El Chalten

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El Chaltén was founded in the late 1970s / early 1980s as an outpost in Argentina to anticipate Chile’s land claims for that area. It is still a small town that is best known for being the gateway to Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres, two of the steepest and most impressive peaks in the Patagonian Andes.

El Chaltén is the youngest town in Argentina. Located between Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, this Santa Cruz town is a paradise for trekking and mountaineering fans.

To the southwest of the Argentine province of Santa Cruz, is the town of El Chaltén, which is the youngest in the country and has a stable population of 300 inhabitants. In recent years, El Chaltén has become a continuously growing tourist center, due to its privileged location between Mount Fitz Roy and Mount Torre, the two highest peaks in the region.

El Chaltén is the closest town to the Campo de los Hielos Patagónicos. Its name is due to the first indigenous settlers – the Aonikenk, a subgroup of the Tehuelches – who called Mount Fitz Roy El Chaltén (in their language, chaltén means “blue mountain” or “smoking mountain”).

For fans of mountaineering and trekking, El Chaltén is an unavoidable destination: both the Chorrillo del Salto waterfall, Mount Fitz Roy (3,441 m high) and Cerro Torre (3,128 m) have trails for hiking or to be scaled. There are other crossings, of less importance but equally beautiful, such as Lago del Desierto, Lago Viedma and Lago San Martin.

Where is El Chalten

El Chaltén is a town of no more than 1,500 inhabitants, located in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz, which has accommodations for travelers. The offer to venture into trekking is multiple, although the trails are set up based on the two highest peaks in the region: Mount Fitz Roy and Mount Torre.

El Chalten Map

Why is it the capital of trekking

When it comes to trekking (in short version), Laguna Capri is one of the possible destinations, with tempting places to camp by the water and a magnificent view of the entire Fitz Roy. Another option is to go to Chorrillo del Salto, a waterfall just over 15 meters high, located on the last stretch of the Las Vueltas river.

If you want to go through a longer route, you can take either of the two roads that open in a V from El Chaltén: the base of Mount Fitz Roy and Laguna Torre. On the way to Fitz Roy, the itinerary begins at the Madsen campsite, from where it descends to the Chorrillo del Salto valley, a stone plain eroded by the wind. It takes three more hours of walking to reach the Blanco River and step on the long-awaited ground at the base of Mount Fitz Roy (3,441 meters). If the traveler wishes to continue for two more hours, he can go up to Laguna de los Tres -at the foot of the hill-, where there is a rock with a privileged view of the Sucia Lagoon and the glacier from which it rises, some 300 meters below.

The different excursions allow you to admire the beauties of the flora and fauna: lagoons, waterfalls, rivers that receive water from glaciers and, of course, hills. The diversity of these landscapes in which lenga and ñire forests converge is invaded by the typical animals of the region: hares, red foxes, pumas and black eagles.

Recognized as the Argentine capital of trekking, the Santa Cruz town of El Chaltén also offers other crossings, such as Lago del Desierto, Lago Viedma and Lago San Martín.

How to get to El Chaltén

By bus:

From El Calafate: Daily buses take 3 hours to travel the 222 kilometers on a fully paved road.

The price of the buses is 1000 pesos each way (December 2019).

The prices are as follows: The one way ticket to El Chalten is 1600 pesos, the round trip is around 2000 pesos, the round trip to El Chalten + Moreno Glacier 2200 pesos (from 12/18 ).

From Bariloche: Buses travel Route 40 through a desert and mostly paved landscape that takes approximately 24 hours.

On the way, they stop at El Bolsón, Esquel, Perito Moreno and Los Antiguos (12 hours to El Chalten).

By car:

If you are coming from the north, keep in mind that as of April 2016, some 70 km of the road between Gobernador Gregores and Tres Lagos is still gravel (gravel) and mainly in poor condition.

It passes through some hills, is very windy and offers little or no shelter from the wind. Especially due to the rain and snow, a 4WD car had a difficult time passing some sections of this road, and some cyclists felt very bad.

The city gas station is a single pump installed on the main road just outside the city (inside a bright blue shipping container with the YPF symbol). It is open from 9 to 12 and from 15 to 20 hours. If they have run out of gas, they are likely to wait until the next day no earlier than 10 a.m. for a refueling truck to arrive (like most gas stations in the southern half of Patagonia).

What to do in El Chalten

The information point of the national park (on the other side of the bridge, about 500 meters from the bus station) is very useful with all the information about trekking and activities.

Desert Lake.

