El Chaltén is THE trekking capital of Argentina and the next stop on our Patagonian adventure. The drive from El Calafate to El Chaltén is about 220km but makes for a great road trip full of amazing views. As we travelled down the famous Ruta 40, a picture perfect stretch of the Andes Mountains came into view. Excitement continued to build, as I knew that we would be spending time in those gorgeous mountains once we got to El Chaltén.
If you are a fan of the Patagonia clothing brand, then you will very quickly recognize that this is the mountain range used as part of the brands logo. The impressive granite pinnacles spiralling upward from the third largest ice field on the planet is just way too cool. Chaltén – meaning “smoking mountains” – was named by the regions indigenous people due to the clouds that gather around the peaks making the mountains look like they are on fire. We were very lucky to have crystal clear views of Chaltén/Fitz Roy, Argentina’s highest granite spire in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.
Founded in 1985 to help Argentina claim the land before Chile, El Chaltén now eats, sleeps and breaths trekking. We only stayed here for two nights (at the Hosteria El Paraiso) but I could have easily stayed much longer. I loved the bohemian, trekking vibe that pulsed through this place. Trekking all day and enjoying craft beers all night – sign me up again and again. If you find yourself here be sure to make a visit to La Vineria. We found ourselves here enjoying sundowners a couple of times. Great vibe, tons of lovely wines and a couple of large refrigerators holding tasty artisanal beers. It is a perfect place to chill in El Chaltén with friends old and new after a long day of trekking.
There are lots of trekking options available to you in El Chaltén – most of which take place within the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Ranging from simple to some of the most tough in the world, it’s very easy to find the trail(s) for you.
Here are some of the top treks/walks available to you while in El Chaltén.
// LOS CÓNDORES AND LAS ÁGUILAS VIEWPOINTS
The Los Cóndores’ trailhead is located at the National Park Visitors’ Centre. It is the shortest hike from El Chaltén, but offers panoramic views of the Adela, Torre and Fitz Roy massifs. Be sure to watch for condors as they fly through the Río de Las Vueltas Valley. You can also make your way to the Las Águilas viewpoint. This additional trailhead is located about 15 minutes before the Los Cóndores viewpoint and allows you to look out over the steppe and admire the views of Viedma Lake. Clearly not as dramatic as some of the other treks in the area, it is a perfect option if you want a quick and easy trek with lovely views.
Distance: 6km (3.5miles) Duration: 1.5-2 hours
// LAGUNA TORRE
Laguna Torre is one of the most popular hikes in El Chaltén and is often considered THE classic hike of the area. Take one of the two trail-heads in town and start your journey to Laguna Torre. Passing through the Fitz Roy river valley you’ll make your way to the viewpoint Cascada Margarita – which offers a panoramic view of the Cerro Solo, the Adela range, Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. Continuing along the steep path you will eventually get to the halfway point – the beautiful Cerro Torre Mirador. The path will continue along the Río Fitz Roy past the DeAgostini Camp. If you are camping here, then this is your stop. Just a few minutes further along the trail you will finally get to Laguna Torre. Depending on the weather, some may make their way to the lake’s northern shore to admire the tower views at the Maestri Mirador.
Distance: 24km (15miles) Duration: 6-7 hours
//LAGUNA DE LOS TRES
Up for a bit of a challenge and want to get the best views of Fitz Roy and the surrounding glaciers? Then the Laguna De Los Tres trek is the one for you. It’s definitely the longest and most difficult of all the day hikes around El Chaltén. There are a couple of campsites along the way that can help you break up the trip if you like (Poincenot and Río Blanco), but get an early start and tackle this hike in a day. The trailhead starts in town at the end of Avenida San Martín and end at the Laguna de Los Tres. The first hour is quite steep, then follows along beautiful streams and forest for a few hours, until the last kilometer which is quite a challenging ascent. Standing at the Laguna De Los Tres with the most stunning view of Fitz Roy makes it all worth it. Be sure to make your way down to the lagoon and up the next mound on the left where you will get views of Laguna Sucia as well. TIP: On your way back down follow the path past Laguna Capri – another lovely trek hike in the area which shares the same trailhead.
