Best Hikes in El Chaltén: Everything You Need to Know


El Chaltén is a mountain village located in the Southern Andes, in a valley where the De las Vueltas River and Fitz Roy River meet. It is also part of Los Glaciares National Park, the largest national park in Argentina. The Park is over 2,800 sq miles and is home to the famous Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the most popular attractions in South America. Thousands of people flock to the Patagonia region in Chile and Argentina every year to see the incredible glaciers and waterfalls and to indulge in outdoor adventures ranging from fly fishing and camping to mountain biking and trekking. In this post, I'm going to focus on the hiking options in El Chaltén, which was officially declared as the trekking capital of Argentina!

If you have never heard of El Chaltén, you may be a little bit more familiar with Mount Fitz Roy (or el Cerro Chaltén), the mountain that is part of the landscape outline, which is logo of the clothing brand Patagonia. It is truly surreal to see such an iconic place up-close and in real life, because photos and videos simply don't do it any justice. In addition to the most popular hike to Laguna de Los Tres which take you to the base of Fitz Roy, there are a dozen of other hikes with incredible scenery. Depending on your schedule, there are short walks, half-day, full-day, and multi-day trekking options to choose from. Most of the hiking trails begin right in the town of El Chaltén, which is why it is such a convenient and popular home base for visitors.

Home Base: El Chaltén, Argentina

How to Get There (From Buenos Aires)

Argentina is such a large country, so don't underestimate the amount of time it takes to get from one city to another. El Chaltén, in my opinion, isn't really the easiest or most convenient village to get to. The quickest way will take multiple forms of transportation and you need to build in adequate travel time into your itinerary. It takes quite an effort, but you will be rewarded! Plus, the journey is a part of the experience.

By Plane. El Calafate is a small town that has become a central hub for those coming to and from Patagonia. Most people will opt to fly into El Calafate International Airport, which is the gateway to many other towns and regions that would otherwise take too long to reach by car or bus. From Buenos Aires, El Calafate it about a 3 hour direct flight, and is the quickest and easiest way to get down south to all of the attractions. Whether you're heading to Perito Moreno Glacier (only about an hour away), crossing the Argentinean border into Chile to visit Torres del Paine National Park, or going to El Chaltén to hike Mt Fitz Roy, I highly recommend flying to El Calafate. Prices can vary, but if you book a few months in advance, a round trip flight should cost around $200-$250 USD. We were unlucky and our flight shot up and stayed expensive (~$550USD) for the dates we needed. Definitely book in advance!

After arriving in El Calafate, you will need to transfer to El Chaltén, which takes an additional 3 hours by car or bus. The cheapest option is to take a public bus or book a shared shuttle service. You can also take a private car or taxi for extra convenient and for a direct door-to-door experience, but this option will be the most costly. We chose to book a shared shuttle service with Las Lengas, a transportation company our hotel in El Calafate recommended and booked directly for us. We paid 4000 Argentinean pesos (~50 USD per person) for round trip service from El Calafate to El Chaltén. We were picked up and dropped off in front of our hotel each time and service was timely and reliable. I would choose this option as the bus stop may be inconvenient to get to with luggage and the private car transfer is not worth the higher price.

By Bus. I'm personally not a fan of long bus rides, but if you're willing to rough it, there is a multiple-transfer coach option from Buenos Aires to El Chaltén. If you choose this bus option, there is an option to choose a seat that can fully recline to become a bed, making the journey a bit more bearable.

By Car. If you're a road trip kinda gal or guy, you can also consider the 32 hour drive from Buenos Aires to El Chaltén. It will take a couple of days and plenty of coffee to get through the long drive, but you may save some money by driving depending on whether flight prices are very high. You can also do everything on your own time, and it's nice to control when you want to take breaks or stop for photo ops. However, you have to consider hotel costs and also time to drive back to Buenos Aires if that is where you are flying home. It may also not make the most financial sense to drive one way and and fly back one way either. I would save this option as a last resort if flights and buses are completely sold out (which can happen during peak season from December to February).

When to Visit

A visit to Patagonia is a lengthy and involved trip to plan, so you want to make sure you take weather into consideration.

  • {RECOMMEND}Summer: December - January.

  • ​Warm weather and peak season for visitors, crowded, more expensive accommodations

  • {RECOMMEND}Autumn: March - April.

  • ​Cooler temperatures, FOLIAGE, less crowds

  • Winter: May - September.

  • ​Not ideal as many trails will close and it will be very cold and potentially snow

  • Spring: October - November.

