This especially quaint little town was founded in 1985 and has experienced remarkable growth thanks to the people moving from different parts of the country. In the town, Alpine-style wooden houses prevail.
Today, El Chaltén is known as the trekking capital, due to the great amount of trails offered to trekking lovers. Around its many trails you can enjoy waterfalls, lakes, forests, glaciers, mountains and bird watching. The trekking circuits reach the west of El Chaltén, between Eléctrico River to the north and Fitz Roy River to the south. It is always recommended to take warm clothes even during summer, since temperature may fall down abruptly right after sunset.
The most important trekking circuits are Laguna de los Tres (Three Lagoon), Torre Lagoon, Base Camp and Eléctrico River:
- Laguna de los Tres (Three Lagoon): It is an easy trail until the course of Blanco river. The trail reaches the beautiful Capri Lagoon and then continues on a short but demanding steep section ascending to 3,940 ft in order to reach Laguna de los Tres, with excellent views of the ranges of Mount Fitz Roy and Mount Torre.
- Torre Lagoon: Departing early in the morning right after dawn and returning to El Chaltén at around 4:00PM, this trail takes you through beautiful lush coniferous forests, where you can catch the sight of red-headed woodpeckers, bandurrias, etc. After almost three hours of hike, you will reach Torre Lagoon, a lagoon inhabited by ducks and sheldgeese, where the icy waters of Torre and Grande Glaciers flow into and Fitz Roy River originates. On the way back, you will see the De Agostini campsite.
- Base Camp: This trekking option is for people wishing to experience a camping night. It starts on the north side of the town (where Provincial Route 23 intersects Blanco River.) You will hike through a forest area following the course of the river to the south and passing by Poincenot Campsite and Sucia Lagoon. Then you will start descending to return south and get to know Madre and Hija Lagoons (Mother and Daughter Lagoons) ending your trekking at Torre Lake. This program may last 2 or 3 days.
- Eléctrico River: This trekking follows the course of Eléctrico River from Provincial Route 23 to the west. After several hours hiking you will reach the shore of Eléctrico River where you can find sheldgeese and ringed kingfishers. Here you will find base camp Piedra del Fraile, named after missionary and explorer Alberto de Agostini. This campsite has a shelter and services for those wishing to stay the night outdoors.
Note: Basic equipment for all trekking programs include a compass, walking stick for the hike, proper boots with crampons for ice and a thermal sweatshirt.
From El Calafate to El Chaltén
When departing from El Calafate heading to El Chaltén, you will pass through the Charles Fuhr bridge over Santa Cruz River. You can consider this the starting point to the town of El Chaltén. You will start your ride on an inhabited area of deserted steppe and strong winds on Route 49 heading north, passing by the estuary of La Leona River until you reach Viedma Lake. Along the road, you will leave behind Parador Luz Divina (named after the estancia) which is located by La Leona River and connects Argentino and Viedma Lake in a desolate and dry spot where you can watch guanacos, rheas and eagles.
In the direction of Viedma Lake, La Leona Hotel is located. This is the most emblematic spot at Route 40. It is a rustic general store, a countryside store, working as a bar and hotel. Right at La Leona you can find the entrance to Provincial Route 21 leading to El Chaltén with Viedma Lake to the left all along the drive. This elongated stretch of water covers an area of 424 sq. miles and receives the flow from Viedma Glacier, Mount Fitz Roy and Mount Torre.
This area was Tehuelches’ territory until the end of the 19th century. Heading west to El Chaltén, you will see the entrance to Estancia Helsinfors, located at the border of Los Glaciares National Park. As you approach El Chaltén the majestic shape of Fitz Roy mountain range, a true symbol of Southern Patagonia, appears. The mount was originally called Chaltén, which in aonikenk indigenous language means ”smoke mountain.” It was Francisco Moreno who later renamed it as Mount Fitz Roy as a tribute to Robert Fitz Roy, a great English sailor who explored the southern end of the American continent.
Río de las Vueltas (De las Vueltas River) and Laguna del Desierto (Desert Lagoon)
Once in El Chaltén, you will pass through the small downtown area along San Martin Avenue and just half a mile to the north, Provincial Route 23 appears again on the road to Laguna del Desierto (Desert Lagoon) and you will also find Río de las Vueltas which is named like this (”Twists River”) due to its twisting course of water in midst of a heavenly environment. The best views of the river can be appreciated from the trekking trail leading to Laguna de los Tres. The river runs between walls through snowy peaks and forest descending from the slopes. The grove of Antarctic and lenga leeches are deep and impenetrable, with an eerie atmosphere. Between the estuaries of the river bandurrias, ducks, sheldgeese and cows from neighbor estancias abound.