It is reached through a gravel road one way (about 37 km one way) that takes you to the very remote Lago del Desierto through a wonderful valley along a river. You can take easy walks and walks there and enjoy the peace and quiet. Edit

Viedma Glacier Navigation

Viedma Lake Navigation and Viedma Glacier Trek

The departure is from the Port of Bahía Túnel (18 km from Chaltén).

The boat sails along the front of the glacier, as it passes it is possible to see large icebergs, the celestial skies and walls that rise 40 meters above the level of the lake. This sector is the ideal place for informative talks on glaciology given by experienced guides. Then the disembarkation is made on the rocky promontory in front of the Viedma Glacier to begin a brief walk through the terrain, which a few years ago was occupied by the glacier. After a few minutes you will reach the edge of the glacier where all visitors wear crampons necessary to climb the glacier. The trek is two and a half hours over the Viedma Glacier. The trekking guides are in charge of the safety of the trek and share their knowledge about the area. During the course of the trek you can find sinkholes, crevices and caves. During the excursion there will be a break for lunch.

Viedma Glacier Navigation

Trekking in El Chalten

This area is a trekking mecca.

Called the capital of trekking, the Santa Cruz town of El Chaltén is the starting point to venture on the trails of Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, the two highest peaks in the region.

Trekking to the Caprí Lagoon

It starts from the path at the end of the town, which begins with a somewhat steep slope, which continues for 1h30 ‘over a gap of about 350m, to access the first viewpoint. From there you will have the first and spectacular view of Cerro Fitz Roy, flanked by the Poicenot, Saint Exupéry, Mermoz and Guillaumet needles.

After 15 more minutes, you will reach the first mountain base camp of Montaña Capri, from where the homonymous lagoon is meters away, with views of mountains and forests and Mount Fitz Roy. Duration: 1.45 h.

Trekking Laguna de los Tres

Laguna de los 3 trekking

This is the most classic hike and one of the most beautiful in the area, as it leads us to the foot of the mythical Mount Fitz Roy. There are two ways to start this route, from El Pilar (20 km from Chaltén), which is what is suggested, or from Chaltén itself, as a second option:

Option start from El Pilar: This trailhead is almost 20 kilometers from El Chaltén, which is why a land transfer is needed to start, which can be regular or private. The advantages of doing it from this point are several: it is less effortful, since there is not as much slope as when starting from El Chaltén; The path is not repeated, since it ends going down to Laguna Capri and then El Chaltén; and it allows to know more landscapes, such as the Piedras Blancas Glacier.

From El Pilar, it is allowed to access the Río Blanco base camp in a faster and less effortful way, in just 2 hours of travel, as it is the shortest route with little unevenness. In addition to enjoying the view of the Piedras Blancas Glacier.

The path begins with few undulations, which goes through a lenga forest to the viewpoint of the Piedras Blancas Glacier, where it is reached after only 1 hour 30 minutes of walking. From there you can enjoy an incredible view in front of the aforementioned glacier and its lagoon, located at the foot of Mount Fitz Roy.

Then there is only 30 minutes of walking to get to the Poicenot camp and another 15 minutes to get to Río Blanco. This is where the aforementioned 1h trail begins. 15 ‘to Laguna de los Tres, the viewpoint of Mount Fitz Roy, with an unparalleled view of the lagoon and its homonymous glacier with the Mount Fitz Roy massif emerging from the ice over 2000 m high.

The return to the town of El Chaltén is done by passing through the Capri Lagoon, and descending the end of this path. Duration approx: 7hs. Total distance: 21km

Option start from El Chaltén: First, the same is done as going to Capri (see above). From this point we will walk along the flattest path of the route, in an area of mallines and chorrillos for 1h. 30 ‘until arriving at Poincenot camp. In another 15 minutes, you will reach the Río Blanco camp, exclusively for climbers, from where the path to the Laguna de los Tres viewpoint begins, with an uninterrupted slope of 1h 15 minutes. You return to the town of El Chaltén along this same path. Duration approx: 8hs 30´-9hs. Total distance: 25km.

Trekking to the Piedras Blancas Glacier

Piedras Blancas Glacier

The path that starts from El Pilar, 20 kms from El Chaltén, so it is necessary to take a one way transfer and another one back. The trek is short, developed for those who want to do a simple walk. The trail borders the Río Blanco, passing through forests, you reach the Mirador del Glaciar Piedras Blancas, with its lagoon. Duration: 4 hours. i / v.

Trekking Piedra del Fraile

The trekking starts from the Río Eléctrico Bridge 18 kms from El Chaltén, a round trip transfer is necessary to this point. Until El Fraile, it is a very simple walk without unevenness, Transfer by minibus vehicle, from El Chaltén to the Río Eléctrico Bridge (18 km), then there are two hours of a gentle walk through lengas forests, wading small streams, until to Piedra del Fraile, place where Agostini’s father made a base for his explorations in the area.

