Snow-capped mountains, glaciers, spectacular colorful lakes, forest and much more is what you will find while trekkings in El Chaltén. In this guide you will find all the information about the National Capital of Hiking.
El Chaltén is a town of no more than 2000 permanent inhabitants in the middle of Los Glaciares National Park. This park includes the Perito Moreno glacier, the Upsala glacier, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, several lakes, lagoons of the most incredible colors and the Fitz Roy and Torre mountains, among many other beautiful places.
Founded in 1985, it is often treated as the youngest town or city in Argentina, although this is not the case. The truth is that it has been growing little by little and has positioned itself as one of the most important tourist destinations in Patagonia Argentina.
El Chaltén is known as the National Capital of Trekking, so if you are planning a trip to this area, you will already know that you will be walking a few kilometers a day.
If you are traveling to El Chalten, you cannot leave without visiting the Perito Moreno glacier and El Calafate. We tell you things to do in Calafate in this article.
On the other hand, both Torre and Fitz Roy hills are in great demand by the most daring mountaineers. They may not be the highest hills in the world, but their walls have a complexity that makes them attractive to these adventurers.
In this article we will tell you some things you need to know to plan your best trekkings in El Chaltén.
Why it is called El Chaltén
El Chaltén is the popular name for Cerro Fitz Roy, named after Francisco Pascasio Moreno, or Perito Moreno, an Argentine geographer, scientist and explorer. So the town received that same name.
When I visited El Chaltén for the first time, back in 2007, there was a version circulating that it is a Tehuelche word meaning“smoking mountain“. This is because normally this hill has a cloud at the top and the original inhabitants of the area thought it was a kind of volcano.
Searching for more accurate information about the origin of the word, I came across a story much more attractive which states that El Chaltén does not come from Tehuelche. that the explorers understood what they wanted (not so Perito Moreno who renamed it precisely for that reason) and that the word sounds very vulgar in that language.
Either way, you will see that it is common for Fitz Roy hill to have a small cloud clinging to the summit or, directly, you will find it covered with clouds. You will have the feeling that it could be a volcano.
Best time to visit El Chalten
The best time to visit El Chaltén is during the Argentinean summer, the months of December, January and February. But if you like the cold and want to escape the horde of tourists, you can also visit months before or after this season without problems.
As for the weather, El Chaltén is most unpredictable. It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of summer, there’s the possibility of a snowstorm. Fitz Roy may also be a bit obscured by clouds in the morning, but in the afternoon it may clear and be fully visible. Below you will see an example of this in photographs: there is a photo in which you can see Cerro Torre and we have only walked a few more meters and the hill was already completely covered.
What are the treks in El Chaltén?
1.- Trekking to Los Tres Lagoon
Distance: 10 km. Duration: 4.30 hours (one way). Difficulty: Moderate/High.
This is one of the most popular trekking in El Chaltén. There are several trails to follow, but the most common is the one that starts in the town itself and goes through the Mirador Río de las Vueltas, one of the ends of the Capri Lagoon, several panoramic and information points until arriving at the Poincenot Base Camp. There begins the hardest climb, although it is from the next camp where the slope added to the difficulty of the terrain makes it an arduous task.
I took a different route and did not go through Capri lagoon on the way up. I took a transfer to the Hosteria El Pilar and from there I walked along a trail that passed by the Piedras Blancas Lagoon and Glacier.
📸 Check here the hiking excursion to Capri lagoon, with a mountain guide that will take you to the best viewpoints of Fitz Roy hill. This is a short option if you don’t have time to go up to Los Tres lagoon.
The last meters before reaching the Los Tres lagoon are a bit long. I remember that feeling of“you’re charging me, where’s the loophole“. But once I arrived and saw the color of the water, the glacier and the imposing Fitz Roy clear, I forgot everything. Undoubtedly, it is one of the essential things to do in El Chaltén.
