“Oh we love El Chalten. You can do day hikes and there’s no park fee and Fitz Roy is beautiful.”
When somebody tells you this with excitement in their voice and sparkle in their eyes, and you still do otherwise, there must be something wrong with you right? I know this because once upon a time I decided to ignore the sparkle in somebody’s eyes. It’s not something out of habit but I’m running out of funds and Argentina has a lot to do with that.
Fast forward to Puerto Natales, another girl tells me this – “Between Torres del Paine and El Chalten, I’d go for El Chalten. In Torres it’s like walk walk walk then wow walk walk walk then wow. In El Chalten it’s consistently nice.” Now while this kind of description is very subjective (cause I liked Torres del Paine even though I didn’t hike it) it still hit me that I missed it. So I backtracked to Argentina and to this place called El Chalten.
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From Puerto Natales I took a bus to El Calafate (4hrs) then to El Chalten (3hrs) all in one day. I got in town sometime in the afternoon but it should be noted that the bus between El Calafate and El Chalten can sell out especially during peak season. Buy tickets in advance and if coming from Chile, buy it from there cause I got mine at a slightly lower price doing that.
El Chalten is a small town in between mountains. But it is far from being off the beaten path. Nowadays I think it mostly runs for tourism. And almost everyone will be outdoors in Argentina’s trekking capital.
There are restaurants, souvenir shops, and outdoor stores but most of them will not accept credit cards so before heading out, get cash in El Calafate.
Budget options are also not a lot in this town.
When you wake up in the morning, you can just walk to one end of town (or the other) then start the trek. It’s really that easy and most importantly – free. Sadly though when I woke up it was grey and raining. I could see the diagonal drops of rain, evidence of the winds outside. I was warm from where I was sitting and I could just watch the trekkers passing by the window all day. But I didn’t.
After consuming my unending encounter with bread and butter and jam and dulce de leche for breakfast, I put on my non-waterproof jacket. We’ve been through a lot so I think we can get through a little more Patagonia rain, albeit wet.
Now there are two mainstream day treks in El Chalten: Laguna Torre (for Cerro Torre) and Laguna De Los Tres (for Cerro Fitz Roy). These are the ones I usually hear from people’s raves. A long hike but is possible to do in one day.
But there are also shorter treks for those wanting to take it easy or in my case, if the weather isn’t cooperating. I decided to check out Mirador Fitz Roy instead for my rainy day. It’s more or less 3-4 hours walk back and forth. And along the way there’s a view of Rio de las Vueltas but that area was so much windy I thought I was gonna be blown away and nobody will ever know.
As predicted, there was no Fitz Roy that day. Sigh. One should really have adjustable schedule when in Patagonia to compensate with the weather.
Aside from that it was pretty much an easy hike and there was no chance for me getting lost cause the trail was well defined, felt weird at first though. If you’re still worried, I found that Maps.me covers the trails in the area too. On the way back, side trip to Laguna Capri. On a good day this is a nice short walk from town to see Fitz Roy over a lake.
Another day trek that I took but farther than Mirador Fitz Roy, is Laguna Torre. This took me around 6 hours through varied landscape back and forth.
Notice these guys below. This is one of the big difference between trekking in El Chalten and Torres del Paine. You walk without a big pack on your back. Day hikes, yes?
On a good day this gives an awesome view of one of the sharpest climbs in the world – Cerro Torre.
Wait it should be out there somewhere *squint
Now my friend here is amazing. Wearing only shorts, a really light leggings, and a non-waterproof jacket (just like me!). Good thing it didn’t rain that day or we’ll be miserable lol.
Finally, let me say that El Chalten can also be a multi day hike. Although I didn’t have experience on this, the treks I mentioned plus some other farther out can be combined to create a more intense adventure. There are several campsites but I’m not sure if there are refugios like those in Torres del Paine. Most are free though.