| 6 min read
Many travel guides describe El Chaltén as the real hikers' paradise, and some go as far as to pretend it surpasses Torres del Paine in beauty. So we went there and checked it out for ourselves. The Fitz Roy mountain dominates this region, and from it originated the town's name: the almost eternal scarf of clouds that surrounds its summit inspired the name 'El Chaltén' - the mountain that smokes.
A clear blue sky and a bright sun welcomed us heartily to El Chaltén - perfect for a hike. Vincent's knees were still sore, so we chose an 'easy' hike and took the northern trail from El Chaltén to go to Laguna Torre. It started with a steep climb (up to the Torre viewpoint) but levelled soon enough. The landscape was gorgeous and varied frequently: hills covered with dry grass, huge fields of weird looking trees, an open area along the river,...
Most of the trail is rather flat, so it's accessible for all hikers - with our without experience. At a normal to slow pace, this hike takes about 3 hours one-way (11-12km).
At the very end, a small hill obscures the endpoint of the trail and today's goal: the Laguna Torre with a glacier and the mountains in the background.
This hike is highly recommended!
Loma del Pliegue Tumbado
Even though the hike to Laguna Torre was not really hard, Vincent didn't want to overdo it after yesterday's 23km and took some more rest. So the next day, he stayed in and I went exploring on my own. I picked the trail to Loma del pliegue Tombado.
The first part is the steepest; after that it still goes up, but more gradually. The last part -the most impressive one- can be covered in snow, and is exposed to strong winds. Before going up, you better ask the park rangers for more information about the weather conditions at the top.
Just before reaching the end, I had to go through some snow - slightly less than knee-high. But it was worth the effort; I couldn't help but let go a quiet 'wow' when faced with the Fitz Roy mountain on one side and a panoramic view of the whole National Park Los Glaciares on the other.
The map indicates the hike takes about 4 hours one-way, but if you speed up, you can hike the 12km in 2.5 to 3 hours. Being used to always having people around, this day was a particular experience for me: during the entire hike I saw no-one, except for two other lonely hikers and a group of woodpeckers.
Laguna de los Tres
Today's goal was the Laguna de los Tres. We were told that the path would be easier if we started at Hostería del Pilar, about 15km from El Chaltén. So we took a mini-bus -which we booked at our hostel- at 8am and started walking around 8:30am.
The first part wasn't very difficult: a very gradual incline - but it were a rather boring two hours through the forest. Things changed once we got to the final trail leading to the Laguna de los Tres; from there on the trail becomes very steep and it takes about an hour to climb 750m (not exactly recommended for people with sore knees...).
Once we made it to the top, we snow-chilled the cider bottle we brought (which was quite tough to open with cold hands) and enjoyed the view: a small frozen lake - covered with snow- surrounded by mountains (among which, again, Fitz Roy).
Today's hike was about 20km, because we 'cheated' and took the mini-bus. We wouldn't recommend taking the bus though: the walk from El Chaltén is much nicer than the one through the forest we took - but it is much steeper...
Chorillo del Salto
Vincent's knees were sore from the steep ascent/descent before, so he decided to stay in during the morning. But this time I didn't go out alone: our Argentinian room mate was willing to join me for a trip to a waterfall nearby. This was a really short and easy hike (about 40 minutes one-way) and the trail leading to it is not to very spectacular; half of the time you just follow the gravel road. But the twenty metres high waterfall looks nice. It's worth checking out if you have some spare time to fill.
Mirador de los Condores/las Aguilas
Another short hike we did on our last day: we went to the lookout points where you can spot condors and eagles. They're just outside of town, about 2km one-way (both miradores are on the same trail). It was a bright, sunny day with a clear sky and not too much wind, so success was guaranteed - or so we thought. When we came to the first mirador (the condors), we saw a whole lot of nothing. Oh well, at least we'd get to see the eagles! So we pushed on for another kilometer, and were rewarded for our efforts with another splendid but absolutely birdless view - apart from some sparrows and woodpeckers...
According to the park rangers, your chances are greater if you come out on a windy day - but in the end, it's all down to plain luck.
El Chaltén vs. Torres del Paine
It didn't take long before we agreed El Chaltén was a worthy opponent for Torres del Paine. In a way it felt cosier, nicer and less 'tedious'. The scenery is beautiful, and it feels more 'compact': not as vast and unpredictable as Torres del Paine.
They're both beautiful, and each has its own philosophy: El Chaltén is perfect for day hikes and offers a lot of variety, while Torres del Paine is slightly more monotone but offers a greater challenge for experienced hikers.
Useful info for travellers
- There are only a few small supermarkets in El Chaltén with limited choice and supplies, so if you come in from a bigger city, it's probably a good idea to stock up before you get here.
- Internet connections are very slow and unstable in this region.
- There's no coverage for cellphones - anywhere.
- The mini-bus from the town centre to Hostería El Pilar is way too expensive: ARS50/60 (low/high season) for +/-15km...
- We stayed in Hostel Rancho Grande, a big hostel and restaurant. It's clean, cosy and the staff is friendly. Good value for price.
- Multiple bus companies offer rides to Bariloche: some of them do it in two days, with a nocturnal break in El Bolsón. We picked a company that goes straight to Bariloche in 24 hours: TAQSA - tickets are ARS850 pp.
Some more pictures
Have you got questions? Did you experience something similar? Did you notice a mistake? Please share!