  • ​Warm but high winds

How Long to Stay

If you're going to invest the time and effort to make it all the way to El Chaltén, I would recommend staying long enough to get in a hike or two and leave enough time to also explore the cute little town itself. Keep in mind that there are different hiking trails for every experience level, from 2 hour walks to the multi-day Humuel Circuit Trek trek that involves camping in the mountains. While I would love to do that kind of trip in the future, we chose to use El Chaltén as our home base for day hikes and stayed a total of 4 nights. At a minimum, one night and two full days should be enough to time do a long day hike and half day activity, and also leaves a few hours to eat at the delicious restaurants in town and browse the shops. However, if you really want to get the most out of the visit to the trekking capital and aren't into the full 5 day camping experience, 3-5 days would be a good length of time to spend in this area of Patagonia exploring the trails and enjoying the beautiful mountain backdrop. However, if you are short on time, many people also come as a day trip from El Calafate. If you pick this option, just make sure to leave extremely early from El Calafate to get the most out of the day.

Where to Stay

With a tiny population of only around 1,600 (350 full time inhabitants), this mountain village has quite a few options when it comes to accommodations. Whether you prefer staying in a cabin with an outdoor grill, a family-owned bread & breakfast, an estancia (farm) with cows and horses in the front yard, or a fancier, modern hotel with a spa, you can have your pick! While there are plenty of options, hotels definitely book up pretty quickly, especially during the peak months of December - February, when tourists flock the heaviest to El Chaltén from all over the world.

We would highly recommend the beautiful hotel we stayed at called Destino Sur. It looks quite new and modern compared to the other hotels in the area, but it truly felt like a home away from home for the 4 total nights we stayed there. Service was top-notch, there's an awesome free breakfast every morning, and best of all, you can book an hour long spa session every day to use their sauna and jacuzzi. We loved relaxing in the spa room after our tough hikes.

Extra Tips

  • Bring a packed lunch for picnic during your trek. Your hotel will probably offer a boxed lunch service or you can head to a bakery the morning or night before.

  • Wear sunscreen and reapply

  • Bring a water bottle, but there is no need to pack too much water since there will be fresh, drinkable streams along the way for most of the treks

  • Don't forget sunglasses!

FULL DAY TREKS

Laguna de Los Tres

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Distance: 15.5 miles

Time: 8-9 hours

If you only have time to do one hike, this is the one! Laguna de Los Tres is by far the most popular trek from El Chaltén, as it leads you to the base of Mount Fitz Roy and you can get a glimpse of its beauty up close. The hike starts at the northern end of San Martin Road, which is the main street in town. The first bit is a pretty steep incline, but most of the trail after this is quite easy. There are also parts that are quite rocky, so be prepared to climb a little bit. It's an incredibly beautiful and scenic route the entire way, but the most beautiful view is rewarded after a very grueling last hour. The last stretch of the trail is rocky, snowy, windy, and is a very steep incline all the way up to the clouds. It was incredibly exhausting, but the postcard views were so worth the 5 hours it took to get up to the top. If you want to continue after the main viewpoint, I saw a few people walk down toward the base of the lake, which looks like it takes around an extra 15-20 minutes from the main lookout point. The entire trail is very easy to follow and well-marked, so you'll never have to worry about going off-course.

Laguna de Los Tres and Mount Fitz Roy is the most incredible backdrop and the perfect location to enjoy a well-deserved lunch. Definitely plan to stay for a while at the top to enjoy the views before heading back to town.

Tip: Start EARLY. As I mentioned, this is the most popular and famous trek, so there will be a lot of people on the trail, especially during peak summer months. If you're not into conga lines for hours, get an early start before sunrise. We started the hike at exactly 9am, and we still felt like we were walking very closely behind and in front of other trekkers during different portions of the path. I would start as early as 7am, where you can enjoy the peace and quiet and feel like you have miles and miles all to yourself. Don't forget to bring a light if you start before dawn!

Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Distance: 13 miles Time: 8 hours

Full day hikes can be quite strenuous on the your body, but if you have the time to do a couple in El Chaltén, I highly recommend Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. The trail starts in the base of the town, toward the south side near the entrance and bus station of the town. Because this route isn't as popular as the others (most people will choose Laguna de los Tres is they only have 1 day), I found it to be such a relaxing and peaceful hike. Most of the trail is quite flat, with the exception of the first half hour, which has a pretty steady incline.

My favorite part about this hike is that you have 360 degree mountain landscape views almost the entire 4 hours each way. It wasn't nearly as strenuous as the main hike to Mt Fitz Roy despite the time being pretty similar. The viewpoint is also stunning, and combined with the fall foliage, it was picture perfect. For those adventure seekers, you can continue climbing up a rocky mountain to get a better view from a higher elevation. This would probably take around another hour to ascend and then descend given how lose the small rocks are.

