I had been dreaming of hiking to Laguna de Los Tres, the base of Mount Fitz Roy, in Argentinian Patagonia, since my first trip to Argentina in 2012. Back then, a million of reasons – none of them good enough, if I think about it now – prevented me from going to El Chalten, the starting point of the hike.
It took me another trip to Argentina to finally make this dream come true. On one of Flash Pack’s trips to Argentina I met 4 other fierce women and together we hiked to the base of Fitz Roy, on the Laguna de Los Tres Trail.
It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, and to date, the most incredible hike I have ever done. In this post, I highlight everything you should know to hike to Laguna de Los Tres and reach the base of Mount Fitz Roy (or Cerro Fitz Roy, as it is called locally).
Some Background Information on Fitz Roy
Fitz Roy is located in the Andes Mountain Range, between Argentina (where it is part of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares) and Chile and close to the tiny town of El Chalten, in the region of Patagonia. With its 3405 meters and a prominence of 2000 meters, it’s a mighty mountain and on a clear day you can see even it from a far distance.
Discover more about Chile in my post “Ten Incredible Places To Visit In Chile.”
The original name of the Cerro Fitz Roy is Chalten, which in the Aoniken language means “smoking mountain.” The name referred to the clouds that normally form around the peaks. Mount Fitz Roy was a sacred mountain to the Mapuche indigenous peoples that used to live in the region.
The name Fitz Roy was assigned by Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno in 1877: he named the mountain in honor of Robert FitzRoy, captain of the Beagle, who travelled up the Santa Cruz River in 1834.
Together with the rest of Patagonia, Fitz Roy is considered to be a climbers’ paradise. However, several recent incidents that resulted in the death of four climbers are a good reminder of how unpredictably dangerous this part of the world can be.
Hiking To The Base Of Fitz Roy
Hiking remains one of the top things to do in Patagonia. The trail to Laguna de Los Tres is the one that goes all the way to the base of Mount Fitz Roy. The starting point is of the trail is on the Northwestern side of El Chalten, where you’ll find a big sign saying “Sendero al Fitz Roy” (trail to Fitz Roy). This is the trail that most people follow.
Alternatively, you can start walking from Hostaria El Pilar on a trail that goes all the way to El Chalten. This is located north of El Chalten, at around 14 km from the town on Ruta 41. A taxi to get from El Chalten to Hosteria El Pilar should cost no more than 800 ARS (Argentinian Pesos), which at the time of writing is around $20 USD.
I followed the trail that starts in Hostaria El Pilar, but the walking distance and walking time are more or less the same whichever trail you decide to follow.
If you follow the trail that starts in Hostaria El Pilar, for about two hours you will walk along the banks of the Rio Blanco, through a beautiful shady forest. At about halfway you’ll find the first viewpoint, Mirador Piedras Blanca, from where you get the first incredible peak of Fitz Roy.
Once at Campamento Poincenot, a camping site where some hikers spend the night to then have a very early start to Laguna de Los Tres, the trail splits in two: one trail goes up all the way to Laguna de Los Tres at the base of Mount Fitz Roy, and one continues to Laguna Capri and then back to El Chalten.
To go up to Laguna de Los Tres you’ll have to cross the river (you can refill on your water there) and then reach the base of the trail to Laguna de Los Tres.
Once down, you will have to follow the signs to Laguna Capri to walk back to El Chalten. Before reaching Laguna Capri (where there is another camping site), right at a sign that marks km 5 of the trail, you can take a short detour to go to Chorrillo del Salto, a beautiful waterfall. There’s no marked trail, but you can follow the roar of the water and it is fairly easy to find.
From Laguna Capri, the walk is mostly downhill, first through the forest and then along an easy trail (the same you’d take if you follow the trail starting in El Chalten).
Practical Facts for your Fitz Roy trek to Laguna de Los Tres
Overall walking distance: Depending on whether you walk the trail from El Chalten or from Hostaria el Pilar, the overall walking distance is either 26 or 24 km.
Overall walking time: 8 hours, including various stops for photos, rest, lunch and to admire the views.
