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EL CHALTEN

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Town of El Chalten, Argentina
Town of El Chalten
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El Chalten is a town that was established in the 1980s to secure the Argentine border and it has since taken off as the trekking capital of Argentina.  It is located within the extensive Los Glaciares National Park.  All the major trails through the El Chalten region start in town, so hikers can all start hiking from the doorstep of their hotel.  The town consists of a small residential area and one street lined with small hotels and little restaurants.  In winter (June) the town virtually closes down.  The location suggests what Banff in the Canadian Rockies might have been like in its early days as a small town located in a national park undiscovered by major tourism.  Some day we expect El Chalten to see a similar boom in tourism, but for the present its remote simplicity is an endearing feature.

Weather:

El Chalten is located in the Andes at the edge of the Patagonia steppe.  This means cool temperatures, frequent high winds and a year round chance of snow flurries.  Expect average highs of around 63 F (17 C) in summer (January) and average lows of 45 F (6 C).  In the winter average highs are 40 F (5 C) while lows average 25 F (-4 C).  Winds are stronger in the winter.  The best description of the weather at El Chalten is "unpredictable", so be prepared for rain and sleet during your hike regardless of what the weather is when you start your day.  Also use lots of sun screen, as the exposure to UV rays is very high.

Transportation:

There is regular bus service between El Chalten and El Calafate, which is less than 3 hours away.  Many tour operators also provide transportation to El Chalten.  Car rental is another great option as the roads are excellent, but watch out for the wind.  Stop at the coffee shop at Hotel La Leona (intersection of 40 and 21) at the halfway point.  It's the only stop along the way and well worth it for the coffee and lemon pie.  In 1905 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid spent time here after robbing a bank in Rio Gallegos.  On a sunny day, stop on the road a few miles south of El Chalten for excellent views of Mount Fitz Roy and Mount Torre.

Mount Fitz Roy, Laguna de los Tres, El Chalten, Argentina

Mount Fitz Roy and Laguna de los Tres, © Can Stock Photo Inc. / javarman

Trekking and Hiking in El Chalten:

  • Mount Fitz Roy (Cerro Chalten) and Laguna de los Tres - The trail starts at the north end of Av San Martin.  Viewpoints along the way include the Rio de las Vueltas, Lago Capri, Mount Fitz Roy viewpoint and Laguna de los Tres.  After an initial climb out of the valley of the Rio del las Vueltas, the trail levels out.  Then there is a climb up a steep hillside, which eventually turns into a steep moraine.  Although it's a considerable effort to climb this section, there are no dangerous precipices.  At Laguna de los Tres, expect a different day than in the valley below, with high winds, rain and even sleet in summer.  Along side the lake, hike 500 m further for views back down to Laguna Sucia.  The typical hiking time to Laguna de los Tres is 4 hours one way with a vertical climb of 2,500 feet (750 m).

  • Mount (Cerro) Torre and Lake (Lago) Torre - This trail starts at the west edge of town and can be found by walking past the large and prominent Hotel Los Cerros.  The trail follows the Fitz Roy River and is much flatter than the Mount Fitz Roy hike.  The trail leads to Lago Torre at the base of the Grand Glacier and Mount Torre.  Typical hiking time to Lago Torre is 3 hours one way with a vertical climb of 800 ft (250 m).  Near the halfway point of this hike, there is an option to divert to the Mount Fitz Roy trail instead.

Cerro Torre from Lago Torre, El Chalten, Argentina

Cerro Torre from Lago Torre, © Can Stock Photo Inc. / irisphoto5

  • Mirador Los Cóndores and Las Aguilas - These are easy hikes to start off your visit to El Chalten.  Walk over the river at the south edge of town and you will see the trail to these two lookouts.  It's about a 45 minute hike up from the valley floor to a height of 325 ft (100 m).  The first lookout has a view over El Chalten and is frequented by Andean condors.  Another half hour hike along the ridge leads to a view in the opposite direction toward Lake Viedma and a chance to see eagles (aguilas).

  • Viedma Glacier - Tours of Viedma Glacier run regularly from El Chalten.  These tours always include transportation from El Chalten and a boat trip on Lake Viedma past the glacier face.  Depending on participation, the tour may also include trekking on the glacier.  The Viedma Glacier face is not as high as that of Perito Moreno, but the ice surface area behind the face is just as extensive.  Viedma Glacier and Perito Moreno are two of the 48 glaciers that make up the Southern Patagonia Ice Field.

El Chalten Viedma Glacier Tours:

Hotels in El Chalten


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