El Chalten

El Chalten is a small village nestled in the mountains within spectacularly beautiful Los Glaciares National Park, home to many of the awesome Patagonia glaciers and a UNESCO World Heritage Site It is located in southern Patagonia, right up against the border with Chile. The border between the two countries is 3,300 miles long. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the route of the border was a matter of dispute, and the village of El Chalten was established in 1985 to secure this section. As border disputes have mostly disappeared, the primary purpose of the village is tourism and it is the undisputed trekking capital of Argentina. The season begins around the first of November, which is the start of summer here in the Southern Hemisphere. The season ends around the end of February.

You can fly into the town of El Calafate from Buenos Aires, Beniloche, and Ushuaia. There are also scenic charter flights from Puerto Natales. From El Calafate, you have about 140 miles of driving to El Chalten – either on daily buses or four by four vehicle rental. There are also numerous trekking companies offering Patagonia tours and trekking packages, many of which will include your transportation.

There are a number of Patagonia hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, and other choices for lodging in the village of El Chalten and surrounding area. One of the more upscale choices is the Hotel Los Cerros built in the style of a large mountain chalet, set beautifully just outside the village and offering 44 rooms with fabulous mountain views. The hotel has a bar, restaurant, shop, and public areas. There are campsites near the village as well as off in the wilderness. The village has grown tremendously in the last couple decades, but it still is little more than a base for trekking in the surrounding region. There are a few restaurants and markets, a couple ATM machines, and a number of shops catering primarily to the outdoor equipment needs of trekkers.

El Chalten Trekking

El Chalten Trekking
El Chalten Trekking

The village of El Chalten is the gateway to some of the best trekking opportunities in Patagonia. There are some iconic routes and attractions outlined below, as well as a number of lesser known hikes and trails. One thing to remember is that the village is set in a valley; all treks require a gentle uphill climb right from the start. After that, you choose your route. If you start out from Bridwell Campground, you have only about 90 minutes before you reach the nearest of the Patagonia glaciers. One of the most spectacular is the Viedma Glacier, which is more than a mile wide where it enters the lake of the same name, where boating excursion are available. Another popular trekking route is across the Continental Icefield, which requires three to five days. This trek is for experienced trekkers, and requires strenuous river crossings and some technical ice climbing. Easier hikes are available to remote Loga del Desierto, a route taking you through a pleasant valley and alongside a river. The two Mirador peaks (Condor and Eagle) are also fairly easy treks and provide great views of the village. There are many other treks available, and even some horseback riding in the company of Argentina gauchos.

Laguna Torre

Laguna Torre
Laguna Torre

A hike to this lovely glacial lake takes about three hours in each direction (total of about 12 miles), and the hike is a fairly easy one through forests. The lake itself is a stunning azure blue.  Scramble up a small moraine and some sand dunes for a breathtaking view of Cerro Torre.

Laguna de Los Tres

Laguna de Los Tres
Laguna de Los Tres

Named for the three French mountaineers who first conquered Mount Fitz Roy, this glittering lake is about fours away from El Chalten. There are campsites before arrival, giving you a chance to recoup before the final fairly strenuous ascent to the lake. From here, you have amazing views of Mt Fitz Roy.  Other than the final ascent, this is quite an easy trek, and can be done round trip in a single day.

Mt Fitz Roy

Mt Fitz Roy
Mt Fitz Roy

This is the highest peak in the national park, and considered to be one of the ultimate goals for serious climbers even though it is just over 11,000 feet – a fairly “average” height. Along with Aconcagua, it is one of Argentina’s most famous peaks. The trail and campsite system is well-established, making it less of an expedition than Aconcagua. The scenery and mountain flora is very unusual on this mountain, with alpine Lenga forest as well as a number of glaciers. The trailhead is quite close to El Chalten village, and the trail is fairly strenuous, but not technical.

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