When we were on the bus riding into El Chalten, I knew that this was our kind of Patagonia. On our ride in we had a panoramic view of a beautiful mountain range with blue skies and only a few clouds around. The clouds that were around were moving out of the area. Even through the window, we were able to take some absolutely amazing shots.
El Chalten is small town that is dubbed “The Trekking Capital of Argentina”. The trails were extremely well marked and maintained, plus there was no entrance fee which fit our budget perfectly. While there were multi day hikes in the area, the town was more known for day hikes, our kind of hiking since I’m not really into camping or carrying a bunch of heavy gear with me.
The town was very touristy and filled with gringos. Getting around was extremely easy as just about everyone spoke English. Credit cards are not widely accepted, but we read about that online and brought lots of pesos with us since we also read that the ATMs here don’t work with credit cards that have chips in them.
Day 1 Hikes
We used Windguru to check the weather during our time in El Chalten. We knew that once we arrived, we wanted to get out on the trails as soon as possible. The weather was absolutely amazing. It was sunny, there were very few clouds and minimal wind. This is not common for Patagonia which is known for having all 4 seasons in one day. Even the front desk agent at our lodge was amazed by the weather, saying it was the nicest that it had been in weeks.
We arrived at the bus station, which was located on the exact opposite side of town from our lodge. After dropping our bags into the luggage storage room, we walked into town to search for some water, sandwiches and snacks which we could eat on the trails.
By the time we started hiking it was noon. Our original plan was to go to Laguna Capri then evaluate how we were feeling and determine if we wanted to hike further. Once we arrived at the laguna, I knew that we had to keep hiking since the weather was so perfect.
We decided to continue on to Lago de los Tres, a beautiful but more challenging hike 3 hours further down the trail. When we heard some water, we thought it might be a waterfall located below Fitz Roy that we had seen in pictures. After going off the trail we found the waterfall and we were excited that we were the only ones there. We took some shots before we headed back to the trail to continue to Lago de los Tres.
The majority of the hike was relatively flat and easy. The last hour of the hike to Lago de los Tres was up a very steep hill of loose rocks, my least favorite kind of hiking since it is hard to get a good grip with your shoes and is hard on the knees. While it would have been a hard hike in its own right, it was especially hard when you factor in that we had already been hiking for 4 hours at that point.
Part way up the steep hill, I started to feel a little dizzy so we stopped to take a break. Andy took my backpack. My shirt which was drenched with sweat on the back was able to dry. I think I was overheated and pushing myself too hard so I decided to take it easy the rest of the hike up the hill. Once we finished the first steep hill we noticed that there was another steep hill. It was like a cruel joke. We slowly but surely climbed up that hill, knowing that I had to see the lake before we headed back.
Once we arrived at Lago de los Tres we were impressed. The view was beautiful and there weren’t too many people around. The only thing that would have made our view better is if we were there in the morning when the light hit the mountain. We were there in the evening when the mountain was backlit, making it more difficult to take pictures.
The view looking east (opposite of Fitz Roy) was a pretty good view as well. It allowed us to see the lakes below and the smaller foothills we had climbed through to get to where we were.
Since we wanted to see a different view on the way back, we decided to loop to see the Fitz Roy lookout. I honestly believe that this was the best view of the Fitz Roy mountain anywhere that we saw. Again, we struggled with the light of the backlit mountain but still believed that this would be one of the best places to get great pictures.
By the time we got back to town at 9pm we had walked the equivalent of a half marathon and our feet were killing us. Even though we had brought lunch and quite a few snacks, we had eaten everything that we brought and were ready to have a big dinner.
Day 2 Hikes
On our second day we had an internal struggle – the weather was beautiful again but our feet were still hurting and we were tired. We decided that we would hike in the morning, come back to town to eat lunch then hike again if we were able.
Since we had such great views of Fitz Roy the previous day, we decided to go to Mirador del Torre, the lookout point for the Cerro Torre mountain range. Since we were staying north of town we took the trail less traveled on the way up. We completed the 1.25 hour hike and were sad that we didn’t have any lunch with us as we would have continued on to Laguna Torre if we did. While I was tempted, the thought of a light breakfast and only a few snacks in our pack without any lunch until 3pm didn’t sound like a great idea, especially after the amount of food that we consumed the day before on a similar hike.
Since we wanted to go to lunch from our hike, we took a different trail which returned us to town. This route was much more beautiful with sweeping views of the mountain range and a cascading waterfall. It was also easier to hike and was more well marked.
When we arrived in town we had a nice lunch and discussed our plans for the rest of the day. I was relieved when Andy suggested that we go to the lodge to relax. I was exhausted and felt that we should be out hiking but was really tired and wanted to nap. So that’s what we did, we napped instead of going on a second hike and it was amazing.
Day 3 Hikes
Our goal on our 3rd day was to wake up early so we could see Fitz Roy mountain with the light hitting the face of the mountain, not behind it. Since we were so far south off the equator the days are long we would have to leave at 5:30am in order to get to the Fitz Roy lookout in time to capture the right light. Windguru told us that the weather would be good in the morning so we decided that after the Fitz Roy lookout we would hike past laguna madre and laguna hija, the 2 lagoons next to laguna capri which we saw on our first day, before we ended at laguna torre, the hike that we were not able to do the day before.
When we had gone to bed the night before the wind was pretty intense and when we woke up it was still intense. This was the first and only time (to date) that windguru had let us down. We decided that since the weather wasn’t great it didn’t make sense to wake up so early so we went back to bed.
After breakfast we hiked to Chorrillo waterfall, one of the easiest hikes in the area. We then grabbed our sandwiches which were in the refrigerator at the lodge and headed towards Mirador de los Condores. When we hit the visitor center, which was located at the start of the hike, we utilized the picnic tables and ate our sandwiches. Per the usual with sandwiches in South America, Andy was not overly impressed with his ham and cheese sandwich. Since it was somewhat windy and overcast, we decided that the view wouldn’t be great and decided to head back to town.
On the main street through town there are also some cool wood sculptures that sit in the median of the road. One of them is a skier and the other is a large hiking backpack. Even though the wind was pretty crazy, we set up the tripod to take some pictures with the large backpack sculpture.
Since the day had turned into kind of a bust, we decided to go to the restaurant that we had eaten at the day before which had working wifi. From there we booked our bus tickets to Mendoza, secured an apartment in Mendoza and loaded some articles. Even though the restaurant wasn’t open when we arrived, we were able to sit on the picnic table outside and use the wifi until they opened.
After we had eaten, we grabbed postcards and a keychain which we will turn into a Christmas ornament then headed over to the bus station. We then hopped on our bus which was our home for a 19.5 hour long bus ride to Bariloche.
El Chalten was what I expected when I thought of Patagonia. From the small town charm of the city to the accessible hiking trails, it was everything that I wanted and needed. I think the best part for me was the number of day treks that were available, making it easy for us to stay in a lodge and still get to see many different parts of the park.
The fact that the weather was nearly perfect when we were in El Chalten I’m sure swayed my opinion of the city, but in general, the weather seems to be much more consistent than Torres del Paine, which we had visited a few days before.