Food and drinks: You will have to carry your food and drinks for the duration your Fitz Roy trek . With regards to water, you can refill at the river – all guides ensure the water is pristine and safe to drink.
There are no toilets along the way, save for a hole in the ground kind of toilet right at the base of the trail to Laguna de Los Tres. There are no garbage bins either, so make sure to carry an extra bag to dispose of your tissues, toilet paper and any other garbage, and take it back to El Chalten.
Throughout Fitz Roy trek, the views are incredible. The first part of the trail is mostly through a beautiful, thick forest and in the shade. You’ll get the first peak of the mighty Mount Fitz Roy from Mirador Piedras Blancas.
Once at Laguna Los Tres the view of Fitz Roy is simply breathtaking, and you will feel rewarded for all the effort of walking up the trail. It’s the perfect lunch spot, too!
At km 5 of the main trail, a short detour goes to Chorrillo del Salto, a beautiful waterfall with a nice swimming hole (though the water is mighty cold). It is a great spot to relax for a short while, enjoying yet another incredible view of Fitz Roy and the surrounding landscape.
Laguna Capri is another lovely sight. It’s a good place to hang out for a bit – there is a camping site nearby so there’s quite a few people there, but the views remain splendid.
What to expect when hiking around Fitz Roy
The trail to Laguna de Los Tres, much like all other trails in Patagonia, is very well marked and easy to follow, in all its parts, and the terrain is usually good.
The walk is nice and easy until the Campamento Poincenot.
At about 1 km from there, the trail to Laguna de Los Tres, the main viewpoint of Cerro Fitz Roy, starts, and with that, the actual challenge. A sign warns people walking up about the difficulty, and suggests to continue walking only if you are in excellent physical conditions.
The walk to the base of Mount Fitz Roy is a mere km, but it’s a steady uphill walk with a good 40% incline, most of it on rocks and small boulders so you’ll have to watch your step. It takes roughly one hour to walk all the way up.
You have to walk down on the same trail, and for as tough as walking uphill it is, I found the walking down by far more challenging. It takes pretty much the same amount of time to walk back down from Laguna de Los Tres.
TIP: The good thing about hiking in Patagonia is that the days are very long, and you have plenty of time to make it to Laguna de Los Tres and admire Fitz Roy in all its glory. However, I recommend setting to walk nice and early to avoid the largest crowds and so that you can take your time with photos and taking in the views.
TIP: The hike to Laguna de Los Tres is one of the most popular ones in Patagonia. This means that on any given day there will be quite a few people on the trail. Regardless of that, I strongly advise you not to walk this trail alone (check out my post “11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone Is Actually A Bad Idea”): there is no phone reception at all along the trail and it is simply safer to have someone you can rely on for emergencies.
Essential items to wear and carry on a Fitz Roy trek
The list of items you should wear and carry for your hike to Laguna de Los Tres is based on my experience of a day hike. For a more detailed list of items to carry for a long distance hike, check out my post “The Perfect Hiking Packing List For A Long Distance Trek.”
The first thing to keep in mind when gearing up for the hike to Laguna de Los Tres is that the weather in Patagonia tends to be unpredictable. You may wake up in the morning and find a fantastic sunny day and perfect visibility of Fitz Roy, and moments later the wind may start blowing, the clouds gathering up and it may start raining. Make sure to be properly equipped for any weather conditions.
Here’s a list of essentials:
- A good pair of hiking boots. Make sure to pick a pair that is waterproof and that provides excellent ankle support: you will need it when walking downhill.
- A pair of hiking pants, best if waterproof as well. I swear by my new Kuhl Horizn Straight or my Kuhl Weekendr Tight.
- A cotton t-shirt such as Kuhl W S Born Tee – it’s comfortable and lightweight.
- A comfortable fleece – I like Kuhl Alska. You may even want to carry an extra one, in case the weather turns for the worst.
- A good wind proof jacket. I use Kuhl Airstorm Rain jacket and love it.
- A hat (you can use a baseball hat to protect against the sun, or even a fleece hat to keep warm) and gloves (it is fairly cold in the early morning).
