El Chalten is a simple town in Patagonia known as the trekking capital of Argentina. It’s an extremely affordable destination because all the trails are free and start from the town, so your only expenses are food and accommodation. Most of the hikes range from 5 to 7 hours, and you can camp or stay in hostels. El Chalten has no cell service and poor wifi, which unsurprisingly makes for a very social environment in the town. The perfect complement to trekking is craft beer and you can spend your evenings sipping on $2 pints at one of the many taprooms in El Chalten.
One of my favorite parts about El Chalten is the freedom to start the hikes whenever you want. You’re not dependent on transportation and the sun doesn’t go down until around 9 PM in the summer, so you can sleep in and still have time for a long hike. It’s a town you won’t want to miss, and a common sentiment among other travelers was that they wished they had spent more time here.
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How to Get There
Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of both buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
Where to Change Money
What to Do
Mount Fitz Roy – The most well-known hike in Patagonia is best experienced by arriving at the viewpoint for the sunrise. A majority of the 3-4 hour hike known as “Laguna de Los Tres” is flat except for the last 1.5 km, which gets a lot of chatter about how hard it is. But, I think it’s a bit exaggerated. It’s a 400-meter ascent, but it’s not so steep that you are stopping every 5 minutes for rest.
On a clear morning, the sun will reflect an orange/red shade onto the mountain and it’s absolutely stunning. Ask your hostel staff or the tourist information office to find out which mornings will have clear skies. It’s best to arrive 30 minutes before sunrise to see the colors light up the sky above the lake opposite Fitz Roy.
Loma del Pilegue Tumbado – A 5-6 hour round trip hike with a steep ascent to a viewpoint looking out over Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, and Lago Viedma. You are likely to come across some free-roaming cows and a couple of foxes along the trail, but they seem unbothered by hikers. I thought the views on this hike were better than what you will see from the Laguna Torre hike. This viewpoint is higher than Laguna Torre’s and you are looking down at the Cerro Torre viewpoint from here.
Laguna Torre – A 5-6 hour out and back hike to a glacier lake with views of Cerro Torre. Depending on the weather, there may be icebergs floating in the lake. If you still have the energy, you can carry on for 30 minutes until Mirador Maestri for a better view of the glacier.
Mirador de los Cóndores – A short hike from town to a viewpoint where you can watch the sunset.
Where to Eat
La Viñeria Grill & Pasta – I found most of the nicer restaurants south of Bariloche to be subpar, but La Viñeria has delicious steaks and cheesecakes.
La Waflería – Serving a wide variety of sweet and salty waffles, this is the perfect reward after hiking to Fitz Roy.
Fresco Bar – A nice spot for craft beer and burgers with great happy hour deals.
La Lomiteria – This tasty sandwich shop is the perfect takeaway option for a hiking snack. They have the magic ability to wrap the sandwiches in a way that keeps them warm for a few hours.
Heladería Domo Blanco – A very tasty artesanal ice cream shop.
Where to Stay
El Chalten has a shortage of decent accommodation and I heard some horror stories about hostels here. During high season you’ll want to make a booking a few weeks in advance.
Aylen-Aike Hostel – I had a great stay here. The owner is knowledgeable about the trails and advised which day would be best to go to Fitz Roy. It was also very clean and had a large common area to socialize.
Pioneros del Valle – A hostel with a central location on the main road and a spacious yard to have a drink and grill out.
How Long to Stay
3 days is a good amount of time for trekking in El Chalten, but many travelers love the town and stay longer.
Where to Next
El Calafate (3 hours by bus) – Trek on the famous Perito Moreno Glacier which is the size of Buenos Aires.
Ushuaia (20 hours) – The southernmost city in the world has fantastic hiking and the chance to walk with penguins.
Bariloche (26 hours) – An incredibly scenic town in Patagonia’s Lake District known for its viewpoints, craft beer, and chocolate.
Buenos Aires (3-hour flight from El Calafate) – A food paradise with European influence and exciting cultural events including street parties, tango shows, and interactive dining experiences.