El Chalten and Mount Fitz Roy
If you are into hiking, El Chalten and Mount Fitz Roy need to be on your Patagonia itinerary. Located just north of Los Glaciares National Park, El Chalten is Argentina’s hiking capital. It was founded in 1985 to cater to hikers in the area. You can day hike from the town or overnight hike whichever you prefer. It is a small town and you can walk to everything. And as an added bonus, the food is surprisingly good for such a remote place.
We stayed in town and day hiked. Because we had not camped on the “W” hike we did not have camping equipment and as mentioned I’d prefer a real bed every night anyway. The day hiking is plentiful and spectacular.
Day Hiking (Trekking) in El Chalten and Mount Fitz Roy
Senderos is the word in Spanish for trails. All of the senderos or trails are well marked and most start and finish in town. The distances and times are all one way. The trails listed are hikes we did, there is a lot of hiking in this area and many more hikes than the three we overview.
Laguna de Los Tres
This hike can be undertaken overnight, as an up and back hike from town or as a one way hike by taking a shuttle to Hostel El Pillar and walking back to town. We took the third option so that is the route I describe.
Have your accommodation arrange for the morning shuttle to pick you up for transport to Hostel El Pillar (You can also stay here overnight and just start in the morning.)
The hike begins with a walk along Rio Blanco. It is pleasant hiking through a forest and easy walking. It is all relatively flat. The highlight on this part of the hike is the viewpoint for the Piedras Blancas Glacier.
After the glacier you continue walking until you reach a split in the path, here you head back to El Chalten or turn right and head toward Laguna de Los Tres. (There is a campground here as well- Camparmento Poicenot if you are on an overnight hike.)
We headed toward Laguna de Los Tres. At this point the trail is still following the Rio Blanco. Eventually you reach a turn, here the trail leaves the river and begins a steep climb up to Laguna de Los Tres. The total elevation gain on the hike is 750 meters and I’d say at least 700 if not all 750 is right here on the climb up to the Laguna. If it is clear, at the top near the lagoon your reward is fantastic views of Mount Fitz Roy (3,405 meters) and Cerro Torre (3,102 meters). You can also see Laguna Suda. The hiking maps warn you this climb can be dangerous if it is windy or rainy and I wouldn’t want to attempt it in either, plus there would be no view at the top.
The scale of the mountains and the lake at the top makes you feel small. In our pictures the people near the lake look tiny. (There are people in this picture if you look closely.)
Return via the same trail until reaching the junction for Rio Blanco, here you now turn right and head toward town. From Laguna de Los Tres to El Chalten is 12.5 Kilometers, about 4 hours of walking. Other than the climb up to Laguna de Los Tres, it is easy walking.
You will pass Laguna Capri and there is another campsite near here. The scenery and views of Mount Fitz Roy on the way back to town are spectacular. It is a great hike and walking from El Pillar also lets you explore the Piedras Blancas Glacier (and walk one way of course) so the shuttle was well worth it.
Laguna Torre and Glacier Grande
This hike leads to the Laguna Torre and Glacier Grande. We started (and ended) this hike on a beautiful warm day from El Chalten. You couldn’t have asked for a better day for a hike. It is an 11 kilometer, 3 hour hike to Glacier Grande with little elevation gain (250 meters).
There is a viewpoint for the glacier about 5 kilometers into the hike. If you want a shorter hike you can hike to here and return.
We continued on, the closer we walked to the glacier, the worse the weather became. In the end we had to run back. The wind and rain were so strong it was threatening to blow me over. Even with trekking poles I was struggling to stay upright. It was very rocky and in the end, since there was going to be no scenic view of the glacier, we decided it was safer to cut our losses and turn around. I hate not finishing a hike so this was quite disappointing, but better safe than sorry.
Had we made it to the glacier there is a lookout 3 kilometers past the lagoon the glacier drains into. The lookout is also very exposed on a windy day. So there was no way we were going to make it to there. If you continue to the lookout, the hike is 14 kilometers one way.
As we returned toward town, the weather continued to improve until we arrived back in town on the same sunny warm day we had left. That’s Patagonian weather for you!
Loma del Pliegue Tumbado
This hike starts south of town, cross the bridge heading out of town toward El Calafate and turn near the Visitor Center to find the start of the hike. It is 10 kilometers, or 4 hours, with a 1000 meter elevation gain. It is a steady uphill walk until nearing the end. Here it becomes a steep, exposed climb up to a lagoon. From the top there are great views when it is clear. You can see out over Lago Viedma.
Getting to El Chalten and Mount Fitz Roy
El Chalten is 220 kilometers from El Calafate. You can catch a public bus from El Calafate. Just purchase a ticket at the bus station. We took the bus to El Calafate from Puerto Natales, landed at the bus station and purchased our ticket to go to El Chalten (not possible to buy the El Chalten portion in Puerto Natales.) We had several hours before the bus to El Chalten departed. The bus company stored our luggage in their office (just ask) and we had a nice lunch in El Calafate, picked up some tourist information for when we returned to go to Perito Moreno Glacier and had a wander around town. We headed back to catch the evening bus and enjoyed a relaxing ride to El Chalten and Mount Fitz Roy, arriving about 10:30 pm in time for a good night’s sleep and an early start to hike the next day.
We stayed at Hotel Destino Sur. It was a good choice. It is a newer property. It has fantastic views. You can arrange lunch for hiking if you need one. Breakfast was included, so we started each day with a big breakfast before hiking. Our favorite part of the hotel was the hot tub. You can book it for a specific time and it is all yours. It was an indoor hot tub, in a room with a lovely view. They lit candles for you. It was great for a soak after a long day of hiking.
If you are into hiking add El Chalten and Mount Fitz Roy to your Patagonia itinerary! Its reputation as Argentina’s hiking capital is well deserved.