When we were planning our trip around the world, we knew that hiking was going to be a big part of it. We built our trip around what we called the pillars – five must-sees around the globe. Out of those five must-sees, two of them were hiking related – hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and exploring Patagonia.
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We made our way to Argentina and really started researching what options were available to us. We were intrigued by the little town of El Chalten.
Like hiking in Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia, the beauty of El Chalten were the options available for hikers, particularly if you venture there in the summer (December – February). Because of its extreme southern location, El Chalten can see up to 18 hours of daylight during the height of summer, which means plenty of time to do long hikes.
What’s great about El Chalten is not only the number of trails available and the vast beauty of the surrounding area (both of which are awesome), but the fact that nearly all out and back trails originate right in town and can all be completed in a day during the summer. This means that no matter what your preference, you have options.
If you are a little more hard-core and like to head out on multi-day treks, sleeping in a tent, cooking and eating your own food, and just being away from civilization for days at a time, you can do it. If you like to get out on the trails but also like sleeping in a nice, warm bed, eating at restaurants, and having some beers and wine at night after a long day on the trail, you can do that, too.
The Trails of El Chalten
The variety of trails in the area is a major highlight and if you don’t have much time, then it may be difficult to choose. We ended up staying in El Chalten for five nights, which gave us plenty of time to explore a different trail each day, each with its own highlights. Note that there are more trails than mentioned here.
Mirador de los Condores – A super easy out-and-back that originates at the guard station just before entering the town. All buses stop at the guard station for a mandatory briefing of the area. It’s a great opportunity to get maps and hear about the highlights from rangers. This short, hour-long hike is a great introduction to El Chalten and provides a stunning view of the town and Cerro Fitz Roy, the dominating peak evident from all over town.
Glacier and Lago Torres – This hike takes you to a lake and glacier, providing amazing vistas and few people (we were there in late January at the height of high season and saw only a handful of people all day). This is a 15 mile (24 kilometer) hike and can be done in a day. We are not the most experienced, fit, or fast hikers in the world and it took us about 8 hours to complete.
At the edge of town is one trailhead that heads to several different destinations. The following hikes all begin at the same place, at the end of Av. San Martin, which is the main street in town. They are all the same for the first few hours of the hike before branching off.
Glacier and Lago Piedras Blancas – This hike also heads to a lake and glacier, and because of the final hour of the hike, it also does not see as many hikers as other trails in the area. The final hour has hikers traversing massive boulders along a river before reaching your final destination. It takes some time and patience, but the minor bouldering can be a lot of fun, and the payoff is worth it. This trail is about 16 miles (25 km) long and the out-and-back took us about 9 hours.
Laguna de los Tres – This was the most challenging, crowded, and rewarding hike we did in El Chalten. The final third part of the hike is straight up, and you won’t be alone if you are here during high season. But once you reach the top, you are nearly face to face with Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, along with three beautiful lakes. This 17 mile (27 kilometer) hike took us about 10 hours to complete.
There are more hikes in and around El Chalten for various levels. This is major climbing area as well, and if you want to combine any of these day hikes into multi-day treks, that’s possible, too. If you are coming to El Chalten as part of a longer trip and are not carrying a tent or camping gear with you, no worries as there are plenty of outfitters in town who can hook you up.
Have you hiked in El Chalten before? What about elsewhere in Patagonia? Comment below to share your stories.
Adam Seper‘s a veteran RTW traveler and a personal travel consultant at AirTreks.