If there is one activity we both really love, we would say: hiking ! Like the time we went for the famous Torres Del Paine W-trek in Chile (more on How to prepare for Torres del Paine) or the many small and larger hikes we enjoyed during our 25 days in New Zealand. Then there’s still Salkantay trek, Tiger Leaping gorge hike, … But now, let’s take you to El Chalten in Patagonia, where the mighty Fitz Roy looks out over the area.
There are loads of hikes to choose from in El Chaltén: easy 2 hour walks, 8 hour day hikes or multi day treks (including camping). It’s literally Patagonia’s hikers paradise! Besides some smaller ones, we chose the most famous one of them all: the Fitz Roy hike, towards Lago de Los Tres, with a majestic view on Cerro Fitz Roy.
How to reach El Chaltén?
If you’re traveling north, it’s an easy 3h bus ride from El Calafate. There are several companies doing this journey (Taqsa Marga, Chalten travel, …), usually 3 times per day. Price is ARS 600 (Nov. 2016).
If you’re going south, you’re highly likely traveling from San Carlos de Bariloche. The most famous journey is along the Ruta 40, available from November until March/April. For the entire story of this 23h bus adventure, we did it and survived ha! You can find our full story here.
How to get to the hike?
El Chaltén is what you really can call, a small town. It maybe has 5 streets, so getting lost is absolutely impossible. The start of the trail is all the way at the top of the town (map view), at the end of Avenue San Martin. From the bus terminal (other side of town), it is max 20 minutes walking.
On your arrival in El Chalten, be sure to pick up one of the hiking maps. This one gives you a nice overview of all possible hikes with distances, timings and difficulties. You can choose to do day hikes or opt for multi-day treks, with campsites along the way. Besides the Fitz Roy trek, we also hiked the yellow trail (short) and dark green one (medium).
What to take?
You’re in Patagonia, and in a mountainous area. Weather can vary a lot, even throughout the same day. We were very lucky for our hike (sunny, no rain), but it’s still better to take: rain jacket, fleece, good hiking shoes. Winter hat and gloves are advisable, as it may get quite chilly once you reach Lago de Los Tres.
Pack your lunch (no shops on the trail), and maybe some sugar boosters (chocolate, snacks) for in between. There are several rivers on the way, the water is very drinkable. They told us El Chalten’s surroundings has one the purest water sources of Argentina.
What to expect?
3 words: Breathtakingly, amazing scenery. That is, if you’re lucky with the weather. Clouds can be huge spoilers for this trail. The trail is clearly marked and goes like this.
The first 3 km of the trail are a mix of flat and uphill sections, through forests vegetation. A first viewpoint is already at 0.7km, Rio de las Vueltas.
After approx. 3.5 km, you will reach a split, one way (left) passing by Lago Capri while the other (right) passes by Mirador Fitz Roy. Eventually, both of them return to the same main trail. We chose to do the Mirador in the morning and the lake on the way back. The trail is now rather flat, through forest and rocky terrain. The first views on Cerro Fitz Roy from the Mirador are truly majestic, since you can see both the mountains as the entire valley.
After getting back on the main trail, the next 4km continue to guide you through the valley, passing by Rio Fitz Roy and Rio Blanco. Take some water for the next section of the trek, you’ll pass plenty of water streams. In the far distance, you can catch glimpses of the Piedras Madras Glacier.
At km 8, you will reach one of the campsites of the hiking area, camp Poincenot. This also holds the first occasion for using a real toilet.
After 1km more through the forest, you will reach the start of a steep uphill section: 1000m uphill, ascending 400m. This section can be tough, as some parts have lose terrain or high steps to take. This should take you approx. 1 hour, before reaching the Lago de Los Tres and of course, the close up of Mount Fitz Roy.
There can be a micro climate up there: windy, rainy or just plain sunshine. There’s the possibility to walk down to the lake (take a dip in icy water if willing), or to hike further on the left or right side of the lake, until you finally reach a wall of snow. It’s an amazing place to have your lunch, make your Fitz Roy selfies and enjoy the accomplishment of going all the way up there.
The hike back to El Chalten should take around 3.5h, since there are more downhill sections. As already mentioned before, you can choose to take the Lago Capri trail on the return, enjoying some last views (looking backwards) of Mount Fitz Roy.
We personally did the entire hike in 8h. This includes a 45 min lunch + photo break at Fitz Roy and some smaller 5 min breaks on the way. So, don’t worry about the difficulty of the trek. Only one section is really steep, but well worth it! You’ll have this great view throughout the trail… Don’t miss out on this one 🙂
This was just one of the many hikes we enjoyed during our time in South America. El Chalten truly deserves its title as hikers capital of Patagonia. Stay there for a couple of days or more, you won’t get bored. We’ll definitely make it there one day, for some more treks!
it’s also possible to do a one way hike, instead of a same way return hike.
Option 1 is take an early morning transfer (8.00AM, 9.30AM) out of El Chaltén until Pilar (ARS 150, Nov. 2016). You can start from here, walk 3,5 hours passing by Glacier Miedras Blancas, until reaching Camp Poincenot. From there, go to Fitz Roy. Returning can be done on the normal trail. This will be quite the hike for 1 day.
Option 2 is similar, just starting the normal trail. After checking Fitz Roy, return as from Camp Poincenot via the Miedras Blancas trail until Pilar (reverse of option 1). At the end, you’ll need to try to hitchhike back to El Chalten, as there is no public transport (or walk).
