I’ll just start by saying that we loved El Chalten. Not necessarily the little town itself, but the trekking that can be done around it.
When we arrived in El Chalten we had already seen the magnificent glacier Perito Moreno, after some trekking in Torre del Paine National Park, Chile.
So we were already charged with some of the most spectacular landscapes South America has to offer when reaching the promised land of El Chalten, the self-proclaimed “The Trekking Capital of Argentina”.
That being said, we were wondering if the next couple of days spent in El Chalten would really make the trip worthwhile. We read about El Chalten best hikes in the beautiful nature of Los Glaciares National Park, but little did we know that the two hikes we did here will come as a wonderful and unexpected surprise.
After a short 3 hours bus trip from El Calafate, we checked in at our hostel, got hold of some hiking maps and planned our next 2 days.
We decided to do the easier trek to Laguna Torre on the first day, and leave the more strenuous and longer trek to Laguna de Los Tres for the second day.
Why should you go hiking in El Calafate:
- First of all, unlike the long, multi-day trek such as the W circuit in the Chilean Torres del Paine, you have the option to do short half day or full day treks, returning to rest at the same accommodation in El Chalten
- There are many options for self-guided tours but also organized tours if you want to get closer or trek the Glaciar Viedma.
- All the treks start almost right outside you hostel’s door and they are very well marked and maintained.
- The treks are relatively easy and doesn’t require a high level of fitness except for the final hour of the very steep hike to Laguna de Los Tres
- You don’t need a permit to hike, just set off
- If you have a tent and decide to camp, you can do it for free (also entering the park is free). You can choose between De Agostini, Poincenot and the more remote and quiet Rio Blanco, just 30 minutes off your last push to the top. The advantage of camping is that getting the sunrise is much easier.
- The flora and the fauna is well preserved
- And of course the most important reason of all: standing in front of the amazing Fitz Roy
Trek 1, Laguna Torre:
So our first day began early in the morning, after a very nice breakfast, with a clear destination in mind: Laguna Torre, the second most popular hike in El Chalten after Fitz Roy. The 20 km (approx. 6 hrs) hike starts just outside town and it follows the course of Fitz River without much elevation. The weather was nice, sunny with occasional winds and some clouds hovering over the Cerro Torre peaks, but that was pretty normal.
Once you pass the first camping site, you can fill up your bottle from one of the numerous fresh water springs along the way.
Just as we’ve been warned, when we reached the Lagoon, the weather changed quickly and the clouds started to build up blocking the view to Cerro Torre peaks.
Trek 2, Laguna de Los Tres:
The second day, we set off for Laguna de Los Tres and Mt Fitz Roy, an 8 hrs trail with 700 m elevation. Some people, in order to make the trek easier, take a taxi to Hostal Pillar (no.5 on the map above) about 17 km north and cut off an hour from the trek and reduce the vertical climb. Arguably this is more scenic route and reduces the chance to overlap the trails by returning to El Chalten via classical route, making a round circuit.
We didn’t, so we started our ascent to Laguna Capri, quite difficult I might say, considering you do half of the elevation in about 1-1.5 hrs.
After that, the trail takes you to Camp Poincenot and it’s rather easy. The water is drinkable after this point.
We took a side trail to see Glacier Piedras Blancas which added about an hour but we also got to see a little bit extra.
Going through the forest with glimpses of Fitz Roy in the background was magical.
Then, we were ready to start our final climb. It is rocky, steep and very challenging but the close-up view of the mountain and its glacier lakes is one of the most picturesque spots we’ve have ever seen. I even dare to say that it is on par with the great views from The Kilimanjaro climb, especially since it’s only a day hike.
At this point, you need to be lucky. We’ve been told that you can only see Fitz Roy without clouds about 10 days in a month. Even on those days, it might be different according to the time you get there. We had the Sun on our side and we managed to take these pictures:
Tips for enjoying El Chalten best hikes:
- Bring many layers of clothing as weather can change for the worst in a matter of minutes
- Bring a printed map along with your GPS on the phone
- With an average of 20-25 km per day, these are quite long treks so proper, comfortable hiking shoes are essential.
- Might be a good idea to have some muscle relaxant, it will help you recover after a strenuous trek.
- It gets very cold and windy close to the glaciers so make sure you pack a windproof jacket, hat, gloves and scarf.
- Pack some food for lunch and also snacks or energy bars for the moments you need a boost
Getting to El Chalten:
- by plane, the nearest airport is in El Calafate
- by bus from El Calafate about 3 hrs
- by bus from Bariloche about 24 hrs
- by bus from Puerto Natales (Chile) about 8 hrs