El Chalten is – quite simply – one of the places you should never skip during a trip to Argentina. This tiny town considered to be a climbing paradise counts around 1,600 inhabitants, though apparently no more than 400 people live there year round. The population inevitably swells with tourists in the summer months – they travel all the way to this remote location as it is the getaway to some of the best hikes in Patagonia.
The name El Chalten means “smoking mountain” in the Aoniken language, and it used to be the actual name of Mount Fitz Roy, referring to the clouds that normally form around the peaks in the region. The town was founded in 1985 to keep watch over an area that was highly disputed between Argentina and Chile.
Curious to find out more about El Chalten and all the things to do there? Continue reading!
10 Things To Do In El Chalten
Hike to the Condor Lookout
El Chalten is all about hiking, and you should head out on a trail as soon as you get there. The walk to the Condor lookout is an easy one, with a gradual yet steady ascent but very short (no more than 2 km – 1.2 miles – there and back). With the incredible views of the mountains and Lake Viedma, this is the perfect introduction to what this part of Patagonia has to offer.
The trail is at the southern entrance of town. The best time of day to hike to the Condor Lookout is sunrise, when you have a chance to admire the peaks glow in a beautiful, pink light. However, it’s also a great walk to do if you have a couple of hours to kill when you have just arrived in El Chalten, Patagonia, and don’t have enough time for a longer hike.
Hike to Laguna Torre
Hiking the Laguna Torre is one of the best things to do in El Chalten. It’s a moderate trek that goes to the base of Cerro Torre, were you’ll get incredible views of the mountains.
The overall hike takes between 5 and 7 hours, depending on how often you stop and on whether or not you walk all the way to Mirador Maestri, from where you have even better views of the glaciers. The trail starts at the northern entrance of El Chalten, and it’s initially very steep for about 2 km (1.2 miles), after which it becomes a very easy ascent. The only really difficult bit is the 2 km (1.2 miles) to Mirador Maestri, for the terrain is unsteady and the trail harder to follow.
You can easily hike to Laguna Torre independently. If you’d rather join a guided hike, there are several that depart from El Chalten every day. For more information, click here or here.
Make sure to read my post A Guide To Hiking Laguna Torre.
Hike to Laguna de Los Tres
Another of the unmissable things to do in El Chalten is hiking to Laguna de Los Tres, at the base of Mount Fitz Roy. This is one of the most rewarding hikes in Patagonia, with incredible views throughout – starting with those you get from Mirador Piedras Blancas and Laguna Capri, to those you finally have once you reach the lake.
There are two starting points to this trail: one is in town, at the northern side, and you’ll have to walk to the lake and back on the same trail; the other is at Hostaria El Pilar, about 12 km (7.4 miles) north of town (you’ll need to get there by taxi), and after reaching the lagoon you’ll walk on the same trail that goes back to town.
It’s an easy to moderate hike for the most part. However, after Campamento Poincenot camping site, the hike becomes strenuous with a one km (0.6 miles) that goes all the way to the lake, with a steady 40% incline on rocky terrain, incredibly hard to walk up and just has hard to walk back down – making this one of the hardest hikes in the area.
For more information read my post A Guide To Hiking To Laguna De Los Tres.
The trail to Laguna de Los Tres is very well marked and easy to follow and you can hike independently. If you like the idea of joining a group, several guided treks depart from El Chalten every day. For more information, click here.
If you are toying with the idea of hiking Laguna de Los Tres and Laguna Torre together, you can actually go on a 2-day hiking tour such as this one.
Hike the Huemul Circuit
Not far from El Chalten, the Huemul Circuit is one of the most challenging hikes in Patagonia. It will take the best of four days, during which you’ll have to cross rivers, climb over mountain passes, and camp – all in exchange for incredible views of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field.
Unlike the majority of hikes in Patagonia, you can’t walk this trail independently. In fact, the trail isn’t well marked and you will need a local guide to help you navigate the area, cross the river, etc. Make sure you are properly equipped for it, and ask for information in El Chalten before agreeing to do it.
You can book your guided Huemul Circuit here.
Relax at Chorrillo del Salto
One of places you absolutely should not miss while in El Chalten, Patagonia, is Chorrillo del Salto. This beautiful waterfall has a series of small natural pools with crystal clear (freezing) water. The views from there are absolutely splendid, and it’s a very quiet place too.
To get to Chorrillo del Salto, you have to follow the trail to Laguna de Los Tres from El Chalten, and once you get to the sign marking km 5 of the trail take a detour right. There is no real trail to get there, but it’s fairly easy and all you have to do is follow the roar of the water.
You can actually go to Chorrillo del Salto when hiking to Laguna de Los Tres. It’s a perfect place for a break!
Go on an ice trek on Viedma Glacier
Ice trekking is a lot of fun. The most popular place to do it in Argentina is Perito Moreno Glacier, near El Calafate. The good news is that you can actually do it elsewhere too – and closer to El Chalten. This is obviously not something you can do on your own – you need a guide that tells you exactly where to step, and a company that rents you all the gear you will need to walk on ice, such as crampons. It’s a fun way to get a better understanding of the life a glacier.
Visit La Leona Petrified Forest
The landscape of Patagonia is incredibly varied, and you can get a good idea of this if you visit La Leona Petrified Forest. About half way between El Chalten and El Calafate, along Ruta 40, this is a place to admire beautiful dry and sandy rock formations, as well as the local wildlife (especially guanacos) and fossils.