From this place you get a unique view of Fitz Roy, the Northwest wall. The area has the Los Troncos Refuge, where you can have a drink, and it also has camping facilities. As it is a private field, an entrance ticket must be paid here, it is good that passengers know this beforehand. Distance: 6 Km- (2 hrs.) Difficulty: Easy

Trekking to the Pollone Glacier:

For those who have more energy, this trek continues to the Pollone Glacier (5 km. 2 hours). You will walk up the river until you reach Lake Eléctrico, contemplating the North wall of Fitz Roy, and the Mermoz and Guillaumet needles. Then we continue our way until we see the Pollone and Fitz Roy Norte Glaciers.

Laguna Torre Trek (Cerro Torre Viewpoint)

Cerro Torre
  • 1: Torre Rafael Juárez
  • 2: Cerro Torre
  • 3: Egger Tower
  • 4: Punta Herron
  • 5: Standhart needle
  • 6: Profile of the Indian
  • 7: Forked Needle
  • 8: Pachamama Tower
  • 9: Achachila Tower
  • 10: Inti Tower
  • 11: Four Fingers
  • 12: White Dome

El Chaltén – Camp De Agostini – Laguna Torre: This is another of the most classic treks in the area, which leads to one of the most beautiful and difficult mountains on the planet: Cerro Torre. The path starts from the town and goes up the Fitz Roy River, with a slight incline at the beginning, which then continues on a quiet walk reaching the first viewpoint after 1h 30´.

From there you will have a beautiful view of the Cerro Torre cordon, the Cordón de Las Adelas and part of the Cerro Fitz Roy massif. The path continues with slight undulations approaching the river bed, until reaching De Agostini camp, after about 45 minutes. Continue for another 10 minutes to arrive, after crossing the moraines, to Laguna Torre.

From here, the spectacular view of Cerro Torre, flanked by the Egger, Standhard and Bífida needles and the Cordón de las Adelas, with its impressive glaciers spilling into the lagoon. The return to El Chaltén is done by the same path. Duration approx .: 6 hours Total distance: 22km.

Hill of the Lying fold

This trail begins at the entrance of the town, more precisely at the National Parks Information Center. It is the trek with the best panoramic views, where you can see the two main hills: Fitz Roy and Torre, the one with the thickest forests. At 1.30 you reach the first viewpoint, called Pampa de las Carretas, from where you have the first view of the Torre and Fitz Roy hills. Following the path, the panoramic views continue, the Viedma Lake, the Huemul hill, and the Paso del Viento with the Túnel River valley, the exit door of the Continental Ice, are perfectly visible. Then, in the fold, views of the Fitz Roy river, lagoon, glacier and Torre hill; Laguna Madre e Hija, the Fitz Roy. Duration: 7 hours. Difficulty: intermediate. Total distance: 15 km.

Trekking to the Laguna and Huemul Glacier

This trekking begins at the southern tip of Lago del Desierto (40 km), so you can take a round trip transfer from El Chaltén. It is a 45 minute climb, with panoramic views while ascending the Lago del Desierto and Fitz Roy. It ends at a viewpoint to the Huemul Lagoon and Glacier. Here you must pay an access ticket, since it is a private field. Distance: 2 km. Round trip duration: 1.45 h.

Weather in El Chalten

The weather in El Chaltén is very unstable.

One of the obsessions when you are in El Chaltén is being able to predict the weather in the next few hours or in the next few days.

Will the Fitz Roy be seen or not? … What day should I do the trekking today or tomorrow?

You can even find yourself in the surroundings of Mount Fitz Roy professional climbers waiting for a better climate to attack the slope of Fitz Roy.

The point is that the weather in El Chaltén like all mountain weather is very difficult to predict.

Video El Chalten

Video El Chalten

wave 1 bottom sm El Chalten

If you have come here traveled the Carretera Austral, you may want to continue and cross into Argentina through the little-traveled Roballos border crossing and connect with Route 40 at the height of Bajo Caracoles.

Keep in mind that this crossing is very little traveled and you should check at the border before leaving to make sure it is open.

Another precaution to take is to leave early since you will have to drive a few kilometers to reach the next accommodation in Argentina.


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About the author

I am Matias, born in Patagonia, and a lover of my land.

For more than 20 years I help foreign travellers to organise their trip to Patagonia.

I also manage this exotic accommodation on the Atlantic coast.