A stop in the delightful little mountain village of El Chaltén is a must for any person travelling through Patagonia. The gateway to many a beautiful hike, its crowning glory, Mt. Fitz Roy, sits high up any hikers bucket list. The cute cafes and bars lining the main street- Avenida San Martin, have a distinct alpine feel. Yet whilst not cheap, as with most of Patagonia, needs are met with a homely charm and a real community feel.
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El Chaltén | 3 Day Hiking Guide
Here we detail 3 guides to excellent day hikes straight from town, including Laguna de los Tres, and show you just why El Chaltén is the hiking capital of Patagonia.
Hiking in El Chaltén
If you love hiking, you’ve come to the right place. A hiker’s paradise, El Chaltén is not short of hiking options. With the beauty of trail heads beginning from the town itself there’s no extra buses or tours needed. Furthermore there are no national park fees to pay for hiking in El Chaltén!
1. Sendero Laguna Torre
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 22km
- Time: 5-6 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 539m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: El Chalten
The trails in this guide are rated by ElChalten.com
At 22km, this moderately easy return hike is a great introduction to this part of Los Glaciares National Park. The hike kicks off with a steady uphill climb for around 3km. It then flattens off for the remaining 7-8km, reaching mirador Laguna Torres in about 2.5-3hrs. Upon reaching the lagoon it is possible to continue along the ridge for a further 2km in order to reach the Maestri mirador. This feels optional as many people choose to stop at the lagoon.
We had such wonderful weather and spent well over an hour sat at the waters edge, eating our peanut butter sandwiches and quite frankly just loving life.
2. Laguna De Los Tres
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 25km
- Time: 6-7 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 1014m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: El Chalten (end of Av. San Martin)
Also known as the Fitz Roy Trek, this is by far the best one day hike out of El Chaltén. Along with Los Torres, in the Torres del Paine National Park, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful hikes in the whole of Patagonia. Efforts are rewarded with the culmination of three pristine lakes and unparalleled views across to the Fitz Roy peak. The 25km return trek is moderate to difficult. Starting with a gradual uphill section for the first 3 km, the hike then plateaus, before ascending sharply for the final 1km. At an ascent of around 400m this last section is tough work, but just know the rewarding views are more than worth it.
Head left after photographing the impressive mountain peaks from the shore of Lago de los Tres. The trail leads up to another viewpoint with a lookout down over Laguna Sucia and its hanging glacier. We, again, had remarkably good weather for Patagonia standards, spending easily 2 hours enjoying the views in the warmth. The hike up takes around 3.5 hours owing to the steep ascents, meaning downhill is much quicker.
If you only follow 1 guide to hiking in El Chaltén, make sure it’s Laguna de los Tres!
3. Chorillo del Salto
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 7km
- Time: 2-2.5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 74m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: El Chalten (end of Av. San Martin)
To conclude our stay in El Chaltén, Chorillo del Salto is the shortest and simplest of the hiking guides. Furthermore this trail could easily be classed as a leisurely 5km stroll from town rather than ‘hike’. Still, if walking this at the end of your El Chaltén stay the change of pace and ease of effort is a welcome break. The trail-head begins from the same point as Laguna de los Tres but veers off to the right almost immediately. The path winds through woodland but essentially intertwines and hugs closely to the road. This road leads to the car park at the end of the trail- we ended up walking the road on our return. You’ll arrive at the waterfall in well under an hour.
A gushing 60 ft drop of water pours into a shallow pool, running back off into the river of the same name. Not the most impressive waterfall you’ll ever see, but worth the visit nevertheless. We do love our waterfalls (especially Dan), so we’ll try to visit one if it’s on offer. We’d recommend going early therefore avoiding the crowds and bus loads of tourists that are often dropped off. The view points and waterfall can become rather busy.
El Chaltén Recap
Getting to hike in El Chaltén is an absolute dream and we’re sure you’ll be equally as impressed by the amazing trails and the magnificent Fitz Roy as we were. It’s clear to see why El Chaltén is such a popular destination for those seeking adventure, challenge and jaw dropping nature. With its reign of being the hiking capital of Patagonia looking unlikely to be overthrown anytime soon, be sure to immerse yourself in this hiking kingdom and the welcoming community of like minded enthusiasts you’ll meet there.
Getting to & from El Chaltén
Overnight buses are fine. In this El Chaltén hiking guide, we arrived from El Calafate. Through Busbud we booked a 9pm bus with Chaltén Travel for $17.50USD/person, arriving into El Chaltén at midnight. A 20 minute walk from the bus terminal took us to our accommodation, but even at midnight, the town felt very safe.