Did you hike in Patagonia? How did you like our hiking guide? Share your comments or stories with us !
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Wow, what beautiful scenery. I’m not a big hiker but my husband is and he would love this. I’m going to share it with him because he’s always looking for a new place to hike.
Yeah, Patagonia is truly a hiker’s paradise. If he needs to know more info on other hikes, just check around our Blog. Cheers, Mr. Fries
Wow, how gorgeous. Such incredible shots of the mountains and views. I passed through El Chaltén on a trip through Patagonia about 2 years ago and unfortunately did not have time for this hike. Looks like I really missed out. Didn’t know there was the option for a 1 day hike, so thanks for that. Perhaps, next time!!
Yeah, It was a very nice hike, and we really got lucky with the weather 🙂
Wow that is stunning! I am gutted I didn’t go to Patagonia last time I was in South America – but I’m saving it for another trip, it looks too good to miss! I’m not sure I would swim in the lake though, too cold for me!
Haha yeah, we also did not do that, too chilly 🙂
Patagonia is a hiker’s paradise! We hiked the ‘W’ several years back and were amazed by the beauty of Torres del Paine. We also stopped by El Chalten and did a small bit of hiking, but it looks like this route gets you much closer to Fitz Roy than we ever got! This is definitely a handy hiking guide for our next trip to the area. Thanks for posting!
Your photos are exceptional! This looks like heaven on earth. I’m a huge mountain lover, so I definitely need to add this to my hiking wish list.
First close-up pictures I have seen of Patagonia. Breathtaking! South America has always been far from my plans. Should change that!
Yeah, def go for it. You won’t regret. Every country has its specifics: culture, nature, food. And if you’re a hiker, then Patagonia is a must 🙂
WOW! I mean wow! those are really breathtaking!! You were right with your 3 words. Would love to do this hike too, Patagonia is on my list! Did you have a tour guide, can this be done solo?
Yeah, really awesome hike.
No, we actually did everything in Patagonia DIY. The hikes in Bariloche, the hikes in El Chalten, even our 5 day hike in Torres del Paine, including camping.
We only did a tour to do an Ice trekking on Perito Moreno glacier, because it’s mandatory 🙂
All the tracks in Patagonia are highlighted very well, with approx distances and timing to manage yourself. Truly a hikers’ paradise
We love hiking and have always wanted to visit Patagonia! Your post is giving us such wanderlust, so we’re definitely adding this hike to our list when we go there. Let’s hope the weather will also be this nice!
Yeah, best timing starts as from November. Still chance its cold or windy, but less rain and not that crowded yet. Summer time Dec-Febr is of course much better weather wise, but it can still rain 🙂 And more crowds 😉
I love that there are loads of hikes to choose from in El Chaltén. Really does sound like Patagonia’s hikers paradise!! We recently passed through Ushuaia on route to Antarctica, but since we were catching a cruise we didn’t have the chance to explore Patagonia. I want to get back specifically for this region though – as avid hikers we would love the place. Awesome to know that the water in rivers is drinkable – water is always the heaviest thing to carry, especially if you’re on a multi day hike.
The scenery truly is some of the most breathtaking I’ve seen anywhere else in the world! Thanks for sharing your experience, so glad you had a fab trip!
Yeah, finally, we also arrived in Ushuaia. We thought a lot about a last minute Antarctica cruise, but eventually we did not do it. We still had many countries to travel for another 3 months. But we’ll get there eventually.
Yeah, for hiking, it’s really outstanding. There are few places around the world that give this nice scenery, yet still very desolate, rough. Amazing 🙂
That scenery is gorgeous and definitely looks worth the hike! What a beautiful photo of you guys – congrats on accomplishing your mission!
This is my sort of hike and would love to do this. Havent touched the mountain regions in South America yet but when I do, I am gonna walk for miles. Loving your photos as well. Amazing. 🙂
Wow. Loved that photo with the blue waters and snow-capped mountains in the background. That must have been a hike to remember surely! So many great views!
I saw a movie featuring Patagonia a while ago and loved it. I really hope to go one day. I love to hike and these views are amazing.
I really love following this couple and their hiking adventures. You can just see that they are really happy! And thanks for the one-way hike tip!
I love hiking too. There is nothing better than finding a nice blue lake amidst white peaks after a strenuous hike! That is the moment when you feel like achieving something. I love the views of those white peaks… I think they have unique shapes compared to other peaks I have seen, that adds to their personality.
What an incredible hike! Logically, I know that there are glaciers etc. in the southern hemisphere, but shots of Patagonia (like yours) always surprise me and take my breath away. That sounds like a wonderful (if somewhat strenuous, at least by our standards) hike, and I like that you have the one-way option, if need be. Great writeup, and beautiful photos!
Wow! That hike looks worth taking and the views on the route are simply incredible. The blue lake amidst the white peaked mountains is just breathtaking. Loved your post details and picture. Surely, I am going to add this to my bucket list.
We also love hiking, and El Chalten in Patagonia is our dream! I actually want to hike just for the photo opportunities at Cerro Fitz Roy! Thanks for the tip on picking up a hiking map at El Chalten – looks like a great resource to have on hand with the different hikes.
Not so worried about the difficulty of the hike now after reading your experience – 8 hours sounds like a pretty decent day hike.
I never heard of Cerro Fitz Roy before but now I seriously feel like visiting Argentina. It is not hard for me to believe why do you love hiking- the nature, the freedom, the surprises and obstacles coming on the way. I love it, too!
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