Things were looking up as we arrived in El Calafate, in the Argentinian Patagonia, en route to El Chaltén. After a quick plane ride north and a free ride from the airport from an American couple that decided we reminded them of their children (unclear if our adopted dad knew how to drive stick-shift, but we made it to the bus station alive), we boarded a bus under clear, blue skies and spent the next three hours soaking in the stunning Patagonia vistas on our way to El Chaltén.
El Chaltén is a trekker’s Mecca located in middle-of-nowhere Patagonia, Argentina. Over millions of years, crashing tectonic plates and sliding glaciers have created an incredibly picturesque landscape, including the iconic Fitz Roy mountain (the inspiration for the Patagonia clothing brand logo!). The tiny town of 1,000 people recently sprouted up for the sole purpose of serving the hoards of hikers, climbers and campers that attempt to take on the surreal mountains. The result: an awesome collection of hostels, restaurants, bars and laundromats (genius) and an even more awesome collection of international travelers.
Arriving to a cozy hostel, we relaxed in town our first night as we prepared for three full days of the outdoors. The weather held up over the three days and we enjoyed clear views of the main draws of Glacier National Park – the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre peaks.
- On our first day, we headed out on the “10 km” hike to Fitz Roy’s Laguna de los Tres. For 9 km, we traversed a relatively flat terrain enjoying the beautiful views. We were warned that the final “1 km” would be tough, but were still completely exhausted by the steep, rocky final climb (which we agreed with everyone around us was way longer than 1 km). But, the view of the Fitz Roy, and the glacial blue lagoon at its base, was well worth the climb. For the next two hours we relaxed and admired the insane view, occasionally dozing off. Eventually, with the sun making it’s way West, we peeled ourself away and started on the 4 hour trek back. Along the way, we met Ricky and Leo, travelers from the UK and Argentina who met last year at a bar in Vegas and decided to meet up in El Chaltén (naturally). After three hours of chatting, the four of us arrived back in town at 8 PM and headed straight to happy hour, dinner and out to a music festival (with the rest of the town’s dirty hikers who hadn’t yet managed to shower).
- The next day we decided to take it easy and rented bikes with Leo (Ricky had to head home, being one of the few travelers we met who is actually still employed). After a quick pit stop to devour some delicious empanadas, we began biking out of town. Our “easy” day quickly failed when the silky-smooth paved road abruptly came to an end. After 10 (painful) km gripping the handlebars and squeezing the seat, we admitted defeat, and, after taking a polar plunge into the freezing river, relaxed amidst the stunning, mountainous landscape. We spent the next hours learning about Argentinian politics, culture and family-life from Leo while sharing some of our own knowledge of America (and continually finding ourselves apologizing for Donald Trump). We returned to town (with bruised palms and butts) to enjoy another night of happy hour, cooking dinner and the music festival.
- Our last day we hiked to Cerro Torre with Leo and Jonathan (our posse was slowly growing…). After a 9km trek over a relatively flat path, we arrived at the picturesque peaks and an iceberg-filled lake. But, just as we arrived, the winds picked up whipping freezing gusts and sharp dust. We enjoyed the view crouching behind a rock shelter (where we made 3 new friends also hiding from the wind). After making the 9 km trek back to town, we enjoyed a final night of happy hour and a farewell dinner of carne and lamb with our El Chaltén friends (which by then grew to a group of 8!).
We were sad to board the bus back to El Calafate. El Chaltén offered incredible hiking, stunning scenery and a small town vibe that facilitated making friends. El Chaltén is a must-go destination for anyone who loves the outdoors. Though the trails are long, they aren’t too difficult, and the unbelievable beauty of Glacier National Park makes them well worth the effort!
Things To Do:
- Hike, hike and hike. There are several trails throughout the park, with the trails to Fitz Roy (called “Laguna de los Tres”) and Cerro Torre (called “Laguna Torre”) being the most popular. Both trails also offer campsites for anyone interested in camping and waking up early to see the sunrise hit the massive rocky peaks.
- Tour agencies offer other outdoor options, from glacier trekking to rafting to kayaking. As mentioned, renting mountain bikes is an option, though keep in mind our bruised butts when taking one out on the rocky backroad.
- Happy hours are abundant throughout the town. They are perfectly timed with your return and offer a chance to meet a lot of fellow travelers.
Accommodations: We made the mistake of staying near the bus stop and making friends shacked up on the other side of town. We recommend choosing a hostel, B&B or lodge on the main road, San Martin, about a 10 minute walk from the bus stop; that’s where the trails begin, more people stay and more restaurants serve dinner.
Days Stayed / Recommended: We were in El Chaltén for four days, with three full days of activities. It’s certainly possible to spend more time in town if you want to take on more trails or do overnight camping. Clouds often impede the views at Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre; we were lucky enough to experience three days of clear skies, but you may want to build in some flexibility in case the clouds roll in and you want to wait a day to hike and see the sites in all their glory.
Local Food: Amazing beer! Microbreweries were found all over town and we loved the local beers. We were regulars at one brewery called De Los Tres. We also enjoyed killer empanadas at Che Empanada (definitely recommend the carne options).