I have a very funny anecdote from when I trekked to Los Tres lagoon. With a couple of (let’s assume) Swiss in their 60s, another Argentinean girl in her 40s and me, 26 years old, we took a minibus to an estancia to avoid starting the trek from El Chaltén and save the first part of the climb. So I started walking with the girl of 40 leaving the Swiss behind. We arrive at Poincenot Base Camp and begin the ascent. After half an hour, the girl decided to leave me behind because I had had enough. Another half hour passes and the Swiss find me almost out of breath, who continue walking at a good pace and also leave me behind. Just to say that I got to the top almost an hour and a half after the Swiss passed me, I was shattered but I saw the Cerro Fitz Roy clear and it has remained in my memory as one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life.
Once at Los Tres lagoon, I remembered a recommendation I had been given before starting the hike to Fitz Roy hill, which is to take the trail to the left that goes to the Sucia lagoon viewpoint (which is not dirty at all).
From Los Tres lagoon you cannot access Sucia lagoon, but to get there you have to take another trail. However, we recommend consulting before doing it because it is not among the most touristic treks in El Chaltén and therefore it could involve some additional difficulty that we are not aware of.
On the way back, I decided that I was not tired enough and once I had done the most important descent, I took the trail that led me through the Mother and Daughter Lagoon that I could see from the top. It rained on the way and while I saw quite a bit of the lagoon, most of it was through forest and forest and I was a little scared that I would get lost and not get to finish it. But, although there are no milestones that tell you how far it is to go, the truth is that the road is well signposted.
📸 Check here the excursion to Los Tres Lagoon with a guide who will accompany you all the way.
2.- Trekking to Torre hill viewpoint.
Distance: 11 km. Duration: 4 hours (one way). Difficulty: Low/Moderate.
The trekking to Torre lagoon is another must to do in El Chaltén. It is relatively easy, or at least it does not have as steep a climb as the one to Fitz Roy hill. Although here too it will depend on the path you choose.
The traditional trail to Torre lagoon includes a 10-kilometer hike through the forest, a couple of viewpoints and the D’Agostini camp to reach the shores of the lake.
Once there, you can border the lagoon to the right until you reach the Maestri viewpoint.
I was on an excursion that took me and my fellow adventurers to the other side, the left. The first great adventure was to cross the Fitz Roy River, which originates in the lagoon, glacier and Torre hill, by ziplining.
Then we walk along the lagoon until we reach another camp, almost at the edge of the glacier.
There we put on our crampons, walked carefully over such a white mass until we reached a very high wall where we climbed on ice. We did not see as many blue and turquoise rivers and waterfalls on the way as you can see while trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier because, as you can see in the pictures, we walked on the moraine and did not go very deep.
Still, both the hike on the Torre glacier and the ice climbing were incredible experiences. I don’t know if it is possible to do it nowadays (you have to check with local agencies).
📸 Check here the excursion to Torre lagoon with a specialized guide.
3.- Trekking to Chorrillo del Salto
Distance: 3 km. Duration: 1 h (one way). Difficulty: Low.
Going to Chorrillo del Salto is one of the easiest treks to do in El Chaltén. The trail runs parallel to Provincial Route 23 where after a 45-minute walk you will reach the 20-meter waterfall.
It will not be one of the most spectacular landscapes you will see in the area, but at least it helped me to rest my feet between the most demanding treks in El Chaltén.
4.- Trekking to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado (Loma del Pliegue Tumbado Hill)
Distance: 12 km. Duration: 4 hours (one way). Difficulty: High.
Loma del Pliegue Tumbado is one of the most demanding treks I have yet to do in El Chaltén. It is a summit of 1500 meters above sea level from which you can get incredible panoramic views of the Laguna Torre and Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy.
Almost halfway there is a fork that leads to another trek a little longer, which is Toro lagoon.