Continuing on Provincial Route 23 to the north you enter the forests to reach Laguna del Desierto. This second elongated stretch of water was the focus of one of the last border conflicts between Chile and Argentina. It is fed by the flow of the melting snow coming down from the Andes and it seems to be hidden from visitors’ view thanks to the trees and the perpetually snowed mountains. You can only catch the sight of the lagoon right before reaching its shore.
Capilla de los Austríacos (Chapel of Austrians)
At El Chaltén there is a tribute to adventure, Capilla de los Austríacos, located in downtown, facing Mount Fitz Roy. It was built in honor to those people who died in their attempt to reach the summit, especially Austrian climber Toni Egger, who lost his life during an avalanche while climbing Mount Torreen along with Italian climber Césare Maestri. The chapel was built in 1995, with materials especially brought from Austria, by Austrian carpenters and craftmen. On its walls you can find the names of all climbers who have died in Mount Fitz Roy and nearby mountains.
Mount Fitz Roy
Legendary Mount Fitz Roy or Chaltén is one of the most beautiful and emblematic mountains in the southern Andes Mountain Range. Its tragic summit, coveted by climbers around the world, is hidden behind clouds and is the highlight among a group of legendary peaks. This is one of the steepest and hardest peaks to climb, so climbing is only allowed to professional climbers. Is it a Mount or a Volcano? Perito Moreno named Mount Fitz Roy a mountain in 1877. He first thought is was a volcano because this was the Telhuelches’ belief.
Mount Fitz Roy offers the ”Impossible Wall”, named after the fact that there were many attempts to climb it in the early 20th century. The summit was reached for the first time in 1953 by climbers Lionel Murray and Guido Magnone. Mount Fitz Roy’s main peak is 11,170 ft high. It is a granite mountain with sharp walls made of extremely hard rock and a peak with perpetual snow. Three spires stand out: Aguja Saint-Exupery, Aguja Rafael and Aguja Poincenot. Aguja Saint-Exupery was named by a French expedition in 1952 after poet and aviator Saint Exupery, author of The Little Pince. At the base of Aguja Rafael, the beautiful Laguna de los Tres is located, reachable through trekking trails. Aguja Poincenot was named as a tribute to French climber Jacques Poincenot, who died in an attempt of ascent in 1952.
Excursions to El Chaltén
Laguna de los Tres Trekking
Free day to rest or do some hiking. Depending on the physical conditions we recommend making the trek to the base of the Cerro Fitz Roy, the three Lagoon (moderate, 8 hours) or the hike to Laguna Capri (easy, 4 hours)
Trekking to the Fitz Roy Mountain: Laguna de los Tres
Breakfast at the boarding contracted. We have a day off in El Chaltén. We suggest to undertake the most important trekking in Los Glaciares National Park. The trail to do this is perfectly signaled. We get to the first viewpoint, with the view of the Piedras Blancas Glacier, after about two hours of hiking by the Río Blanco Valley and walking through the ancient forests of nothofagus. We go a little further and arrive to the Poincenot Camping Site which finishes on the Río Blanco. From here we climb up a steep slope which rises 400 metres until the Mountain Fitz Roy Base: Laguna de los Los Tres.
The trail finishes on the edge of a glaciatic moraine. From here we have an amazing view of the lagoon and its glacier together with the classic profile of the Fitz Roy Mountain, that appears from the top of its envelope of ice at a height of more than 2,000 metres. If we feel like going a little further we can turn off to go to the Laguna Sucia viewpoint from where we can see the Viedma Lake and the hanging glaciers. We return to the town going to Laguna Capri. If we are not late we should be arriving at about 18 hrs. In case you require a mountain guide please advise in advance.
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Capri Lagoon Trekking
The trekking to Laguna Capri offers a unique relaxing view for the eyes and it is ideal for those who do not have the time to take a whole day walking, like going to the Laguna de Los Tres or Laguna Torre. Our main objective is to arrive to the first viewpoint of the Fitz Roy Mountain. We begin from the town of El Chaltén, it is an easy trekking although the slope is pronounced for a stretch of about 2 hours, rising some 350 metres. The first part is the same as Los Tres track until we arrive at a natural rocky viewpoint where we can turn off to the south until the camping site. At the viewpoint we will have a privileged view of the Torre Mountain and its surrounding ice needles such as Poincenot, Saint Exupéry, Mermoz and Guillaumet. We stop just a few minutes before entering the Capri Camping Site in order to see the Laguna Capri. We return by the same trail to our lodgings in the town.
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Mount Torre Trekking
This is one of the most traditional treks in Los Glaciares National Park. The trail that we take goes to Laguna Torre and goes through a really beautiful landscape. The route starts in El Chaltén and goes along the Río Fitz Roy and starts with a pronounced slope and then the path becomes flatter until we reach our first resting point after about two hour hike. At this stop we can see the mountain chain of the Torre Mountain, the Las Adelas Chain and some of the Fitz Roy Mountain.
