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.
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
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 (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.
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.