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.
Start of the hike
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.
Plenty of fresh water
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.
Beautiful valley views
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.
Still some hiking to do
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.
Piedras Madras glacier up far
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.
Rocky steep ascent
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.
Mission accomplished !
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.
Clouds can be part of the game
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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