El Chalten is one of my favorite hiking destinations in Patagonia. The only downside about this trekking paradise in the heart of Patagonia is that it can get very crowded, particularly during peak season. Nonetheless, trekking in El Chalten remains one of the highlights on my Patagonia trip.
There are multiple beautiful hiking routes, and you don’t have to take a bus or transport to get there. The trailheads to all the various treks around El Chalten start from different areas of the town.
Best time for Trekking in El Chalten
In terms of weather, summer is obviously the best time for hiking in El Chalten. You get maximum daylight hours and better luck with the weather. However, it is also the most crowded because it is the peak season. If you know me, then you know I try to avoid peak periods.
I was in Patagonia near the end of autumn (April) when some hostels were already closing for the season.
Some advantages of visiting in autumn are the beautiful colors you will see in the foliage, and there is a smaller crowd than peak season. My buddy and I got a dorm to ourselves. However, you can still expect people. One of the more popular hostels was crowded when we went to their restaurant for dinner. I can’t imagine coming to el Chalten during the peak season.
The cons are the weather and shorter daylight time. There will be more rainfall, so you might not be able to hike on all days. Some of the treks might be iced up and inaccessible until the ice melts. I did the famous Fitz Roy route three times because the final ascend to the lake was too icy and slippery on two of them.
You also have shorter daylight hours, which means you have less time to trek. However, it was generally not an issue as we did most of the hikes below the anticipated time. But it also means you might not stay as long at the vista point. The only one where I had a more rush one was when I tried to combine two routes making a big round. I only managed to return to the town after sunset. Therefore, it is always good to have your headlights with you.
Regardless, with all the trailheads being just around the town, you can always wake up and look at the weather before deciding if you want to set off for a hike that day. There is no rush to catch a bus and such. We loved that flexibility and convenience. This is also because we had a loose schedule and might not be good for anyone on a tight itinerary.
Hiking in El Chalten
Here are some of the most popular day hikes in El Chalten. The time is an estimate given on the maps, but it can vary quite a bit depending on your fitness. I have completed most of them below the time, but it is good to factor in at least that amount of time nonetheless.
Hiking Fitz Roy (aka Laguna de Los Tres Hike)
Fitz Roy is the most popular hike in El Chalten. This hike brings you to Laguna de Los Tres, where you get to see Mount Fitz and the clear blue lake.
Remember to go further up the small hill on the left of the lake. From there, you get to see both Laguna de Los Tres, Laguna Suica, and the Fitz Roy all in the same frame.
The route is scenic all along the way and is well worth it. It can look drastically different on a rainy and sunny day. A big pool of snow can be there one day, and two days later, it’s dirt track again. Each of the varying landscapes has its charms.
Round Trip: 15.5 miles/25km | Time: 8.5h
Trekking Laguna Torre
Laguna Torre is another beautiful hike that takes you to… You guess it.. Laguna Torre. There are two trailheads to Laguna Torre, but they will quickly merge within 5 minutes walk. You will get rewarded with views of the Adela range, Cerro Torre, and Mount Fitz Roy, amongst other mountains and waterfalls throughout the hike.
The view at Laguna Torre is already breathtaking, but if you want to hike more, you can walk along the same ridge for another 2 km to the Maestri viewpoint. Before you reach Laguna Torre, you find the De Agostini campsite. Here is where you want to set up your bed for the night if you’re planning to catch the sunrise at Laguna Torre.
Round Trip: 11.8 miles/19km | Time: 7.5h
Loma del Pliegue Tumbado
This is one of my favorites in terms of views at the vista point. The autumn colors from this viewpoint were incredible. It is a very windy hike as you are heading up, and there is not much tree cover. Despite the time estimation given, I found this hike to be considerably shorter than the above two.
The trailhead starts near the ranger station and is where the Miradors de Los Condores and Las Aguilas paths are. The start of the trailhead is well marked. Take the trail to the right instead to start your Loma del Pliegue Tumbado trek.
Round Trip: 13 miles/21km | Time: 7.5h
Short hikes in El Chalten
If you are not too keen on hiking for the whole day and want something short yet with great views, don’t worry! El Chalten got you covered. These three short walks are not as time-consuming but still lead you to beautiful scenery.