- A good daypack. Make sure to take something with easy to reach, outside pockets for your bottle of water. I like Osprey Daylite Plus.
- A refillable water bottle.
- Sunscreen with high protection factor, as well as lip balm.
- Don’t forget to take your camera. I use a Nikon D3300 and on this occasion carried a 18-105 mm lens. Alternatively, a smartphone with a good camera such as iPhone Xwill do an excellent job. Make sure to take a power bank as well!
- Tissues or toilet paper, and a good antibacterial hand gel.
- Food and water for the duration of the hike, and an extra spare bag to put all your garbage.
Practical Information To Organize A Fitz Roy Trek
The best time for a Fitz Roy trek
The best time to hike around Patagonia is in the late spring and summer months, between October and April. Even then, the weather remains unpredictable and you can expect wind, rain and even snow at any time. I was actually very lucky and enjoyed sunny, warm weather throughout my stay, but unless you have a tight schedule, I advise you to be as flexible as possible so that you can wait for the perfect day for your Fitz Roy trek.
How to get to El Chalten
El Chalten is the nearest getaway to Mount Fitz Roy. The nearest airport is that of El Calafate, which is well connected with direct Aerolinas Argentinas flights to Buenos Aires and Ushuaia. It then is a very scenic 3 hours ride to El Chalten.
There are regular bus rides between El Calafate and El Chalten, with buses departing from the main terminal located on Julio Argentino Roca in El Calafate at 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. During peak season there is an extra bus that leaves at 1:00 pm. The most reliable bus companies are Chalten Travel and Caltur. The bus costs around $20 USD one way.
Alternatively, you can rent a car directly at El Calafate airport. Check out the prices of car rental here. The only stop along the way is at Estancia La Leona. There, you can have a snack (though let me tell you, the food is barely passable) and use the washrooms.
ATMs in El Chalten
There are only two ATMs in El Chalten, both of them by the bus terminal. The town is tiny, but it does get crowded in the summer with the ATMs often resulting out of service. Many businesses still won’t take credit cards, so I advise to do a bit of planning and budgeting and take out cash in El Calafate, before even getting to El Chalten.
Where to stay and eat in El Chalten
El Chalten has some excellent accommodation options and a few good restaurants and breweries. Keep in mind that most hotels and restaurants are closed between the end of April and the beginning of October.
Here is a selection of the best places to stay in El Chalten:
- Rancho Grande is a nice hostel near the center of El Chalten. There are private rooms, dorms, good common areas, an in-house pub that serves good food and even a travel agency. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Posada y Cabañas El Barranco has good rooms as well as fully equipped bungalows, and it’s minutes from the town center. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Chalten Suites Hotel has beautiful large rooms and offers a scrumptious breakfast. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Estancia La Quinta is an excellent option if you don’t mind staying out of town. It’s a 55 minutes walk to the center of El Chalten, or an easy 7 minutes car ride. The rooms are plain but cozy, the area is as quiet as it gets, and the owner Alfredo is a real star. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Keep in mind that virtually all restaurants, bars and pubs in El Chalten observe some sort of happy hour, so they tend to be quite crowded between 5:00 and 8:00 pm when most people come back from hiking Fitz Roy. These are the best places to eat in El Chalten:
- Maffìa is a simple eatery that still makes home made pasta. It’s not the way Italians make it, but it is good enough. Prices are fair.
- Ahonikenk makes some of the Argentine staples, including a good Milanesa (breaded, fried meat or chicken). Portions are earthy and prices fair.
- Curcuma is a great options for vegans.
- La Vineria has an excellent selections of draft beers and wines.
- Cerveceria Artesanal is quite simply the best pub in El Chalten.
- Mathilda is a lovely café with great salads and a good selection of drinks.
Other useful information
Like for any other trip, if you plan to hike around Mount Fitz Roy make sure to get a good travel insurance. Click here for good insurance deals. Check out my post “Ten Reasons I Always Get Travel Insurance.”
Have you been to El Chalten and hiked around Fitz Roy? If so, do share any other useful tips and recommendations!