Renowned for the incredible hiking that’s literally on its doorstep, El Chaltén is a quaint little village in Argentina’s south-west. It’s set at the foothill of the Los Glaciares National park and is the perfect base for a few days to enjoy all it has to offer.
You’re likely familiar with the logo of the ethical outdoors fashion brand – Patagonia. Well, those jagged mountainscapes are inspired by the outline of the three peaks of Mount Fitz Roy, Aguja Poincenot and Cerro Torro, and their not-so-small counterparts, which are right here – accessible in only a few hours by foot from El Chaltén. It’s perhaps the most iconic hike in Patagonia, alongside Torres del Paine.
The Laguna de los Tres hike is one not to be missed. The views of these massive granite formations together with the glaciers, vibrant turquoise lake and backdrop of the snow-capped Andes is completely incredible. On a blue-bird day, its magnificence is that unreal that it actually seems an illusion. (We hiked to Mount Fitz Roy twice in the 6 days we had due to the weather being overcast on the first attempt and it was every bit (and more) worth it)).
The route (Laguna de los Tres) is a 20-kilometre return trek and takes a suggested 8 hours to complete. In saying this, my boyfriend and I took 5.5-6 hours (return) each time we did it, allowing for plenty of stops along the way for photos and to just appreciate the sheer beauty of our surrounds. The trail is a beautifully curated path of various terrain; compressed dirt and clay tracks, log sleepers, dry creek beds and granite/river stone steps. With the exception of the first 1.5 kilometre and the last kilometre, it’s relatively easy going. A flat to undulating track that winds through natural forest and sparse land, and across crystal clear steams with the most impressive scenes on the horizon – the Fitz Roy Massif and striking mountain ranges.
Even though you’re ridiculously close to the Massif, are consumed by the brilliant turquoise lake below and know that what you’re looking at is the culmination of nature at its best; its sheer magnificence still remains somewhat imaginary.
Beginning from the northern end of El Chaltén at the end of Avenida San Martin, the first 1.5 kilometres is mostly uphill via rock, tree roots and sleeper steps, and the last kilometre gains 400 metres of elevation and takes a suggested 1 hour. Over the course of the trail each kilometre is marked so that you can better understand your progress.
At approximately kilometre 3 the path divides into two. You can take either trail as they meet up further along the way, and perhaps take the alternate path home. I’d recommend the high road (to the left) as this takes you past the stunning Laguna Capri, a huge body of water with beautiful views of Fitz Roy on the horizon. There is a small campsite here too if you’re so inclined.
At kilometre 8, there is another campsite, which is the main site for those who want to catch the sunrise over Fitz Roy. There are bathrooms at each of these, which I’d recommend using as there’s not too much privacy along the way otherwise.
Once you get to kilometre 9, the climb to the top is long and steep for 45 minutes – 1 hour. This path is a mix of loose river stones, hence sometimes slippery, and large granite steps. There is a false top about ten minutes from the actual top but the hardest work is done there. The last moments are predominantly spent navigating loose gravel (and descending tourists) to the summit.
Once you reach the top the views are nothing short of stunning. The incredible landscapes that await your previous hours’ efforts will leave you speechless (and perhaps breathless for a moment too). And even though you’re ridiculously close to the Massif, are consumed by the brilliant turquoise lake below and know that what you’re looking at is the culmination of nature at its best; its sheer magnificence still remains somewhat imaginary.
How: El Chaltén is a 3-hour drive from El Calafate (further south), and a 24-hour drive from Bariloche (north). Both of which have airports. Flights from Buenos Aires to either destination are frequent and can be cost effective if booked in advance. The overnight bus can be vouched for!
When: The best time for trekking in and around El Chaltén is during the summer. The season is open from October to April.
Stay: El Chaltén offers a host of accommodation options to suit travellers’ various budgets – Hotels, hostels and camping.