At the Mirador de Los Condores, you get a nice elevated view of the beautiful El Chalten town. This is a common visa point for people who came to El Chalten as a short day trip from some other city, I assume. You will know when you see a tour bus come in and a whole group of people alight. It’s a simple, steep walk up to the vista point.
When heading to Los Condores, you will see a split path and sign if you want to continue to Mirador de Las Aguilas (30mins).
This hike doesn’t seem as popular, but I think it’s great to escape people. When I did this, I didn’t see anyone except a girl and her dog at one of the vista points overlooking a vast, yellowish landscape. You actually get a panoramic view of Viedma lake, Cerro Huemul, and Cerro Piramide.
Quiet and awesome for some alone time. I reckon it’s simply because this hike doesn’t serve the one-day tourist while the avid hikers are also not interested in such a short hike.
Round Trip (incl Las Condores): 3.7 miles/6km | Time: 2h
Chorrillo del Salto
This is a casual and lovely walk into a hillside of Ñire and Lenga forest to a beautiful, small waterfall. There is barely any ascend, so it is excellent for people of all ages.
The trail begins at the end of Av. San Martín, near the same trailhead for Laguna De Los Tres, but the path to the right goes towards Chorrillo del Salto. It is approximately a 7km route both ways.
Furthermore, some of the longer full-day hikes also have amazing viewpoints along the way. You can use these as your destination points and simply turn back to make it a shorter yet still fulfilling trek.
Round Trip: 4.3 miles/7km | Time: 3h
Multi-day hikes in El Chalten
On the other hand, if you are an avid hiker and looking for a multi-day hike, there is something for you too. The Huemul Circuit is the most popular multi-day hike in El Chalten, bringing you across glaciers and rivers.
You will need crampons for the glacier trek which you can rent in town. During high tide season, when the river is high, you need ropes to belay yourself and your backpack across some parts. It is typically a four-day hike.
I did not attempt this, so I won’t be able to share any personal experience. But if you want to do this hike, it is probably better to go during mid-season. There were uncertain factors when we were there near the end season, such as the weather and glacier conditions. It’s a tricky hike to do if the weather is bad.
These are not all the hikes that you can do in El Chalten. Some routes are not marked out, and you can wander off. Ultimately it’s nature, and you’re free to go wherever. Just make sure to take proper care and respect park rules/signs. My travel buddy lost his way with a couple of other travelers and coincidentally ended up at Laguna Sucia.
Our local hostel owner also shared some adventures when he hiked to more secluded places. If you are adventurous, I’m sure the locals from the hostels or gear rental shops can give you some details/ideas about what alternative routes you can attempt.
You are also free to hit up some of the mid-point vista points in the day hikes and camp there, then combine multiple routes into just a multi-day trek in nature. There are many options when hiking in El Chalten.
Where to Stay in El Chalten
Despite being a small town, there is a good amount of choices for accommodations. If you’re looking to mingle, hostels are the way to go. There are also private and more premium accommodation options.
We stayed at Lo de Trivi. The hostel owner is young, friendly and hip. There are two kitchens, and one is huge. If you are a digital nomad like me trying to slot in some work, the Internet is half decent. I did manage to get some work done but, El Chalten is a small town surrounded by amazing nature, so don’t expect superb Internet. It is opposite the most popular hostel – Rancho Grande. Lo de Trivi is very near the Laguna de Los Tres and Chorrillo de Salto trailhead.
Rancho Grande is probably the most popular hostel in town. Here you get to meet a whole bunch of people. It is a typical hostel vibe, with backpackers hanging around in the common area. The good thing is they provide multiple services like laundry and transportation bookings.
Other well rated accommodations in El Chalten are:
Hospedaje Mi Rincón is a family run lodge with a cozy, comfy vibe. This is a good option if you are looking for private rooms.
Pioneros del Valle Hostel is a modern looking hostel with a typical hostel vibe. There’s a nice common area with pool table and cushy seatings.