You can only visit La Leona Petrified Forest on a guided tour, because it is located in private land. You can enquire in town to find out more.
Rafting isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when traveling to Patagonia, but it’s one of the most fun things to do in El Chalten. You can go white water rafting on rivers that are glacier tributaries and get a good dose of adrenaline. Several companies organize rafting expeditions on Rio de las Vueltas, on III and IV class rapids. You’ll be given all the equipment and there will be a photographer racing down the river on a kayak to snap photos of you.
Get a much deserved massage
Is there anything better than getting a massage after a long hike? (Well, ok, there is to me: a pint of cold beer – but more on that later). The good news is that El Chalten has a couple of spas where you can get a professional massage, spend some time in the sauna, in the jacuzzi, and even do cold therapy leg treatments which are very effecting into restoring you! The place to go is Spa Yaten, on San Martin 36.
Drink craft beer
Yes – one of the best things to do in El Chalten after a long hike is having a good beer. Despite being so small, El Chalten has a few good pubs where you can enjoy a craft beer. Most of them observe some sort of happy hour, so your pint will turn out quite inexpensive. My favorite place is La Cerveceria, a pub that brews its own beer, with a nice beer garden and where you can also get very earthy portions of stews and other local specialties.
Practical Information About El Chalten
When to visit El Chalten
Summer – between November and March – is by far the best time to visit El Chalten. If you prefer traveling in the shoulder season, visit in October or in April, but keep in mind that many businesses and even trails may be closed. Call in advance to double check.
Even in the summer months the weather in Patagonia remains unpredictable: you can expect wind, rain and in the worst case scenario even snow at any time. Make sure to check the weather before you head out on a hike. You can do so here.
Unless you have a very tight schedule, I suggest you stay in El Chalten for a week or more, so that you can wait for good weather conditions to hike to Laguna de Los Tres or Laguna Torre.
How to get to El Chalten
The nearest airport is in El Calafate, which has direct flights from Buenos Aires and Ushuaia via Aerolinas Argentina, and connecting flights from a number of other places in the country. It then takes about 3 hours to travel from El Calafate to El Chalten.
There are regular buses between El Calafate and El Chalten. These depart from the main terminal, on Julio Argentino Roca in El Calafate, at 8:00 am and 6:00 pm and, during peak season, also at 1:00 pm. The best companies are Chalten Travel and Caltur.
If you like the idea of having your own car, rent one at El Calafate airport. Check out the prices of car rental here. The only place you can stop along the way for fuel, toilets and food is Estancia La Leona.
ATMs in El Chalten
You should try to withdraw cash in El Calafate, before arriving to El Chalten. There are only two ATMs in town, by the bus terminal, and they are often out of money and out of service. Cash is king in El Chalten, so budget your cash wisely.
Internet in El Chalten
Internet is hardly a thing in El Chalten. Even the best of the Argertinian SIM cards will get you hardly any service, and though most hotels and restaurants have wifi, it is inconsistent at best. Let your family and friends know where you’ll be before getting to El Chalten; set up an out of office reply in case someone tries to reach you for work reasons; and by all means do not schedule work conferences or e-meetings while you are there.
Where to stay and eat in El Chalten
El Chalten has some good accommodation options and a few good restaurants and breweries. Most places are closed between the end of April and the beginning of October.
These are some of the best places to stay in El Chalten:
- Rancho Grande is an excellent hostel near the center of El Chalten. It has private rooms, dorms, good common areas, an in-house pub serving earthy portions of food and even a travel agency.
- Posada y Cabañas El Barranco has good rooms and well equipped bungalows, and it’s close the town center.
- Chalten Suites Hotel is the best hotel in town.
- Estancia La Quinta is a fantastic option if you like the idea of an isolated place. It’s a 55 minutes walk to the center of El Chalten, or a 7 minute car ride. The rooms are plain but very comfortable, the area very quiet, and the staff very friendly and helpful.
Most bars, restaurants and bars in El Chalten offer happy hour and usually get packed between 5:00 and 8:00 pm, when people come back after a day of hiking. These are the best places grab a bite:
- Maffìa – a simple eatery where you may have to share your table with other people. They still make home made pasta and sauces. Good enough even for Italians, portions are earthy and prices fair.
- Ahonikenk – at the entrance of town, it offers Argentine staples such as milanesa with very big portions and fair prices.
- Curcuma – the only completely vegan restaurant in town.
- La Vineria – excellent place for draft beers and wines.
- Cerveceria Artesanal – the best pub and brewery in El Chalten.
- Mathilda – a lovely café with refreshing salads and drinks.
Other useful information
Make sure to get a good travel insurance for your trip to Patagonia. Click here to get a good insurance deal.
Have you been to El Chalten? What did you like the most about it?
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2 thoughts on “An Excellent Guide To El Chalten, Patagonia”
Thank you – very useful information. We are visiting El Calafate / El Chalten this November and was wondering seeing my husband can walk long hours but not uphill due to his heart problem – will it be possible for him to go visit Chorrillo del Salto, Mirador de los Cóndores, Capri Lagoon and Mirador Del Torre. Also we should be having a car so was thinking of driving to Lago del Desierto in a normal car not 4 x 4 – have you been on Route 23 and do you know if it is possible in a normal car?
Chorrillo del Salto and Mirador de los Condores and the lagoon are easy walks. Mirador del Torre requires a bit more of a uphill hike. I honestly recommend not going to Lago del Desierto by yourself. You should be able to book an excursion – there are some even available online.