In recent decades, El Chalten has become one of the top destinations for exploring and experiencing the natural wonders of Patagonia. Being the access point to many of the region’s best hikes, it comes as no surprise! As such an epic destination, it deserves careful consideration when planning a South American adventure itinerary. If only there was a comprehensive El Chalten guide to assist in the decision-making, right?
In this guide, we cover where El Chalten is in Patagonia, what its must-sees and must-dos are, when to visit, and how long to spend there. After reading it, the dream of visiting El Chalten and seeing the incredible mountains and glaciers surrounding it will become a solid plan. Here’s a guide of everything you need to know about El Chalten before you go.
Where is El Chalten?
El Chalten is a small commune in the heart of Los Glaciares National Park, Argentine Patagonia. It sits at the base of two of Patagonia’s most famous mountains, Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre which spread across the Argentine-Chilean border. It’s also 220 km north of El Calafate, another popular Patagonian destination.
What Makes El Chalten one of Patagonia’s top destinations?
Thanks to its convenient location within Los Glaciares National Park, El Chalten is considered the National Capital of Trekking. This honor is thanks to its wealth of trekking routes of varying difficulty combined with its pristine natural environment. Everyone from seasoned multi-day trekkers to keen amateur day hikers come to El Chalten to walk its scenic trails. Discover our Luxury Patagonia Tours to make the most of your trip
What are the best things to do in El Chalten?
As the hiking capital of Argentina, it goes without saying that hiking is the main activity for those visiting El Chalten. Its myriad trails, each offering epic views of Los Glaciares, cater to all ages and abilities. Here are a few of the destination’s best hikes:
Laguna Torre (1 day: moderate): 20-25 km hike along Rio Fitz Roy and through lenga forests to Cerro Torre’s Torre Massif and Torre Valley
Laguna de los Tres (1 day: challenging): 22 km out-and-back hike to Laguna de los Tres near Mount Fitz Roy peak via the Sendero al Fitz Roy
Huemul Circuit (4 day: challenging): 66 km loop with high altitudes, exposed mountain passes, Tyrolean traverses, icebergs, and the Southern Patagonia Icefield
Mirador Los Condores (2 hour: easy): 3-mile loop from El Chalten to the Mirador Los Condores and Mirador Las Águilas viewpoints to see Mount Fitz Roy, the town, and Lago Viedma
Explore El Chalten in Alternative Ways
Hiking may be El Chalten’s main draw, but there are several fun and exciting ways to explore this part of Patagonia without hiking boots too! These are some favorites:
Kayaking along lazy rivers: choose from several cool kayaking spots around El Chalten (including Las Vueltas and Lago del Desierto) that allow you to explore Patagonia’s wonderful waterways
Horseback riding through the steppes: take a relaxed horseback ride through the region’s grasslands which are just as beautiful and important as the mountains in Patagonia
Mountain biking on famous mountains: if you love mountain biking, or want to try it for the first time, where better to do it than on legendary mountains like Fitz Roy
Ice trek across Cagliero Glacier (1 day: moderate)
It’s one thing to see the edge of a glacier in front of you but another thing entirely to walk across it and see its otherworldly ice formations surrounding you. The Cagliero Glacier Ice Trek starts with a hike through the ancient Lenga forest and a rope-guided climb before a three-hour trek with crampons across the glacier. Each stage is moderately challenging but rewarding in its own way.
Whitewater rafting in Vueltas River Canyon
Swap a slow-paced hike to a fast-paced ride down some of Patagonia’s coolest rapids. Accompanied by an expert guide who safely navigates the boat down the river, participants can experience the rush of whitewater rafting without worrying about the dangers it can come with.
Take a day trip to El Calafate
If you don’t plan on stopping overnight in El Calafate on your travels, add it as a day trip into your El Chalten itinerary. While many of its highlights require a multi-day stop, its biggest highlight requires almost no time or effort at all: the Perito Moreno Glacier. Located 220 km south of El Chalten, it is a smooth and comfortable three-hour journey to reach El Calafate where you can either walk to the glacier viewpoint or take a boat cruise to get up close to its edge.
Walk around the La Leona Petrified Forest
While most hikes are about reaching a goal, the La Leona Petrified Forest hike is about appreciating the rare and unusual natural wonders along its path. See, this is an ancient forest filled with petrified wood (turned to stone) and fossilized dinosaur bones and footprints.
Drive to Lago del Desierto
For days when long hikes and adrenaline-filled adventures sound too exhausting, Lago del Desierto is an ideal place to go. Take a scenic one-hour drive from El Chalten to reach the lake where you can float on the lake’s boats, walk up to Huemel Glacier, and wander calmly along the lakefront at your own pace.
What is El Chalten town like?
El Chalten is a tiny mountain valley community overlooked by the great Mount Fitz Roy founded for and sustained by tourism. In other words, it’s the central base camp for the start and end of all hikes in this part of Los Glaciares National Park. While the town might look small and insignificant on pictures, it is anything but. Everyone who comes to El Chalten shares a common purpose: to hike and immerse in the immense nature this region presents. In doing so, there is an irreplicable atmosphere of kinship and comradery amongst strangers that makes the stay here an unforgettable experience in and of itself.
Although much of El Chalten consists of accommodation, it’s also a place to dine, shop, and explore. Find several restaurants serving everything from international classics like pizza and burgers to traditional local dishes like Argentine steak. Many of the community’s shops sell quality local crafts and souvenirs, others are equipped with hiking gear because, well, you never know! There are also cozy bars and cool brew pubs to reward you with a drink after a successful hike to Mount Fitz Roy.
Is there a visitors center in El Chalten?
Yes, there is a visitors center in El Chalten on hand to provide all kinds of information about the region. This includes hiking routes, guided tours, weather predictions, and general visitor information about the town and Los Glaciares National Park.
How is the accommodation in El Chalten?
While most accommodation in the center of El Chalten is suited to budget travelers, there are several exceptionally appointed luxury lodges, hotels, and estancias in the surrounding area. Between these luxury stays, find indoor-outdoor spas, fine dining restaurants, and privately guided tours. Best of all, find a comforting sense of seclusion amongst the stunning landscapes of Los Glaciares National Park.
How much time do I need in El Chalten?
The amount of time you decide to spend in El Chalten depends on the hikes that you want to do and the amount of time they take. Some prefer to do a few day hikes alternated by other local outdoor activities like horseriding and kayaking. Others may wish to embark on multi-day treks that require a longer stay. Those simply looking to cover the region’s highlights should put 3-4 days aside for El Chalten.
When is the best time to visit El Chalten?
The best time to visit El Chalten is when its hiking routes are most accessible, usually between September and April (early spring to late summer). For the region’s best hiking conditions, visit during the height of summer between December and February. At this time of year, the weather is warm and clear, and the hiking trails are easily accessible. Check out our Best Time to Visit Patagonia: Month by Month Guide to find out more.
Should I book El Chalten in advance?
Booking accommodation and excursions in El Chalten in advance is highly recommended. Both are in high demand throughout the year and particularly during the summer months. To find the best hotels, guides, and booking deals, book through TLA. As a travel agency specializing in Patagonian adventure, we will ensure your trip includes the very best El Chalten has to offer in a smooth and efficient itinerary. To enquire, message us here or call on +1 855 217 9045.