El Chaltén, known as the trekking capital of Argentina, is located in the province of Santa Cruz, about 3 hours drive from the city of El Calafate. This place has become one of our favorite destinations in Argentina and in this article we will provide you with all the necessary information so you can make the most of your stay in this beautiful place.
How to get to El Chalten?
Buses depart daily from downtown Calafate, one in the morning and one at noon. These buses make a single stop at the Calafate airport to pick up passengers. In March 2021, the cost of the ticket was $1200 ARS (about 20 USD).
There are also guided tours that leave from Calafate and return on the same day, but if you want to get to know El Chaltén well, it is recommended that you dedicate several days to it.
Best time to visit El Chalten
The best time to visit El Chaltén is from October to March (spring/summer). During these months, shops, restaurants and tourist agencies are open. During the winter, most places remain closed and some trails may be impassable due to snow.
Clothing for El Chalten
The weather in El Chaltén is unpredictable and can change from one moment to the next. It can snow in January, but there can also be days with temperatures of 25 degrees in March. It is also a very windy place. The best way to dress for any hike is in layers, wearing several pieces of clothing to be able to adapt to temperature changes.
We recommend to bring:
- Thermal T-shirt
- Down jacket and waterproof jacket or a mountain rider
- Thermal tights, waterproof pants
- Trekking shoes or boots or, failing that, sneakers.
- Thermal socks (always carry a spare pair in your backpack)
- Gloves, collar and hat
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Reusable bottle for carrying water on trails
- Trekking poles (can be rented in El Chaltén)
- A comfortable backpack
- First aid kit
If you are going to camp in El Chalten we also recommend you to bring
- Sleeping bag for 0 degrees
- 3 or 4 seasons tent
- Portable stove + gas (it is forbidden to make fire)
- Cooking utensils + food + garbage bag + cigarette lighter
- Portable battery for charging electronic devices
How many days in El Chalten?
It is difficult to answer this question, as it depends on the weather, how much you want to hike and your budget. We went for 5 days, which allowed us to do the 5 trails we considered the most beautiful. We were lucky with the weather, but we recommend going a few more days to be able to rest, do more trails and have relaxing days in case the weather is not good.
The trails in El Chalten
The trails in El Chaltén are free and self-guided, that is, they are well marked so you can do it alone. There are also agencies where you can hire a guide to accompany you. Below, we tell you about the treks you can do in El Chaltén, their difficulty and length.
For the long trails we always recommend bringing food (sandwiches, empanadas, etc) and some snacks or fruit. Along most of the trails there are streams where you can carry your water bottle.
Here is the map of the trails, distances, times and difficulties.
Laguna de los Tres
It is the most famous and beautiful trail in Chalten, as it ends at the foot of Mount Fitz Roy. We went to see the sunrise and it was a unique experience.
Distance: 20 km approx.
Time: 8-9 hours
There are two starting points from where you can begin this trek:
- Laguna de Capri Trail: The trail begins in town, in a parking lot at the end of Avenida San Martin. Along this trail, you can see the Rio Las Vueltas viewpoint and the Laguna de Capri, where the Laguna de Capri campground is located (at 4 km).
- Trail from Hostería del Pilar: This inn is located 17 km from El Chaltén, you can get there by cab or with the excursion bus that goes to Lago del Desierto. This alternative presents less initial difficulty. The first 40 minutes of the trail are through private property, and then you enter Los Glaciares National Park. As the trail gains altitude, you begin to see the Fitz Roy and the hanging glacier Piedras Blancas.
Both trails meet at the Poincenot camp (8 km) from where the last 2 km stretch to the Laguna de los Tres starts. The last kilometer of the trail is the most difficult, as it is all downhill on a fairly deteriorated stone path. This part is usually done in 1-2 hours. Once at Laguna de Los Tres, if you border it to the left, and then go up a hill, you will reach a viewpoint where you will see Laguna Sucia and its hanging glaciers.
It is advisable to start the hike early, as it takes 8 to 9 hours from both starting points.
Which path to choose?
It depends on each person. Some people go and return through the Capri Lagoon and make the detour to the Piedras Blancas glacier viewpoint (4 km round trip), others do one day and the next day the other. And others, like us, go by one trail and return by the other.