Laguna Torre

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Distance: 11.3 miles Time: 7-8 hours

Laguna Torre is another classic hike in El Chaltén that you can't miss. The beautiful lake is formed from glacial melt water and is surrounded by impressive mountain views. The most notable is Cerro Torre, one of the mountains located in between Argentina and Chile, just west of Fitz Roy. At Laguna Torre, you may also come across large icebergs and ice which has fallen off the face of Torre glacier.

HALF DAY TREKS

Mirador del Torre

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 4.3 miles

Time: 3-4 hours

Not everyone has the time or the desire to do an 8 hour hike, and for those who prefer something a bit shorter, there are plenty of half day trek options for you to choose from. These are great it you only have a half day due to arriving late or if you need to catch a bus or drive back to El Calafate later in the evening. Mirador del Torre is actually the first hike we did because we wanted something "quick" in order to preserve our energy for Laguna de los Tres the next day. Mirador del Torre marks the half way point to Laguna Torre, which is also a popular full-day trek. It's a beautiful lookout work the 2 hours to get there. It was my first glimpse of the beautiful fall foliage that I came here to see!

Laguna Capri

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 5 miles Time: 4-5 hours

Laguna Capri is a shortened version of the classic Laguna de Los Trek hike to the base of Mount Fitz Roy. For those who don't want to do the full route, you can do the circuit which takes you to the beautiful blue water lagoon. Don't worry, you'll still get fabulous, unique views of Fitz Roy. If you have a bit of extra time, make sure to check out the Mirador del Fitz Roy, a well-signposted natural rocky viewpoint. After the first 45 minutes of starting the trail, you will also pass the viewpoint of the De las Vueltas river valley, which is a promising sign of much more beautiful views to come.

Tip: Because this is the same path as Laguna de Los Tres, I would not recommend doing the Laguna Capri hike and then doing the full day hike again a different day. Personally, I think it's worth it to invest the extra 3-4 hours and do the full hike since you're already more than halfway to the very end anyway!

Chorillo del Salto

Difficulty Level: Easy

Distance: 4.3 miles

Time: 2-3 hours

Chorillo del Salto is one of the easier walks that heads deep into a hillside of Ñire and Lenga forest. The flat path leads to a beautiful waterfall of more than 20 meter drop. The walk takes a total of 2-3 hours round trip, but there is also an option to bike there until the last half hour, where you have to walk the rest of the way (oops).

Tip: We chose to borrow the mountain bikes from our hotel for the afternoon, and really enjoyed heading to Chorillo del Salto by bike instead of walking since it was our rest day in between long hikes. If your hotel doesn't offer bikes for rental, there are plenty of places around town where you can rent them for cheap.

Best Eats in El Chaltén

Mathilda Resto Bar

Great, cozy spot in town with yerma mate, coffee, delicious pastries and a selection of yummy sandwiches. They also have strong Wi-Fi, which is a rarity in this town.

La Oveja Negra

AKA, "The Black Sheep". I loved this restaurant! They have a large variety of different grilled meats, including beef and classic Patagonian lamb. Much like it's rustic exterior, the interior is also all wooden (chairs, tables, walls) as has a ton of charm. Great for a big meal after a long day of hiking.

La Tapera

Not surprisingly, La Tapera is one of the most popular restaurants in town. It's always packed for dinner, and the food is so BOMB. We actually came here twice during our 4 days here because we loved it so much. There is an open fireplace in the middle of the restaurant, making it a cozy and romantic spot. The steaks here are delicious - highly recommend the malbec sauce sirloin and the bife de chorizo with chimichurri sauce.

Resto El Muro

We stopped by here for a quick lunch before heading out to our first hike of the day. Because Resto El Muro is right at the Northern end of town, it's very close to the entrance/exit point of the hike to Laguna de Los Tres. So if you're starving on your way back, just know that food is just a few steps away. They have great empanadas and steaks!

Restaurante Ahonikenk Chalten Fonda Patagonia

Loved this restaurant and the delicious lamb stew. They have a great selection of traditional Argentinian dishes, pastas and pizzas too.

La Cerveceria Chaltén

La Cerveceria Chaltén is located around the midway point of San Martin Road, so chances are high that you will pass it. Instead of serving warm bread, the restaurant actually serves popcorn, which is a welcome change after we've been carb-loading for about a week already. It's actually a much lighter starter and perfect with a pint of beer. We ordered a delicious meet stew, an empanada, and their recommended cheesy lasagna. Not gonna lie, it was a surprisingly very delicious lasagna, and this entire meal warmed my belly after hiking all day long. Not to mention that the dessert was also out of this world - a wine soaked bosc pear with ice cream!

Thanks for checking out this guide to El Chaltén, and happy trekking everyone!

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