostly flat.
It is impossible to get lost here, as there are signs every kilometer where you can see your progress.
Although the weather was quite fine that day, there was a cloud hanging above Cerro Torre, and we did not get the full view of rugged mountains behind Laguna Torre. Fortunately, from the main viewpoint by the lake, there is another path which leads for another two kilometers closer to the glacier. It was very windy, but we are glad we made it to another viewpoint overlooking the glacier as it was the highlight of our day.
We do not have to mention that not many people opt for the extension, so it is a great place to eat your lunch (large rocks can work as a shelter because the wind blows here strongly). Once you soak in the views, you can retrace your steps back to El Chalten.
LAGUNA DE LOS TRES AND MOUNT FITZ ROY
A one day hike to Laguna de Los Tres alias Mount Fitz Roy is for most of the travelers the main reasons why to arrive in El Chalten.
The characteristically shaped mount Fitz Roy is towering above stunningly blue waters of Laguna de Los Tres, and this trip is totally worth your time. When checking the weather forecast, you should reserve this trip on a day with the best prospects as bad weather can significantly influence your experience.
The path is narrow but easy to follow and goes up and down. The hardest part starts right behind a campground which you will pass through (in case you plan on staying in the camp, arrive early as it fills up quickly), approximately on kilometer 8. From here the trail goes steeply up, but the promise of seeing something amazing will push you forward. The view from the lake's shore is breathtaking, but to get the lesser known yet even more incredible view, continue hundred meters or so along the path on your left only to see another lagoon!
When returning back to El Chalten, you can take a short two kilometers side trip to Glacier Piedras Blancas it is really worth it but be ready that this side trip will make from hike to Mount Fitz Roy almost 30 kilometers long day.
WHERE TO STAY IN EL CHALTEN
Finding a reasonably priced accommodation in El Chalten in the high season turned out to be an almost impossible quest, so when planning your travels do not forget to make your reservation well in advance to secure room in the village. Be mentally prepared that prices of accommodation are higher in El Chalten but don't expect better service and standard.
Budget | Lo de Guille - Basic but clean hostel offering private rooms, good wifi, and breakfast.
Mid-range | Pudu Lodge - Perfectly located stylish lodge offers well-appointed rooms and cozy dining room.
Luxury | Destino Sur Hotel & Spa de Montana - Beautiful new hotel with a gym, spa treatments and mountain views from every room is the best you can find in El Chalten when looking for a bit of luxury.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
HOW TO GET TO EL CHALTEN
El Chalten, despite its size, is well-connect with other destinations in Argentina. We arrived from Villa O’Higgins in Chile, but usually, travelers reach El Chalten from either El Calafate or Bariloche in Lake Districts - this is a long ride though.
There are several bus companies serving the route between El Chalten and El Calafate, approximately three times a day, but it is highly recommended to book your seat while you arrive in El Chalten, especially between December and February.
The bus ticket cost 800 Argentinian Pesos per person, and the ride takes 3 hours.
Increasingly popular way of getting to El Chalten is by a car. You should consider renting a car when traveling around Patagonia to maximize your holiday time.
Is El Chalten Safe?
El Chalten is a remote village in Patagonia and considered extremely safe.
The crime against tourists is almost non-existent and the only danger lurks in the mountains if you overestimate your skills or underestimate the weather.
We created also an article Is South America safe to travel? about our personal experience from more than eight months traveling around South America which might come handy to you if you are planning on visiting this amazing continent soon.
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