El Chaltén, Argentina: The Day Hiking Capital of Patagonia

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View of Fitz Roy from El Chaltén bus station—C.Helbig

No camping! That had been the key request. Mike wanted a comfy bed and hot shower at the end of a long day of hiking in Patagonia. I had always associated Torres del Paine in Chile with epic Patagonian hikes. Much to my dismay, I read that the best way to see those iconic rock spires was on multi-day treks. Then, with a little research, I leaned about El Chaltén, Argentina. This tiny town sits underneath the mother of Patagonia’s granite towers, Mount Fitz Roy. It’s a charmingly quirky place with an end-of-the-earth feel and plenty of accommodations to suit hikers of all budgets. Trailheads to the most amazing day hikes in Patagonia start right in town. Let me introduce you to a few of them.

Laguna de los Tres (Fitz Roy)

Distance: 22-km (13.7 miles) roundtrip El Pilar route
Time: 8-10 hours
Elevation Gain: 750 m (2460 ft)

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Fitz Roy towers over Laguna de los Tres (right) and Laguna Sucia (left)—C.Helbig

Laguna de los Tres (also called Cerro Fitz Roy) was our favourite hike in our 4 days in El Chaltén. Many hikers charge to the end point where the fabulous turquoise-coloured laguna (lake) provides the closest views of the Fitz Roy Massif.  But the entire trail is stunning beyond words— massive glaciers, dramatic peaks, idyllic lakes, gurgling streams and brilliant fall foliage if you time it right. We savoured every step. It’s a longish hike but not particularly difficult; only the last kilometre is a bit of a grunt. I loved this hike so much that I’m going to do another post with details and lots of photos.

 

Laguna Torre

Distance: 18 km (11.2 miles) roundtrip
Time: 6-7 hours
Elevation Gain: 250 m (820 ft)

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Ice cube anyone? Laguna Torre—C.Helbig

Seeing the peak of Cerro Torre eluded us (apparently a very common occurrence). It was a bit disappointing, but even without the darn peak, the hike to Laguna Torre is a beauty and we again enjoyed the journey as much as the destination. Plus, the iceberg lake looked very dramatic with the menacing grey clouds and bits of sunlight streaming through. There’s a great rest stop 3 km into the hike at Mirador Torre (Torre Viewpoint).  Although Torre was enveloped in cloud, the surrounding peaks were clear and looked amazing with the foreground of dazzling crimson and gold. This is a relatively easy hike with a gradual uphill all the way to the lake.

 

Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

Distance: 20 km (12.5 miles) roundtrip
Time: 7-8 hours
Elevation Gain: 1000m (3280 ft)

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Mike at the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado viewpoint looking down on Laguna Torre—C.Helbig

The ranger at the Visitor Center told us that the Loma del Pliegue hike has the best panoramic views of both Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy.  We set out on a day that looked promising. Parts of the sky were clear blue, but thick clouds were parked firmly in front of the elusive peaks. We hung out on the rocky viewpoint hoping the strong wind would push away the clouds. It only managed to seep into our bones and hurry us back into the sheltered forest. We have no regrets though, and in fact Mike loved this hike. There’s a real beauty in the barrenness of the windswept plateau and it was very cool to see Laguna Torre from on high. I especially enjoyed the peacefulness of this hike; it attracts far fewer hikers than Laguna Torre and Laguna de los Tres. Don’t let the elevation gain scare you, it’s pretty evenly distributed over the 10 km with no super steep section like the Laguna de los Tres hike.

 

Laguna Capri 

Distance: 8 km (5 miles) roundtrip
Time: 3.5-4 hours
Elevation Gain: 350 m (1148 ft)

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Mike enjoying a perfect moment at Laguna Capri—C.Helbig

We had passed by Laguna Capri on our way back from Laguna de los Tres and I made a mental note to return another day if time permitted. I’m so glad we did. Laguna Capri deserves an extended visit especially on a calm, sunny day. We brought a picnic lunch and sat by its peaceful shore watching Cerro Fitz Roy make peek-a-boo appearances with the shifting clouds. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more exquisite fall foliage than at Laguna Capri. The viewpoint at Mirador Rio de las Vueltas is sublime and I could easily have sat there for hours. The Laguna Capri trail is a total gem of an easy, short hike.

 

Los Condores Viewpoint

Distance: 2 km
Time: 1-1.5 hours

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Andean condor at Los Condores viewpoint, El Chaltén

This is an easy little hike that starts right at the Visitor Centre and has a big wow factor if you’re a fan of large birds of prey. Andean condors, the largest flying birds in the world, have wingspans of up to 3.3 m (10 ft 10 in). We were at the viewpoint early one morning and watched the giant creatures soaring above El Chaltén. It’s a nice spot too for views to the town, and when it’s clear to Mt Fitz Roy.

If You Go 

 

  • El Chaltén is most easily accessed from the town of  El Calafate (213 km away), which has an airport with regular flights from Buenos Aires.
  • There are several bus companies that provide transportation between El Calafate and El Chaltén (3-4 hours). We used Las Lengas, which conveniently departed from El Calafate airport and took us directly to our hostel in El Chaltén.
  • El Chaltén is a small place but has a surprisingly good selection of accommodations, restaurants, bakeries and mini-markets.
  • The main hiking season runs from October to April with busiest times December through February.  Many services shut down from May through September.
  • We think our April timing (2nd week) was perfect. There are less visitors and the fall colours take this amazing place over the top.
  • The weather is fickle and it is often windy (very windy). Bring layers, down jacket, rain gear, hats, gloves, and of course good hiking shoes/boots. During our stay, the temperatures ranged from about 0 C (32 F) to 13 C (55 F).
  • We found hiking poles useful. We brought ours from home but you can rent them in town.
  • All trails are very well marked and maintained. A good first stop is the excellent Los Glaciares National Park Visitor Center at the entrance of town. They have maps (the one below) and helpful rangers.

