El Chalten is a colourful hiking village located in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina. It overlooks the northern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. It was only founded in 1985 (it is the newest town in Argentina!) and is practically purpose-built for hiking, tourism and trekkers. As a result, it has officially been named Argentina’s Trekking Capital. Every summer thousands of trekkers come to explore the world-famous trails. They start on the edge of the village – including the iconic Fitz-Roy which people travel across the continents to experience!
In this article, you will find recommendations based on my personal experience exploring this beautiful destination. If you’re a keen hiker, then this is the place for you.
How long should I spend in El Chalten?
I would say the minimum time you need is two to three full days to experience a good selection of key hikes.
How do I get there?
El Chalten is located around a three-hour drive from El Calafate airport. You can either hop on one of the numerous and very affordable bus transfers to the town or you can rent your own car for a higher price. Argentina, in general, is well connected through bus routes. You can get to El Chalten from numerous locations across the country via a (very long) bus journey. If you’re road-tripping the famous route 40, El Chalten is an easy and popular stop.
When should I visit?
The peak season is December until February and shoulder season is October-November and March-April. Visiting in shoulder season means you get to avoid some of the crowds and get slightly cheaper prices. However, you have a greater risk of bad weather. I visited in November and experienced pretty awful weather, but the weeks before and after I arrived it was beautiful blue skies.
What is the weather like?
Patagonia is famous for its rapidly changing weather and you truly are in the hands of mother nature. You can experience all four seasons in one day. On a single hike you can be wrapped up in 3 layers shivering and then be sweating in sunshine and a t-shirt . The weather can change in minutes and Patagonia is also known for its winds, which can be seriously powerful, come rain or shine.
Personally, in El Chalten, I experienced bracing winds and crazy rainstorms all day every day while I was there. However, I was still able to hike because I brought the right gear. So ensure you pack for all weather eventualities and bring good waterproof kit.
What accommodation is there?
El Chalten is home to numerous hotels, all of which are basic in nature due to the remote location of the town. There are also small apartments you can rent, allowing you to cook for yourself and a handful of campsites where you can pitch up for a few days. One thing to note is that even though the facilities provided in El Chalten are very basic, the hotels and apartments still charge high prices due to their prime location for hiking.
What hikes do you recommend?
The hiking routes in El Chalten are limited. In order to protect the natural beauty of the area there are only a handful of trails. These are all very clearly marked and easy to follow, you definitely don’t need a guide to complete them. Just pick up a map from one of the local outdoor shops, ask your hotel to print one out for you or click here.
The key hikes in the area include:
- Fitz Roy & Laguna de Los Tres. This is by far the most famous and iconic hike in the area. There are two route options. Either start and end in the town doing the more busy out and back trail past Laguna Capri. Or get a transfer to Hosteria El Pilar and hike past Glacier Piedras Blancas before then returning down the trail past Laguna Capri into town. Both are beautiful options, however, I opted for the latter so that we got to see an additional glacier. Just brace yourself for the final kilometre up to Laguna de Los Tres, your legs will be jelly but its so worth it. A 24km hike lasting around 7-10 hours depending on your pace.
- Cerro Torre. The second most popular hike in the area, a simple out and back trail which is mostly flat and goes past waterfalls and viewpoints. At the farthest point, Laguna Torre, you get an iconic view of Glacier Grande and Cerro Torre. A 22km hike lasting 6-8 hours.
- Lomo Del Plieguo Tumbado. One of the least hiked trails in the area but one of the most incredible. An out and back trail which is mostly uphill to a viewpoint. It is a fairly difficult hike but you are rewarded with undoubtedly the best views over the whole area. A 24km hike taking between 8-10 hours.
- Chorillo del Salto. This is one of the easiest trails in the area and great for if you’re short on time or fancy a second hike in a day (we did this after Cerro Torre). It is a flat out and back path to a 20m high waterfall and it takes around 2 hours to complete the 8km trail.
These are the main hikes that I recommend however if you have more time you can definitely:
- Do a loop hike from El Chalten which takes in Laguna Madre and Hija.
- Head down to nearby Lago Del Desertio and take on it’s short hikes to nearby glaciers.
- Up for a challenge? Take on the lesser-known Huemul circuit – a four day trek often titled the hardest trek in Patagonia. It is one which has hardly any crowds, hardly any established paths and definitely requires a guide.
What other activities are there except hiking?
El Chalten is best known for hiking and honestly, I would only visit if you have the intention of lacing up your boots as there aren’t many other options of activities to do. However, if you want to switch it up then you can go rafting, mountain biking, ice climbing or even catch a boat on a glacial lake.
What should I pack?
This completely depends on whether you’re planning on camping or staying at a hotel. However, I definitely recommend you get a waterproof backpack and a waterproof cover to go over it, as well as a 2-3 litre water reservoir so you can stay hydrated on hikes. And don’t forget layers, lots of layers! For a more comprehensive hiking packing list click here.
One thing to note is El Chalten has a whole host of outdoor rental shops where you can rent kit and equipment. This means you don’t necessarily have to purchase something you may not reuse in the future. A much more sustainable option and super practical. For example, my boyfriend rented a well-worn pair of walking boots (as his weren’t broken in) to help him avoid getting blisters.
Is there anything else I should know?
El Chalten town has pretty much everything you need for a hiking trip. Outdoor shops for last-minute purchases through to supermarkets, pharmacies and laundry services. The one thing it lacks is a good snack selection. The best ones we found were at Simple – a cafe which has a handful of healthier and vegan options. I also recommend a vegan restaurant in town called Curcuma. It focuses on wholesome plant-based meals, with many of the ingredients being grown in the restaurants back garden! It is a dream.
When hiking you can drink the water from rivers and waterfalls, it is fresh and clean from the glaciers. Do not pick up any flowers, rocks or plants and be sure to stay on the trails to reduce erosion. Follow the leave no trace principles and check out my responsible travel tips.