We carry on with few more rises until the source of the river and arrive at the De Agostini Camping Site after about another hour of walking along the signaled track. A little more effort and we going along the cross of the moraines we can see in front of us the Laguna Torre. Here we have incredible panoramic views of the Torre Mountain, sculptured by the ice needles of the Egger, Standhard, Bifida and the Adelas Chain that shows the mountain glaciers that pour their waters into the Laguna Torre.
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Piedra del Fraile Trekking
We leave from the Río Eléctrico Bridge, some 16 kms from El Chaltén. We need to travel to this point in order to start the trekking to the Fraile Stone. It is an easy walk that is almost totally flat. It takes two hours of hiking through ancient forests of nothofagus, between ñires and lengas, and fording streams until we arrive at the Fraile Stone. Here Agostini made a base for his expeditions and we can appreciate the unique image of the north east face of the Fitz Roy Mountain.
Los Troncos Refuge is a good place to camp because it has good facilities, however there is an entrance charge because it is a private camp site. Those that feel like it can hike for another two hours over 5 kilometres to get to the Pollone Glacier. As we follow the banks of the river we arrive soon to the Eléctrico Lake, in presence of the north face of the Fitz Roy and the ice needles of Mermoz and Guillaumet. We then continue until we are affronted by the Pollone and North Fitz Roy Glaciers.
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Pliegue Tumbado Trekking
This walk is a very good complement to the others in order to really get to know this part of Los Glaciares National Park. Pliegue Tumbado gives us a real dimension of the complete zone once we get there and there we can see well the Río Fitz Roy canyon, the Torre Mountain and Glacier, Lagunas Madre and Hija, the Fitz Roy Mountain and also Laguna Condor. We take a look on the other direction and we are able to see the Viedma lake, the Río Túnel Valley and the Paso de Viento which is the entrance to the Patagonian Continental Ice Fields. This walk begins in the town of El Chaltén, which is the information centre of Los Glaciares National Park. In the first part of the hike we go up steppes and then we continue rising through an ancient forest of nothofagus, mainly made up of lengas and ñires. The Loma del Pliegue Tumbado is found at an altitude of 1500 metres. The trekking has an intermediate difficulty especially in the final stage where we ascend 1.150 metres. This walk is done in approximately six hours.
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Valle del Río Las Vueltas & Navigation by the The Desert Lake
We leave to go the extreme south of the Desert Lake, wrongly named Laguna del Desierto. We travel for 38 kms by a dirt road that snakes along the Río Vueltas Valley. The landscape that we watch is typical of Andes Patagonia surrounded by mountains, forests, water falls and mirror like waters that combine to present a natural harmony. We can chose between a walk until the Huemul Glacier or a navigation to the icy waters of the lake. The hike is short at only one hour but has a pronounced ascent that requires a reasonable effort. This is a private area and therefore there is an entrance charge. We can also go until Laguna Larga and Diablo but the route takes another four hours. Those who decide not to take the walk can enjoy the navigation of Lago del Desierto where the boat goes from the south to the north of the lake.
Once on land we walk to the Centinela Viewpoint that is only 12 minutes and is accompanied by some fantastic views. Lago del Desierto is located in a valley that stretches 15 kms between the Andes Mountain Range, close to the O?Higgins Lake, and the Fitz Roy Mountain. The mountain chains that enclose the valley are the Occidental Massif which is made up of the Marconi chain and the Occidental Massif amongst others. The Río Las Vueltas starts from this lake and flows through the Azul Lake before finishing in the Viedma Lake.
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Viedma Lake Navigation & Minitrekking to the Viedma Glacier
We leave from the Túnel Bay Port in the northerly direction to El Chaltén, in Los Glaciares National Park, in order to navigate on the Viedma Lake disembarking at the Viedma Glacier and walking to its interiors. The Viedma Lake is some 78 kms in length and is the largest one caused by glacier abrasion and the second largest in the Park (the Upsala Glacier is the largest). It is fed by its glacier of the same name that is in the west.
The Viedma Glacier has a breadth of some 5.000 metres, a height of 50 metres and an area of circa 1.000 kms2 and originates from the Continental Patagonian Ice Fields between the Huemul and Campana Mountains taking their ice and tipping it into the lake. Once we board the vessel we go to the south accompanied by the views of the Fitz Roy and Huemul Massifs and the impressive icebergs. In the middle of the morning we arrive at the Viedma Glacier and we descend in a rocky area to go and see the ice caverns and other glacier formations that are particular to this zone. Here we are given some information about the glaciers and then we continue our trekking to the erosion zone in front of the glacier.
With the help of crampons we ascend in order to start a walk over the icy structures for about 3 hours where we could see crevices and drainage areas. Once we finish the trekking to the interior of the caves we return to the boat to take a trip along the front of the glacier. We have lunch on board (the box lunch is not included) and in the afternoon we return to Túnel Bay.