Rio Tranquilo for the Marble Caves was our next stop after visiting El Chaltén. This is a long but worthwhile journey involving leaving town on a night bus and taking the 10 hour ride to Los Antiguos. The journey, with Chaltén Travel and costing $49USD/person, departs the bus terminal at 9pm. It arrives into Los Antiguos at 7.30am the following morning. The bus was comfortable enough but more importantly felt safe. We even received a small breakfast onboard with a hot drink. We recommend booking this bus a few days ahead of schedule if you can. Check online with Busbud or at the ticket office for Chaltén Travel located in El Chaltén bus terminal. For further information on how to reach the Marble Caves, please see our post on Puerto Rio Tranquilo.
Hostels galore. El Chaltén is not short of accommodation options, catering for an array of budgets and needs. We found Luna Country Hostel to be the perfect base for our 3 day stay, through booking.com. Only a short walk from the central hub, it kept costs down just enough to not feel overly pricey. At $131USD for 3 nights for 2 people it was still the most expensive stay we had throughout all of Patagonia, after Puerto Natales. But for the luxury of a private room with private bathroom we can’t complain too much. The shared kitchen facilities are more than adequate and cleaned daily. Wifi can be a little on the slow slide but not really a big issue.
Food is good but expensive. El Chaltén has limited options for buying groceries if self catering. Supermarkets are small and stock a select but adequate array of produce. Groceries, like everything else, are on the pricey side. With careful planning it is possible to stick to some sort of budget. Consequently as we were sticking to said budget, eating out was not on our radar. However we did find some reasonably priced and rather decent coffee at La Nana, with excellent wifi to boot. In addition there are numerous little bakeries too, serving one of our favourite food finds of Argentina- Chipas. These heavenly little cheese balls of bread powered our hikes!
Five Hiking Gear Essentials for El Chaltén
If you’re planning to take on these 3 hikes, which we hope you are, then here are a few essentials we recommend and you may want to consider. We had exceptionally good weather for Patagonia standards, however the base of Laguna Torre and Laguna de los Tres can become very cold the longer you stay. For a more comprehensive packing list, please check out the Ultimate Packing Checklist. It’s a great general summary of everything you’d need for a trip. For even more information check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With.
- Merrell Moab 2 Mid Goretex hiking boots– long days of hiking and rough terrain, that can occasionally be muddy, call for a decent pair of hiking boots. We find the Merrells to be lightweight, waterproof and down right comfortable to wear.
- Long sleeved shirt (or base layer)– Hiking in the mountains requires layers. Summits can be very cold, yet the effort of hiking up can be very hot. Make sure you’re prepared with layers that can be easily thrown on and off as needed.
- The North Face TKA Glacier snap fleece jacket– an all time favourite for us, this lightweight, pack down small yet incredibly warm piece of clothing never gets left at home.
- The North Face Venture 2 waterproof/windproof Jacket– as outer layers go, this is an absolute winner.
- Columbia water repellent convertible hiking trousers– yes you want to look the part, but that’s pointless when your gear is useless. These trousers are a fantastic addition to any hikers kit list- light, comfortable and easy to hike in.
An important detail to note is the 21% VAT added to hotels and accommodation in Argentina. Apparently all foreign visitors are exempt from paying this tax and should receive a full reimbursement of the charge when settling their bill with a foreign credit card. For example our experience in El Chaltén was somewhat confusing and perhaps a lot down to our own inexperience with this matter. We were quoted $108USD for the room through booking.com, plus a 21% VAT charge of $23USD, bringing the total to $131US. We paid this final amount to the proprietor, on arrival, using a foreign credit card. Shouldn’t we have been exempt from the tax and only have paid $108USD? Another question is why do sites, like booking.com, add this tax automatically to a bill?
We can only therefore deduce that it is our own responsibility to ensure we are not paying this added extra. It is categorically unlawful for any foreign visitor in Argentina to pay VAT on accommodation. Should your hotel, host or hostel owner try to charge you this they are either being dishonest or are grossly uneducated, both equally as bad. You cannot be made to pay this, so always know the cost of your stay without tax added on and pay with either cash or foreign credit/debit card. Passport is proof enough of your nationality. An extra 21% added to the price of all accommodation throughout an already expensive Patagonia will soon burn a whole in your pocket.
It’s something to be aware of, but nothing to be worried about . The vast majority of establishments will be educated, honest and happy to ensure you are not paying VAT. It seems we learnt the hard way.
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