Camping in El Chalten
Camping in El Chalten is a good option if you are looking to form a multi-day hike with different routes within the park, or if you are trying to catch the sunrise at certain peaks. The free base camps are good budget options or if you simply like to camp.
There are 3 base camps in the Los Glaciares National Park that are free but does not have much facilities apart from the latrine. You will have to bring your own cooking equipments and lighting equipments.
They are the De Agostini Base Camp located in the Laguna Torre trek, which is good for catching sunrise at Laguna Torre.
The Poincenot Base Camp which is near the final ascend up to Laguna de los Tres. This is a good spot if you want to try for sunrise at Fitz Roy.
The last one is the Laguna Capri Base Camp which is right at Laguna Capri. You will pass by this campsite on your way to Laguna de Los Tres.
There are also paid private camp grounds in and outside of El Chalten. These have more facilities if you want a more comfortable camping experience in El Chalten.
Packing list for hiking in El Chalten
Here are some items you want to consider bringing. I’m not big on brands for most things (unless specifically mentioned) as I get most items wherever on my travels whenever I need them.
- Pair of good Hiking Shoes (I used the Salomon X Ultra 3). Consider a pair with waterproofing treatment like Gore-tex if you are going during the wet season
- Versatile hiking pants. I like convertibles as they are good for different kind of hikes and you can adjust easily based on the temperature.
- Powerbank for charging your device especially if you are using your phone camera. Expect to be taking lots of photos. There can also be occasional power cuts in town.
- Water bottle. You can refill in some of the fresh streams along the trek. I have grown to love the stainless steel insulted bottles that can hold the temperature of both hot and cold liquid.
- Rain Jacket or Poncho (I carry a reusable one through my travels)
- Trekking poles are useful for slippery or windy ascends and protecting your knees on descend. I tried Black Diamond ones from my travel buddy and they were good.
If you are planning to camp, remember to pack camping and cooking gears. It is possible to rent them in El Chalten as well but prices are not cheap.
Insurance when trekking in El Chalten
It is always good to get travel insurance whenever you are doing outdoor activities. This is particularly so when you are hiking throughout Patagonia, you will never know what happen. I slipped and smashed my head on deadwood when trekking the Dientes de Navarrino.
I usually go with WorldNomads because of the purchase flexibility it provides. You can also easily get coverage for the South America continent since you will likely be hopping between Chile and Argentina when exploring Patagonia. Do remember to check up on the policy terms and coverage, especially if you are going to be doing some high risk activities.
Where to eat in El Chalten
Hostel Rancho Grande is one of the places we went for most of our meals when eating out. The prices are reasonable, the portions are great, and the food is delicious. It is an excellent place to go if you don’t feel like cooking after a long day’s hike.
If you are looking for a nice fancy meal, La Tapera is the place to go for a superb Argentine steak and wine. Our hostel owner recommended this place, and it did not disappoint— delicious, succulent meat in a cozy, classy atmosphere. Go early to avoid having to wait.
The prices in Patagonia are higher than in other places in Argentina, so we usually cook to save cost. There are a few grocery stores around the town where you can find a decent selection of goods.
Try to bring cash with you as you are not sure if card payment facilities are always available. In any case, you don’t want to withdraw from ATMs in Argentina due to low limits and high fees. Make sure you understand the official and blue rate of pesos. For more on that, check on the finance part in this Buenos Aires article.
El Chalten to El Calafate or Chile Chico
The two common destinations before and after El Chalten, depending on the direction you are going, are El Calafate and Chile Chico. El Calafate is known for the Perito Moreno Glacier, and it is definitely worth a visit if you are contemplating it.
Chile Chico is in Chile, and you will need to cross the border, so remember to carry your passport. Chile is also more strict on fresh produces being brought into their border. Ensure you aren’t carrying a lot of fresh food (like fruits etc.) that you might have got for cooking in El Chalten.
Buses arrive at the Central bus station near the ranger station. They often drop you first at the ranger station for a safety briefing.
You can buy tickets at Rancho Grande Hostel or the Central bus station. The ticket booths at the bus terminal open at specific hours, so remember to check. We just got ours at the hostel since we are just staying nearby.