Discover El Chaltén
Located in the southwest of Argentine Patagonia, close to the Chilean border, and some 133 miles (214km) north of El Calafate, El Chaltén has a short but unusual history. This small, windswept town was founded by the Argentine government in 1985 in what proved to be a successful attempt to head off Chilean territorial claims to the area. It takes its name from an indigenous Tehuelche phrase meaning “the smoking mountain”, the group's name for the cloud-shrouded peak of Mount Fitz Roy, which is visible from town.
Since its creation, El Chaltén has undergone an uneven, rather haphazard development, but it is a charming and incredibly welcoming place to spend a few days. During the spring and the summer, it gets absolutely packed with hikers from around the world eager to explore the northern part of Los Glaciares National Park. During the harsh winter months, by contrast, the town goes into virtual hibernation, and only around 400-450 people live here year-round.
Planning Your Visit
If you’re short on time, a two-day stay in El Chaltén allows you to do one of the shorter hikes in Los Glaciares National Park. A three-, four-, or even five-day stay, though, will enable you to explore deeper into the park on a multi-day trek or series of day-hikes. The vast majority of travelers include El Chaltén in a wider itinerary, such as this eight-day tour, which also takes in Buenos Aires and El Calafate, and this ten-day journey, which features a trip across the Andes to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.
El Chaltén has a bank and a couple of ATMs, but the latter sometimes run out of money: it’s wise to bring a healthy supply of cash with you just in case. Some of the smarter hotels accept credit and debit cards, but most other places don’t. For more practical logistics, see our Argentina FAQ.
Summer (January and February; 46-66°F/8-19°C) and Easter are the peak tourist seasons, during which El Chaltén’s accommodation options fill up rapidly. Aim to visit in the spring (November to December; 41-59°F/5-15°C) or the autumn (March to April; 39-63°F/4-17°C), when the town is quieter, but its tourist facilities are still in operation. Many places close and transport options are severely reduced during the winter, particularly in July and August (27-43°F/-3-6°C).
Getting There & Away
The nearest airport is in the city of El Calafate, 133 miles (214km) south of El Chaltén. It has daily flights to/from Buenos Aires, Bariloche and Ushuaia, and several weekly ones to Trelew. El Chaltén’s small bus terminal, in the southeastern part of town, has daily services to/from Bariloche, El Bolsón, El Calafate, Esquel, and the town of Perito Moreno (not be confused with the glacier of the same name); these services are much-reduced or even halted during the winter.
El Chaltén is a small town, easily explored on foot. The nearest place to hire a car is in El Calafate—see this guide for more.
Hiking & Outdoor Activities
El Chaltén sits just inside the northern (or “Fitz Roy”) section of Los Glaciares National Park, which is crisscrossed by an array of wonderful trails. (El Calafate is the gateway to the southern section of the park and the Perito Moreno glacier.) With everything from short day hikes to extended, multi-day camping treks, there is something for everyone, regardless of fitness level or time available. The national park office on the southern edge of town is a useful source of information. The hikes below are all relatively easy to navigate, but there are several good tour operators in town if you want to head off the beaten track.
Fitz Roy-Cerro Torre
This is the classic El Chaltén camping trek, lasting three days and offering close-up views of many of the park’s big hitters. As well as the two spectacular mountains mentioned in its title, the circuit takes in the icy Madre (Mother) and Hija (Daughter) lagoons, which are populated by upland geese. The circuit can be walked in either direction, and there are various extensions and side-trips you can add on if you have more time.
Laguna de los Tres
This four-hour hike covers the first section of the Fitz Roy-Cerro Torre loop. It passes by the small Chorillo del Salto waterfall, the Capri lagoon, and several spots boasting great views of Fitz Roy. The highlight, though, is the Laguna de los Tres itself, a scenic lagoon surrounded by jagged, rocky peaks.
Ideal for those short on time and/or energy, this attractive hike takes around three hours. It encompasses waterfalls, great boulders, and forests of lenga trees en route to the impressive Torre lake, which on clear days provides a shimmering reflection of its namesake mountain.
Starting from the Piedra del Fraile campsite, 11 miles (17.5km) northwest of El Chaltén, this five- to seven-hour hike takes you to the Marconi glacier, part of the huge Southern Patagonian Ice Field that straddles the Argentina-Chile border.
Paso del Cuadrado
This hike also starts from the Piedra del Fraile campsite but is considerably more challenging, only suitable for travelers with significant mountaineering experience. Taking between seven and nine hours, it transports you up to the gusty Cuadrado pass, from where there are epic views of the Fitz Roy, Torre, Aguja, and Pollone mountains.
Other outdoor activities
As well as guided hikes in the national park and surrounding region, travel agencies in El Chaltén offer a number of other outdoor activities, including mountain biking, backcountry skiing, mountaineering, and kayaking.
Lodging & Dining
Where to Stay
Room rates are on the high side in El Chaltén, but the quality of accommodation matches the price. If you’re visiting in January or February, make sure that you book well in advance. Most places close between Easter and September/October.
There are numerous mid-range options, too: Nothofagus Bed & Breakfast is a cozy guesthouse with bright and breezy rooms; Cabañas Aires del Fitz offers rustic, split-level cabins ideal for families or groups; and the charming Hotel Lunajuim has smart rooms and a well-tended fire in the lounge.
Travelers with deeper pockets should head to Don Los Cerros, perched on a hill in the center, with large en suites, spa, library, restaurant, and superb mountain views. There are also several great places to stay outside of town, including the tranquil Hostería El Pilar, nine miles (15km) north of El Chaltén, which offers home-style comforts and tasty food.
Where to Eat
El Chaltén has a short, but sweet selection of cafes, restaurants, and bars, though genuine budget options are thin on the ground. Many places provide packed lunches, which are ideal for taking on a hike.
Patagónicus is a long-standing traveler favorite, thanks to its great pizzas and craft beer, while Prana Bar Natural has health-conscious, vegetarian dishes like crepes, stir fries, and curries, plus appealing cakes and desserts. The delightful Fuegia Bistro has a global menu, and also offers a copious buffet breakfast in the mornings. Travelers with a sweet tooth should try Domo Blanco, which has moreish ice cream and a range of savory snacks.
Most of the town's restaurants double-up as bars in the evenings, but there are also a couple of stand-alone drinking spots. La Cervecería is a wonderful little microbrewery, with frequent live music performances, while La Vineria is a top-notch wine bar with almost 200, predominantly Argentine, options to choose from.