The tiny town of El Chaltén, lying to the North of Viedma Lake and El Calafate, exists for one purpose: hiking. It is the undisputed National Trekking Capital of Argentina, and every traveller you find there is in hiking boots and ready to hit the trails.
Hiking in El Chaltén is easy to do without a guide. All buses coming into town stop at the Visitor Centre, located at the entrance to the town. Here, park rangers explain the hiking routes, give out maps and make recommendations based on the weather forecast for the upcoming days. This makes it easy to plan your time. There are 5 main hiking routes and all can be done as day hikes, with ample accommodation in town catering to budget backpackers as well as those looking for more luxury. The more adventurous can pack in their tents and camp in the park itself, with a number of free campsites, all well marked on the map.
Hiking in El Chalten is for many travellers the highlight of their trip to Argentina / Photo by Daytours4u
Laguna de los Tres / Mount Fitz Roy
The most popular trail in El Chaltén takes you to the town’s famous mountain peak: Mount Fitz Roy. The trail is 10.2 km to the lagoon that sits at the base of the mountain, named because of Fitz Roy’s iconic three peaks.
The first kilometre is a moderate uphill trek before the path mostly takes a flat route through forests and open fields, with many great viewpoints of Fitz Roy. The last kilometre is a steep climb up, and the only challenging bit of the hike. The difficulty changes according to the weather, as high winds and loose rocks can make it treacherous, and rangers will warn you not to do this section if the weather is bad. However, the climb is worth it, as you come over the last rocky summit and see the lagoon and the peaks.
Total distance: 20.4 km (returning to town). Time: 9 hours approx.
The mountain peaks in the Los Glaciares National Park make for stunning views / Photo by Daytours4u
Laguna Torre / Cerro Torre
The other big hike to do is to El Chaltén’s other famous peak: Cerro Torre. The 9km trail takes you to the lagoon and glacier at the base of Cerro Torre. This trail is an easy walk as it is mostly flat with short ups and downs, but no serious inclines. If you’re lucky with the weather, you’ll have a view of Cerro Torre for most of the walk. Once you reach the lagoon, there is an additional path to take you even closer to the base of Torre and its glacier. This part of the trail is very rocky and exposed and not recommended if the wind is strong.
Total distance: 18km (returning to town). Time: 8 hours approx.
There is a trail that connects the Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre hikes called Sendero madre – Hija. This is popular for those that wish to camp, and combine the two trails.
All the trails are well-marked and easy to follow / Photo by Daytours4u
Lomo del Pliegue Tumbado
This is deemed one of the more challenging hikes in the area, as most of the trail is uphill. However, the reward for your effort is incredible panoramic views of the entire National Park. If you pick a good day for this hike, you’ll have uninterrupted views of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.
Prepare yourself for steep climbs most of the route, including a last scramble at the end. Note that the weather can change dramatically at the top, since you’re ascending 1000m, so come prepared. Rangers recommend bringing trekking poles for this route.
Total distance: 24 km. Time: 8 hours approx.
Simply breathtaking panoramic views of the Andean Cordillera await / Photo by Daytours4u
Mirador de los Condores & Mirador de Las Aguilas
From the town, you can walk up one of the surrounding small mountains to get a great view of the town and Lake Viedma on the other side. The two trails start from the same point, and later split to reach different sides of the mountain. This easy walk is great if you have a half day to kill or the weather is not great for the other treks.
Total distance: 4km (both trails, to and from town). Time: 45 minutes to Mirador de los Condores and 1 hour to Mirador de las Aguilas.
The quaint little town of El Chalten, lying in the foothills of the Andes / Photo by Daytours4u
Chorrillo del Salto
Another easy hike in the area is to a scenic waterfall. The walk itself is just an hour to reach the waterfall. The trail is just outside of town. You can walk to the start, or take a bike or car. This is a perfect option for day trippers for El Chaltén, or those looking for an easy walk to break up the longer treks.
Total distance: 8km (from town and back). Time: 1 hour to the waterfall
Take a short hike to Chorrillo del Salto / Image Source
There is also a longer hike to Laguna Toro but it requires camping overnight and all hikers must first register at the Visitor Centre.
The trails are all well-marked, and even have markers every one or two kilometres allowing you to easily track your progress.
There are plenty of streams for water, so you don’t need to carry a big supply with you. Shops in town cater well to hikers, and you can buy a very hearty lunch pack, or mix and match your own trail food.
The weather is always changing, and the area is known for its strong winds. Always carry warm clothes and prepare for icy conditions, as the wind coming off the glacier field is incredibly cold.
The times given are rough guides and include a reasonable amount of time for stopping for pictures and food. Many hikers do the trails more quickly.
. . .
If you enjoy the outdoors, don’t miss the opportunity to go hiking in El Chaltén! The landscapes are incredibly beautiful, with a variety of flower-filled fields, frozen lakes backed by glaciers and some iconic and breathtaking mountain peaks.
For more activities in the area, check out Argentina4u’s tours in El Chaltén.
By: Nicole Eberhard, travel writer and avid explorer, with a Masters in English Literature.