El Chalten Travel Guide. Trails, food and hotels

Fitz Roy view from Laguna de Los Tres

El Chalten is a tiny village (an offbeat one) in the heart of Argentinean Patagonia. It has a quite hippie and relaxing vibe, with plenty of adventurers travellers and trekkers exploring the world-class trails that start right in the town.

This is all you need to know before visiting El Chalten:

How to get El Chalten?

Distances from La Leona

The closest airport is known as El Calafate airport, although its full name is Aeropuerto Internacional Comandante Armando Tola.

The routes joining the Airport, El Calafate and El Chalten are paved and in excellent conditions and there are no tolls. The recommended option is to hire a car at the airport. Most big companies such as Europcar and Hertz operate there, plus some local ones such as Dubrovnik.

The options and distances are:

  • Airport – El Calafate: It’s 13 miles, 21 km or 20 minutes by car. You can take a shuttle bus or taxi to the city of El Calafate.
  • Airport – El Chalten: It’s 125 miles, 201 km or ~2.5 hours by car. You can hire a private transfer if you don’t rent a car.
  • El Calafate – El Chalten. It’s 147 miles, 236 km or ~3 hours by car. From there you can take a bus (from AR$ 800 one way) or hire a private transfer.

If you are driving, I highly recommend a quick stop at La Leona, and to try “torta fritas“. It’s the only stop between the El Calafate and El Chalten. It’s a historical place (Butch Cassidy stayed there a few times), bar, restaurant and shop. The restaurant features a fireplace and offers á la carte menu with Patagonian specialities.

Where to stay in El Chalten?

Infinito Sur (source: booking.com)

There are many accommodation options in El Chalten, as long as you go during high season, which is from September to April.

We stayed in a small hotel called Infinito Sur and we liked it. It’s a cosy and small wooden cottage, with a very comfortable reception room overlooking the Fitz Roy. The breakfast was modest but good enough, and the rooms were comfortable. Picnic bags (“vianda“) could be ordered in advance for trips.

A few recommended similar options, Bed and Breakfast style, are Patagonicus, Nothofagus and Posada y Cabañas El Barranco.

In terms of bigger hotels, a nice one is Chalten Suites. It’s one of the biggest and best hotels in town. It’s 100 yards from the main square, the rooms are modern with TV and minibar. Helpful staff and delicious breakfast. And they are currently building a swimming pool and a spa. Two other excellent options on the expensive side are Destino Sur Hotel & Spa de Montaña and Hotel Poincenot.

In terms of low budget options, Rancho Grande is a large and popular hostel. Either mixed dormitories with shared bathrooms and private rooms with en suite bathrooms are available, and the restaurant is open 24 hours. Other good hostels are Rancho Aparte Refugio de Montaña and Albergue Aylen-Aike.

And there are also two recommended guest houses: Config Patagonico and Lo de Guille.

Best restaurants in El Chalten

Trout “sorrentinos”

The food we had in El Chalten was a great surprise. It was much better than expected, even that it is a very small town. The traditional dishes in the area are mostly lamb and trout. And for something more exotic you can find Guanaco as well (a camelid native to South America, closely related to the llama).

Our favourite restaurant was La Cerveceria (brewery). They offer craft beer and burgers, of course, but also many other things like pasta (filled with trout or lamb), huge and tasty salads, pizzas and more. I recommend trying the pumpkin that comes with some fillings and sauce.

Specifically for pasta, one of the best places is Maffia Trattoria. Fillings for the pasta include rabbit, Ossobuco, trout and lamb.

If you are looking for a traditional “parrilla” (steak, barbecue), the place to go is La Oveja Negra.

In terms of wine, cocktails and “picadas” (cheese and meat boards), the best place is La Vineria (wine bar). Check this post and this one to know more about Argentinean wines. And this one about traditional food in Argentina.

Best trekking trails in El Chalten

El Chalten hosts some of the best trekking trails in the World. The most popular trails are the following, ordered by distance:

Laguna de Los Tres

Laguna de los Tres, view from the end of the trail
  • Difficulty: Moderate to High
  • Time: 8 to 9 hours
  • Distance and altitude: 21 km (13 miles) roundtrip, 26 km (16 miles) including Piedras Blancas Glacier
  • Altitude: 700 metres = 2300 feet
  • Trailhead: parking lot at the end of Avenida San Martin (end of town as well)

It’s the longest, most popular, most difficult and most beautiful trail. It takes you to the foot of Mount Fitz Roy, and it is the closest natural viewpoint you can reach (unless you are a professional climber).

The trail is well marked and has a sign per kilometre, plus a couple of maps indicating the different paths and viewpoints. It ascends steeply up during the first hour. After 90 minutes the trail splits to Laguna Capri (left) or Mount Fitz Roy (right). From this point to km 9 the trail is of moderate difficulty, fairly flat with some hills.

The last km is the most difficult and takes 1 hour at least. You will pass the camping area and see a warning sign and other information. This part is the real challenge. You will need to be prepared mentally and physically. Bring appropriate trekking shoes (and maybe poles), clothes, suncream, water (you can charge your bottles in the river).

