El Chaltén is the undisputed trekking capital of Argentina, drawing the biggest crowds to its section of Patagonia each year. This town is actually situated inside the Los Glaciares National Park, and is the entry point for the northern section of the park, including Cerro Torres and Mount Fitz Roy. It’s rather remote (think: no cell service and wifi barely strong enough to send a text). You’ll probably connect through El Calafate when getting here, so you should check out my posts about the glacier and the hiking in El Calafate!
This post focuses on hiking and camping through El Chaltén and the surrounding park. For day hikes and treks available in the area, click here!
The buses from El Calafate all must stop at the visitor center as they enter town from the south. Here you’ll get a map of the park and a briefing (English & Spanish) about hiking and rules to abide by. Then the buses drop you at the bus station across the bridge, at the south end of town. El Chaltén is a small town and the only thing to do here is to go hiking and trekking. Don’t plan to stay extra days to explore town, as there really isn’t much to see. There are loads of stores and companies though that have supplies you’ll need.
You can spend the first night in town if you want to stock up on food and fuel, rent some gear, etc. All hostels and hotels book weeks in advance, but you won’t have a problem getting a camping spot at either El Relincho or El Refugio, both of which are right on the main road, towards the north of town. These campsites are 70-120 Argentinian Pesos per night, and offer bathrooms, a kitchen, tables and benches.
Note that all the water in the park is totally clean and pure because it’s direct glacial run-off. It’s safe to drink, cold and refreshing! Be very diligent to not compromise this water source; do not wash in the rivers, relieve yourself at least 30 paces from them, and don’t throw anything in them. Let’s protect this amazing water source for all visitors!
Then to head out on the trails, take the road on the left in the middle of town that heads towards the mountains and indicates the trail to Cerro Torres. It takes 3 hours of walking with your heavy backpack to get to the De Agostini camp, at the base of Cerro Torre. The trail is well-marked and well-traveled. It isn’t terrible steep at any point, has several streams nearby for water, and is a rather nice hike. After dropping your bag and setting up camp at De Agostini, maybe putting on a jacket and having a snack, take an easy 10 minute walk to Laguna Torre for a the viewing point of the stunning Cerro Torres peaks! The benefit of camping so close by is that you also have the chance to walk over the mirador later if the weather isn’t great when you arrive (as it was for me!). The free campground is in a wooded area, right next to a river, and has a drop toilet. The park rangers don’t really monitor this campground because it’s less popular than the one by Fitz Roy, so it’s up to you and your camping neighbors to respect the park rules and to protect the land here!
The next day, pack up and head back for about an hour on the trail you came in on, but then take a left to head up to Poincenot camp, by Mount Fitz Roy. This hike takes 3.5 hours with the heavy pack, and is a much steeper route than yesterday’s. Bring plenty of water and take breaks as often as needed. The views of Laguna Madre e Hija and of Fitz Roy as you hike the second half of this trail will make the challenge of the first half so worthwhile!
After you arrive at Poincenot camp, set up and get a snack and some water. The hike up to Laguna de los Tres is an hour straight uphill all the way. It’s an amazing view when you get up there, but be sure to time it well so that you’re not stuck coming back in the dark. (This shouldn’t be too problematic since we get 16-18 hours of sunlight in the summer here, Jan-Mar.) Your campground for the night, Poincenot, is free, right next to a river, and has a drop toilet. It’s very busy though because the awesome badass rock-climbers that actually scale Mt Fitz Roy (this concept will totally blow your mind when you see this thing) use this as their base camp. The park rangers are here monitoring everything, including your use of the river and noise level. They gave me a hard time about using my hammock (said I was hurting the trees), so we compromised and I used a couple of dead trees instead.
The hike back to town on the next day offers loads of views of Fitz Roy, so be sure to stop often and glance back for a photo! It takes about 3 hours to get back and is a pleasant, fairly flat trail. Back in El Chaltén, you can stay a night at one of the campsites mentioned above so that you can clean up and get some stuff in town. Otherwise, there are buses back to El Calafate as late as 6pm, and you can get connections to more locations here.
You may want to stay in town a bit longer if you want to see the waterfall, go trekking on the glacier, or go up to the lake. More on these day trips to right here! And for serious hikers, you can head out to the less-visited Laguna Toro, though you’ll need to register with the park rangers to go on this unmarked backcountry trail. I’ve heard the views here are great though!
Are you excited about visiting Patagonia? Get your bags packed and go! It’s such a magnificent place, one of the few remaining places of untouched natural beauty in the world!
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