El Chalten – The hiking capital of Argentina
El Chalten is Argentina’s capital of hiking and therefore a popular destination for Patagonian backpackers. Compared to the Torres del Paine the hikes are for free as the national park (Los Glaciares National Park) does not charge any entrance fee. There are also free camping sites available. The town of El Chalten itself is still very young, small and mainly consists of restaurants, bars and hostels, serving the main industry of the town, which is undoubtedly tourism. As the town is in the middle of nowhere and only has 3 supermarkets be prepared that fresh food (milk, yoghurt etc.) as well as vegetables and fruits are sold out quickly or not available at all on busy days or weekends. Once you are in El Chalten there are several hikes, that all be done straight out of the city. Find here the ones we did during our stay (due to the weather we could not do the “Pliegue Tombado” which is the only point from where the famous Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy can be seen at once.
Laguna de los Tres / Fitz Roy
The trail to the most famous lookout to the well-known Fitz Roy starts right at the end of El Chalten’s main road Av. San Martin. The trek starts with a slightly steep way through a forest for the first hour. The first mirador, a lookout across the valley with its Rio Blanco, is already awaiting after the first 20 minutes. Soon you can decide between two different routes: either via another mirador, a lookout with a good view at Fitz Roy or via the Lagoon Capri. As the paths merge again at a later stage, you can do the one on your way up and the other on the way down. The first hour of the trek leads slightly steep through the forests, is followed by a long flat passage with a stunning panorama and ends with a very steep, rocky last hour of climb (which makes the view afterwards even more rewarding). It took us 3,5 hours up and 3 hours down – along the same path.
Reco: check out the view to the second, more hidden Lagoon, which you will find on the left side after an only 3 minutes walk. You cannot actually get down there, but the view is amazing (and the place less crowded).
If you want to be up at the Lagoon for sunrise it would be adviseable to stay at one at the campsites along the trek. The closest one is about 1,5h up to the top. Another one is right next to the dark blue Lagoon Capri, if you fancy a pre or post hike swim and some relaxing time at the Lagoon 🙂
Laguna Torre / Cerro Torre
Also well-known and therefore not less impressive is the Cerro Torre, which you can gaze at from the Laguna Torre. The trail itself is easy-going at takes 3 hours one way. It leads through flat land through forest, over grassland and again with a great view and panorama. The Laguna Torre is less crowded than the Laguna de los Tres and offers two extended routes to viewpoints, even more overlooking the Lagoon and Cerro Torre.
Mirador Condores and Aguilas
The walks to the lookouts are good options if the weather is just not good enough for full day hikes. The viewpoints can again be reached very easily out of town. The paths are short and still offer a nice view over the city, the surrounding, sheer endless area and landscapes and if you are a lucky witht he site also to Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy.
In a nutshell, El Chalten is a must when travelling through Patagonia. Even though the hikes itsel do not cause any expenses, be prepared for high prices for pretty much everything else (supermarkets, coffee, dinner, hostels). If you have the chance for camping or at least cook your own meals in a Hostel you should still be able to do El Chalten on a tight backpacker budget.