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Categories: Activities, Argentina, Hiking, Places | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

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38 thoughts on “El Chaltén, Argentina: The Day Hiking Capital of Patagonia

  1. Pingback: My 10 Perfect Moments in Argentina | Writes of Passage

  2. Beautiful story and pictures! Autumn has a certain charm as well as a background 🙂 I haven’t been to all these places you mentioned, now i wish i had stayed longer in El Chalten :))

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’ve got really beautiful pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Road Trip Part 1: Argentina’s Valles Calchaquíes, Salta-Molinos-Cafayate Loop | Writes of Passage

  5. Beautiful, hope to visit that area someday but must save and earn my passage.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: The Astounding Size, Sound and Beauty of Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier | Writes of Passage

  7. Pingback: Laguna de los Tres (Fitz Roy): The Iconic Patagonian Hike in all its Fall Finery | Writes of Passage

  8. I’m so into the colors of Patagonia you’ve captured in your photos. For a long time managing to explore this area seemed daunting to me, but thanks to this post, I’m pretty certain I want to be based in El Chaltén too.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. What a beautiful bouquet of hikes!! I was particularly interested in the condor hike, as we saw these magnificent creatures in Peru, or Ecuador, although I can’t remember quite where. All of your photographs are quite beautiful and alluring.

    Peta

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Peta! The condor viewpoint is very special. Although you can see condors high in the sky throughout the region, at this mirador they swoop low and you get to see how really large and graceful they are. Mike and I were transfixed watching them soar just above us. If it weren’t for the biting wind and cold we would have stayed at the viewpoint much longer. Cheers, Caroline

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  10. this is my first time to visit your blog, nice to meet you 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Brian Foster

    Some very lovely terrain. You two certainly have lots of energy to burn. Good on ya.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I would have never guessed that Argentina is such a wonderful place for hiking, Caroline. I am definitely adding El Chaltén to my bucket list and I hope to cross it off soon. When’s the best time of the year to go hiking there?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad you learned something new about Argentina. We enjoyed early April but hiking season runs October to April with December through February being most popular.

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  13. You did this right, plunking down in my favorite little town of El Chalten and doing lots of different hikes. We did a few but kept moving around to do other things in the area. As you know, I was one of the unlucky souls who saw virtually nothing on some of the hikes with the theoretically best views. Therefore, it’s particularly fun to see your photos, especially at the top of the Laguna de los Tres hike. In spite of our bad luck, we still found El Chalten to be one of our top stays in Argentinian Patagonia!

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    • Lexi, I thought of you many times while in El Chalten. Your wonderful (heartbreaking to a hiker) post reminded me how lucky we were (and that we shouldn’t complain the next day when Torre was concealed). Thought of you again when we enjoyed a post hike beer at La Cervezeria. Yes, awesome place El Chalten!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Caroline, are you back from your travels then? The photographs and your account make me yearn for a series of Patagonian adventures. Adjectives fall short when you are surrounded by such beauty. You must be looking at these photos again and again, if only to prolong the entire experience, eh? The barrenness of Loma del Pliegue Tumbado and the mountains behind is riveting. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Back for a few weeks now and you are absolutely right about me pulling up those photos on my screen and staring at them way too much. Luckily spring has sprung here and I’m excited about getting back into the local mountains for more hiking.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Great post, love the photos! I have to agree with Mike – I’ve been working on my next post, in which I give reasons why I prefer day-hiking. A hot shower and comfortable bed are both on my list too. El Chalten might be a lot like the Many Glacier area in Glacier Park – great day-hikes and showers. Hopefully you’ll get to see how it compares soon.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks! As you know, Many Glaciers has been on my radar for some time and we were foiled last year with the fires. I hope this will be the year. I’m all set with that great hiking map that you recommended.

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  16. Mike Hohmann

    What a fantastic area, just beautiful. First impressions put Fitz Ray and Loma del Pliegue Tumbado at the top of my list, but I’ll have to return for a more in-depth read and examine the map. I’ll likely comment again then as well. Places to go and people to see this morning! Beautiful photos as well -thanks, Caroline.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really all the hikes were great. The weather and seeing (or not seeing) the peaks were influencing factors. I think Loma del Pliegue would be the winner in the right conditions. But I loved every moment of every hike. So grateful I got to visit this place. Thanks Mike.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. So it’s true what I’ve been reading about how unpredictable the weather can be at El Chaltén, although you were lucky to be able to see some breathtaking sights of the peaks themselves as well as that beautiful autumn foliage. This post also reminds me one thing: I haven’t done any proper hiking for more than two years now, and I think I really need to plan a trip focused on that. There’s no better way to appreciate nature and be healthy at the same time than hiking.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Bama, yes you are absolutely correct about the unpredictable weather even in the “good” season. We were very lucky; several locals told us that it is not uncommon for visitors never to see the peaks. I so enjoy hiking-based trips and getting into nature (a great glass of Argentinian red at the end of the day didn’t hurt either). I can’t say enough about the great experience we had in El Chalten.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Be still my heart! What an amazing landscape (not to mention you took some amazing photos!). I hope to get there one day! I’m really looking forward to your upcoming posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My heart still flutters when I think about those hikes. I hope you get there. I’m sure you’d also get a kick out of the town with its eclectic assortment of buildings in various states of construction, not to mention a few excellent brewpubs.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Really beautiful, thanks for sharing. TT

    Liked by 2 people

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