From Ushuaia we flew to El Calafate, which is about 2 hours south of El Chaltén. We took a bus to El Chaltén from the airport, which was super convenient. This was the most easy way to start exploring more of Patagonia for us. Our other options were bussing back to Punta Arenas (10 hours) then another bus to Puerto Natales (3 hours) and then after seeing Torres del Paine, bus to El Calafate (5 hours) and El Chalten (2 hours).
El Chaltén is the name of the city that is the base for hiking or climbing Mt Fitz Roy. It is also called the trekking capital of Argentina.
El Chaltén means “Smokey Mountain” in the indigenous language of Aonikenk, which is in reference to the clouds that typically surround Mt Fitz Roy. The indigenous people use “Chaltén” to refer to many of the local mountains though and not only Fitz Roy specifically. So I’ll keep calling it by the white-man’s name for clarity.
We stayed in El Chaltén (the city) for 4 nights. We originally planned on three. We arrived to a beautiful cloudy sunset driving towards the mountains. The next day it rained.
I was so excited to see Patagonia though! I googled and searched and someone at some point said that the hike to Lago Torre was still nice in the rain. So, I made Jeff and Taylor go on a 12km hike to Lago Torre. It was so stupid. We couldn’t see anything interesting because of the clouds. It was wet and cold and my fancy rain jacket still left me wet.
The next day was also rainy, so we stayed indoors and booked the hotel for another night because the next day was supposed to be beautiful. We crossed our fingers, and looked toward the sky…
Oh boy was it a beautiful day.
Off we went to Laguna de los Tres, which is a lake at the base of Mt Fitz Roy and two other peaks (get it, three peaks? Lake of the Three?).
A lot of tour books suggest that maybe some people like El Chaltén, Fitz Roy, and these hikes more than Torres del Paine. After having hiked both parks, I feel like I definitely enjoyed this park more.
The Laguna de los Tres hike is about 13kms long. The hike starts by walking north out-of-town (no bus to the park necessary!) and following a very clearly marked trail. After walking for an hour, but probably less, you are greeted with this view:
And get to look at this for the next 9 kilometers.
It was magnificent.
Look at all of that majestic glory!
The last km of the hike there is a warning sign that the difficultly increases the rest of the way. After hiking Cerro Guanaco, this was laughable to me. Only 750m elevation? Please give me a challenge. Also, switchbacks are for the weak.
There was a ton of people on the trail, so we had plenty of time to stop and wait.
The steep part of the trail is an exposed serpentinite trail up to the base of the glacier to the bottom right of the Fitz Roy in my pictures. Once at the top is a turquoise blue lake and Fitz Roy looming above you.
Unfortunately after 3 hours of perfect clear views of Fitz Roy, you can’t see the peak while ascending the steepest part of the hike. Once we reached the summit of the trail, there was a cloud in front of the mountain for the rest of the day.
It was quite windy at top but we had our lunch there and enjoyed the view as best we could. I willed the clouds to move but I’m no Storm or Rainbow Dash.
We decided to extend our hike by 3km for the return and instead of taking the same trail back, and take a trail by Laguna Madre and Laguna Hija. This met up with the trail we had taken in the rain to Laguna Torre.
It was a nice hike, but we were completely exhausted by the end of it.
The hike from Fitz Roy by the lakes to the trail to Laguna Torres was nice, but certainly nothing that exciting. I think from the other direction, walking towards Fitz Roy, it could be spectacular. It should be quieter, and you’d have Fitz Roy as a backdrop behind the lakes. Unfortunately, the clouds really moved in so we weren’t able to see anything when we turned around to check.
El Chaltén is an amazing trekking opportunity. If you only have a short time in Patagonia, and you haven’t prepared any previous bookings as needed for places like Torres del Paine, I would recommend El Chaltén. You can get in amazing hiking, there are plenty of backyard camping options, and plenty of capitalistic hotels/hostels to take advantage of. I actually think the trail to Laguna de los Tres was much nicer than the hike to Mirador los Torres en Torres del Paine. Just know that there are limited atm/cash options once in El Chaltén.
Trivia fact: The border between Chile and Argentina is not defined south of Mt Fitz Roy in the Glacier National Park. Basically it’s all glacier and treacherous there, and they decided “frick it.”