On the map, both trails are marked in orange and you can see how they join at the Poicenot camp. We started from Hosteria del Pilar, slept at Poicenot camp, watched the sunrise at Laguna de los Tres and returned via Laguna de Capri. We highly recommend doing the same.
Camping at Camp Poicenot:
It is a free camp and no reservation is needed. It is rugged, that is, there is nothing. There is only a precarious bathroom (bring paper) and a nearby stream where you can carry water for drinking and cooking. It is forbidden to make fire, so the ideal is to bring a portable stove and a garbage bag to dispose of the waste you generate, since everything that enters the NP has to leave with you. As we mentioned before, the weather in El Chalten is very unpredictable, so we recommend you to always be prepared for very cold weather. At night the temperature usually drops a lot, so be prepared and bring a good sleeping bag.
This trail is part of the Laguna de Los Tres trail and is an easier option for those who do not want to reach the Fitz Roy. From the Laguna de Capri, you can enjoy an incredible view of the Fitz Roy.
Distance: 8km total
Time: 3-4 hours
In the Capri Lagoon there is a free wilderness campground where you can spend the night.
Another trail that you cannot miss in El Chaltén is the Laguna Torre trail. This trail will also take you all day.
Distance: approx 18-19km total
Time: 7-8 hours
Difficulty: Medium - Low
Just 15 minutes after starting the hike, you will reach a first viewpoint located in a gorge of the Fitz Roy River, from where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Solo, Adela, Torre and Mount Fitz Roy. The first 3 km of the trail are a bit demanding, but then it becomes easier without major changes in altitude.
The trail finally crosses the A'gostini camp, where you can spend the night. Then, the trail heads towards a frontal ridge. From there, you can descend to the lagoon or continue along a 2 km trail to the Maestri viewpoint. It is highly recommended to go up to the Maestri viewpoint because from there you have the best views.
In our case, we had a cloudy and windy day, which prevented us from seeing Cerro Torre. We could barely get close to the lagoon due to the strength of the wind, but even so, the trail has its charm and was worth the hike.
Chorrillo del Salto
This is an easy and short trail, so it can be combined with another one to do in the day.
Distance: 7 km total
Time: 3 hours
The trail begins in El Chaltén at the end of San Martín Avenue. At the end of the trail you reach the Chorrillo del Salto, a spectacular waterfall with a 20-meter waterfall.
It can also be done by bicycle or go by car to the parking lot that is 5 minutes from the waterfall.
Los Cóndores Viewpoint - Las Águilas
Distance: 4 and 6 km total
Time: 2 hours
Leaving from El Chaltén, cross the access bridge over the Fitz Roy River and continue to the trailhead that starts at the National Park Visitor Center. After a small gate you will see a sign indicating the trail to the left.
From the Mirador Las Cóndores you can appreciate a view of the valley of the Fitz Roy River, and as its name says, condors. Ideal for watching the sunset.
10 minutes before reaching Los Cóndores viewpoint you will find the fork to Las Águilas viewpoint. From here there is a panoramic view of the steppe and Lake Viedma to the south.
Loma del Pliegue Tumbado
It is a trail that instead of going into the valley, rises above them, which provides a spectacular panoramic view of the entire area of El Chalten.
Distance: 21 km km total
Time: 7-8 hours
The trail begins at the Ceferino Fonzo Visitor Center of the National Park. It maintains an ever ascending slope until it reaches 1500 meters above sea level.
Trails in the Desert Lake area
In the Lago del Desierto area, an hour's drive from Chaltén, there are several self-guided trails that offer breathtaking panoramic views. Local tour agencies offer transportation services to get there. Personally, we used the services of Zona Austral for the transfer.
The trails are:
- Laguna Larga Limitrophe Landmark (4-5 hours)
- Huemul Glaciers (2 hours)
We decided to do only the Huemul Glacier trail.
It is a light trail, but beautiful and highly recommended. You can get spectacular views of the north face of Cerro Chaltén and the valley of the De las Vueltas River.
Distance: 4 km total
Time: 2 hours
This trail is on private property, so the entrance fee is $500 (year 2021, USD $2.5). There is a bar and restrooms at the trailhead. The tour agency picked us up at 2:00 pm and took us back to Chalten at 4:00 pm.
The Huemul Glacier trail is short and easy, ideal to complement longer trails such as the Laguna Torre and Laguna de los Tres.