5.- Desert Lake
The Desierto lake was in dispute with Chile until the end of the last century and in the end it was on the Argentine side. However, already at the northern end of the lake there is a Migration post.
The port at the southern end of this lake can be reached by car or bus and then, there are a few treks to do:
- Huemul Glacier: it is only two kilometers to the glacier viewpoint where you will find a small turquoise lagoon. The problem is that the trail is all uphill and its difficulty is moderate, so it may take you an hour to complete the walk. There are incredible views of Desierto lake and, with luck, the north side of Fitz Roy hill. I did this trekking in a half day excursion (at night I was going back to El Calafate).
📸 Check here the excursion to the Desert Lake and make a reservation. Once there you will have time to make your own trekking to the Huemul Glacier or take a boat ride. Includes: transfers and guide.
- Punta Norte: it skirts the east side of Desierto Lake until reaching the other end of the lake. It is about 14 kms and can take up to 4 hours. Upon arrival there is the port where you can return by boat.
- O’Higgins lake: this lake is already on the Chilean side and to do so, you start from the northern end of Desierto lake, you have to migrate and then go to the Chilean side. It is not an easy route, only the outward journey is 15 km and can take about 4 hours to complete. The difficulty is high.
📸 Check here the same excursion to Desierto lake, with navigation and trekking included. Includes: pick-up, transfers, boat ride, hike, snack and guide.
6.-Easy trekkings in El Chaltén: the viewpoints
There are two treks to do in El Chaltén of low difficulty. They share part of the path, so I group them together:
- De los Cóndores viewpoint: this is the first of the viewpoints we encounter along the way and it takes less than an hour to get there. From there you can see the most emblematic mountains of the National Park, the valley of the Vueltas River and the town.
- De las Águilas viewpoint: although you can continue the trail from there, we recommend going back a little to take the other trail that leads to this viewpoint because it is easier. The views from the other viewpoint, which is an hour longer hike, are spectacular both to Viedma lake, Pirámide hill and Bahía Túnel.
7.- Glacier Footprint Trekking
Breaking news! To add more trekking to do in El Chalten, they have inaugurated in this last week (December 2019) the Huella de Glaciares trail which is a trekking of several days linking Argentina with Chile.
There are 120 km that start from the town of El Chaltén and go through some of the trails that we have already mentioned in the previous points until arriving at Villa O’Higgins on the Chilean side.
The route of Huella de Glaciares would be in this order: El Chaltén, Torre lagoon and hill, Poincenot hill, Los Tres lagoon, Piedras Blancas Glacier, Desierto lake, walk or sail to the North Point of the lake and cross the border, navigation to Villa O’Higgins.
The idea is to do it with a tour operator, especially because they will be in charge of accommodation for the hiker (tent, shelter or hostel) and meals. And so the walker only has to concentrate on that and not on carrying extra things.
But if you are an adventurer, you love hiking and these things are a challenge for you, then with the information we have put in this article about the trekking that you can do in El Chaltén, you already have everything you need.
Tips for trekkings in El Chaltén
As you may have seen, there are different trekkings in El Chaltén, some more demanding than others. In general, they require that the person undertaking them be in good physical condition and, if not, as has been my case, a great desire not to miss these beautiful landscapes.
The trails are well marked and signposted but it is also true that there are times when rain or snow can surprise you on the road even in summer.
I share with you these recommendations:
a) Orientation in El Chaltén
Always wear the cellular/mobile phone chargedadditional batteries, physical maps, a GPS-enabled app such as Maps.Me with the map of the downloaded trails and even a traditional compass to find the “east” in the case of these trails and get out of the crossroads (sometimes technology can fail).
b) Luggage for your trekkings in El Chaltén
You should plan well what you are going to carry in your backpack in addition to the items to orient yourself, such as: a windbreaker and rainproof coat, a reusable water bottle to carry, sun hat, sunscreen, sunglasses. And outside the backpack, good footwear to take care of your feet during the long and demanding trekking in El Chaltén.
c) How Many days to visit El Chaltén
Let’s keep it simple. If you have very little time, the trekking I recommend to do is the Fitz Roy and Los Tres lagoon.