Distance: 26km (16miles) Duration: 8-10 hours
Don’t have the time or the physical ability to make it to the top? The trek to emerald Laguna Capri is a great alternative that shows off the areas natural beauty and offers lovely views of Fitz Roy. Sharing the same trail head as the Laguna De Los Tres hike, make your way to the end of Avenida San Martin and start your trek. Your first hour will still be the same steep trek as you enter into the Rio De Las Vueltas valley. You’ll get the same views of the mountains as the Laguna De Los Tres trek – which is great. After about an hour you will get to a sign that says go left for Laguna Capri or right to Fitz Roy. Go left and you’ll eventually arrive at Laguna Capri. If you have the time, I would suggest either continuing the path through the forest and around to the Mirador del Fitz Roy. You can also backtrack the path until you get to the fork-in-the-road sign and continue for another 15 minutes to get to the lovely mirador. You’ll even find a placard infographic that will break down what each of the peaks are. Great spot for photos.
Distance: 12km (7.5miles) Duration: 3-4 hours
// LAGUNA DE LOS TRES AND PIEDRA DEL FRAILE
Like the idea of the Laguna De Los Tres trek and want to amp up the challenge? Be sure to check out the Piedra del Fraile trek. This multiday trek follows the same route towards Laguna De los Tres, but ends at the Piedra Del Fraile Refugio. Most campers overnight at Campground Poincenot and enjoy amazing views of Fitz Roy and then make their way to the Piedra del Fraile Refugio. There are a few additional options once you have made your way here – what you decide to do will depend both on time and physical ability. From Piedra del Fraile some continue the their journey to the Pollone Glacier (2 hours each way). Some choose to spend an extra day on the mountain and make their way up to Piedra Negra campsite – the campsite used by climbers of Fitz Roy. Regardless of what you choose, these treks will get you fantastic vies of the north face of the Fitz Roy mountain.
Distance: 58km (36miles) Duration: 3-5 days
// PASO DEL VIENTOS/HUEMUL CIRCUIT
Considered the most difficult of the El Chaltén hiking trails, the Paso Del Vientos/Huemul Circuit is definitely for experienced trekkers. While the trail itself is only a bit longer than Piedra Del Fraile, the terrain is far more challenging. While a lot of the trails already mentioned can be done self-guided, I’d suggest you look into going with an organized group. Groups tend to cover this trek over a 3 to 5 day period and end at an amazing viewpoint over the Southern Ice Field. The ice field is the world’s third largest frozen water source after Antarctica and Greenland. Be sure to enjoy the beautiful views of the Viedma Glacier, the Upsala Glacier, and the Mariano Moreno mountain range before making your way back to town. If you are thinking about doing this trek be sure to do your research, ensure you have the right equipment, hire a guide and ensure you have your blister plasters ready.
Distance: 65km (40miles) Duration: 3-5 days
There is one more hidden gem in El Chaltén that is worth a visit, especially if you have been trekking your way through Patagonia. That is the Yaten Spa & Health Club. Yes – I said spa. There is a Leg Regeneration treatment there that is a must-do for anyone carrying aches and pains in their legs. The therapist, who formerly worked for the NBA conducting these treatments, starts by massaging Criogel on both legs for about 10 minutes. The cooling gel wastes no time sinking deep into the muscle tissue. Your legs are then wrapped in ice-cold towels that have been sitting in ice buckets from the time your treatment started.
Ice bricks (the ones you put in a cooler box) are then placed on the back of your legs and left there for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes the towels and the ice bricks are replaced and you endure another 10 minutes of the treatment. During your treatment you are covered in warm blankets to help keep you warm as your body temperature drops. In fact, I remember being quite cold a couple hours after the treatment as the Criogel did its finishing touches. It was quite literally the coolest spa treatment I have ever had. Post-treatment I felt like I had a new set of legs – pain free, and ready to adventure on through the rest of Patagonia. If you are doing the same, do yourself a favor and book yourself in.