There is a shorter alternative, which decreases the time needed to 6 to 7 hours. You drive to Hosteria Pilar (30 minutes from the town) and start the trail from there. You won’t see Laguna Capri if you return to this starting point. An alternative is to take a bus or transfer to this point and return on foot to the main starting point, which starts in the village.

Laguna Torre

Mirador del Torre (source: https://elchalten.com/v4/en/mirador-del-torre-trek-el-chalten.php)
  • Difficulty: Low to Moderate
  • Time: 7 to 8 hours
  • Distance and altitude: 19 km (11.8 miles) roundtrip
  • Altitude: 240 metres = 800 feet
  • Trailhead: on Riquelme Street

It’s the second most popular trail, another classic in El Chalten.

It is a fairly easy trail with some stunning views along the way, including a panoramic view of the Cerro Solo, Adela range, Cerro Torre and the Mount Fitz Roy. The trail also crosses the De Agostini base camp where it is possible to spend the night in your tent.

Ths most difficult part is the first 2 km, the rest is fairly flat. You can also go all the way to Mirador Maestri, with a great view of the glacier.

Laguna Capri

Laguna Capri
  • Difficulty: Low to Moderate
  • Time: 4 to 5 hours
  • Distance and altitude: 8 km (5 miles) roundtrip
  • Trailhead: parking lot at the end of Avenida San Martin (end of town as well)

This is the first part of Laguna de los Tres, as detailed above. The starting point is the same, at the end of Avenida San Martin. It ascends steeply up during the first hour. After 90 minutes the trail splits to Laguna Capri (left) or Mount Fitz Roy (right).

Depending on the weather, time and schedule, you may want to do this trekking on a different day than Laguna de los Tres (see shortcut explained above).

The picture above was taken with the Mount Fitz Roy covered by clouds (this happens most of the times). A good advice is to be patient and wait for good weather.

Chorrillo del Salto

Chorrillo del Salto
  • Difficulty: Low
  • Time: 3 hours roundtrip
  • Distance and altitude: 7 km (4.3 miles) roundtrip
  • Trailhead: end of Avenida San Martin (end of town as well)

This is the easiest trail on the list, mostly flat and ideal to have a first contact with the environment. The waterfall is on the last leg of the Arroyo del Salto, before it flows into the De las Vueltas river, and it is 20 metres high.

You can also skip the hike and drive for 15 minutes, where you will find a sign and a small parking lot. From there you walk 5 minutes to the waterfall.

Los Condores and Las Aguilas

View of El Chalten from Los Condores (The Fitz Roy peak is covered by clouds)
  • Difficulty: Low
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Distance and altitude: 4 km (2.5 miles) roundtrip, 6 km (3.7 miles) including Las Aguilas
  • Trailhead: National Park Visitors’ Centre, at the entrance of the town

This is another easy trail, this time starting at the entrance of the town, right next to the National Park Visitors’ Centre and ranger station. It was opened in 2004 and it is well signposted with additional information along the path.

After 35 minutes the trail splits to Los Condores (left) or Las Aguilas (right).

Los Condores offers a great view of the town, the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres. And so Las Aguilas with Lago Viedma and Tunnel Bay.

Huemul Glacier

  • Difficulty: Low
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Distance and altitude: 4 km (2.5 miles) roundtrip
  • Trailhead: 37 km from El Chalten, just before you reach Lago del Desierto Northside

Huemul Glacier is the most accessible in the area, which is reached in an hour from Punta Sur of Lago Del Desierto. After driving for an hour and a half you will see a restaurant and free parking space on your left. You will need to pay the entrance fee as the entire trek is in private property.

The footpath quickly enters a Lenga forest and ascends on a well-marked trail. Approaching the beautiful Huemul lagoon, fed by the glacier of the same name, you will enjoy breathtaking views of the De las Vueltas river valley and the Mount Fitz Roy.

Lago del Desierto

Lago del Desierto. Punta Norte (Northside)
Lago del Desierto. Punta Sur (Southside)

Lago del Desierto (Desert Lake) is another stunning natural attraction accessible from El Chalten. It’s 37 km from the town and takes around an hour and a half driving. The two main rivers inflowing the lake are Las Vueltas and Diablo. All around the area you will find green forests, turquoise water, hills, glaciers and small waterfalls.

Just before you reach the Southside of the lake there is a restaurant and shop where you can stop for food, drinks and restroom. That is also the starting point of the Huemul Glacier trekking trail.

Besides enjoying the surroundings of the lake in the Southside, you can also take the boat to the Northside, where you have Hito Limítrofe Laguna Larga trekking trail. From this side of the lake, you can also enjoy stunning views of the lake with the Mount Fitz Roy at the back.

The are has also historical value, as it has been the subject of a territorial dispute between Argentina and Chile, escalating to a small battle on 6 November 1965 resulting in one lieutenant killed and a sergeant injured. The dispute was solved favourably for Argentina in 1994 with an arbitration.

Recommended tours

Most online travel agencies and tour operators offer half and full-day guided tours to see the places described above. Some of them are:

Additional information

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