If I had two days, I would add the viewpoints closer to the town: Cóndores, Águila and Chorrillo del Salto, for example. Although the first two are to the south and the other to the north, they can be done in one day and are not demanding.
And if I had more days I would add the following trekking: Torre hill, Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, Huemul Glacier in Desierto lake, etc.
d) Traveling with children to El Chaltén
El Chaltén is not a destination for everyone because although the skyline of the Andes can be seen from the road, there are many spectacular corners within the National Park that are only accessible on foot. This leaves out young and old people who are not very prepared for the mountain.
During the planning of the trip to do it with Benji we have seen photos of many parents taking their young children (including 2 years old), very well equipped, so we suspect that these are families who are very fond of the mountain, which we are not.
We also heard from parents who have carried their childrenso for the trekking you can bring your own, or even rent in El Chalténa ergonomic carrier backpackThe baby and the wearer will be able to see if they can withstand the weight by trying a simple trek (Chorrillo del Salto, for example).
If the child walks, you will have to respect their time (they may get tired more easily), carry enough water to keep them hydrated, sun protection, a good coat in case it gets cold and take care that they do not stray from the road or teach them to respect the signs.
Of the treks in El Chaltén, the easiest ones to do with children are:
- Condor Viewpoint
- De las Águilas Viewpoint
- Chorrillo del Salto
- Torre lagoon Viewpoint
If you are not a walker, but you do enjoy the most beautiful landscapes that Patagonia has to offer. By car, you can take provincial route 23 that borders part of the Vueltas River towards the Desierto lagoon, passing by Chorrillo del Salto, Salto del Anillo and other places.
e) Take out a good travel insurance that covers trekking.
When taking out travel insurance, you should be very careful because cheap can be expensive. You have to check very carefully in the particular conditions of the policy (and if not, call the insurance company directly to ask questions) if the policy you think is perfect for you includes hiking and adventure sports.
Buy your travel insurance and travel safe!
🚑 Take a look at these tips for choosing the best travel insurance (updated to 2023 and with juicy discounts) for the type of traveller you are, and they will also help you clear up the most common doubts. Travel safe!
Where to stay in El Chaltén?
To choose the best place to stay in El Chaltén, you have to evaluate what type of trip you are making and luckily there are many options. Some inexpensive examples with good ratings are:
Rancho Grande: budget accommodation in El Chaltén. It offers shared rooms with shared bathroom and private rooms. Restaurant with low prices and excellent service.
- Kalenshen Inn: also in the north of the city, this inn has the added bonus of a heated pool to relax after a hike. Buffet breakfast, fitness center and spa are more of the amenities offered.
- Guille’s place: the 3 B’s in the center of El Chalten (good, nice and cheap). Private rooms with several beds to go with family or share with friends, large breakfast room and communal kitchen and first class service. They lend walking sticks for your trekking.
- Destino Sur Hotel & Spa de Montaña: a five-star hotel with all the comforts for complete relaxation. Spacious alpine-style rooms with mountain views, heated pool and spa.
🛎️ Do you want to look for other options? Find here the best hotels in El Chaltén.
How to get to El Chaltén?
The only way to get to El Chaltén is by land, mostly by bus or car.
The nearest airport is El Calafate, some 200 km to the south, served by Aerolíneas Argentinas/Austral and Latam.
✈️ Search here for cheap flights to El Calafate.
Buses to El Chaltén leave from El Calafate airport or from the city itself. You can also hire shuttle buses or private transfers to travel.
📷 Book here your transfer between El Calafate and El Chaltén.
If you want to travel more freely, you can rent a car at El Calafate airport or in the city.
🚗 Search here for car rentals in El Calafate.
Discounts and useful resources to save on your trip
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