El Chalten is a popular -but still offbeat- destination in Patagonia. In particular, it is known for having a few World-class trekking trails.
Laguna de los Tres is 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).
- Difficulty: Moderate to High
- Time: 8 to 9 hours the full trail; 6 to 7 hours the shorter version
- 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)
What to bring
- Food and water: for sure you will want to eat, some sandwiches and water will do it. You will be able to refill your bottle along the way, as all rivers and canals have drinking water
- Clothes: a waterproof jacket (depending on the weather) and trekking shoes are essential. A lot of people use poles as well.
- Sunglasses, sun hat and sunscreen lotion.
Full trekking trail from El Chalten
The trail starts at the very end of the town. You can follow Avenida San Martin until the end, where you will find a parking lot and all the indications to where to start the trail, plus the map of the image above.
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 until you reach a natural viewpoint of the Valley of the De las Vueltas river, as shown in the picture below.
After approximately 90 minutes the trail splits to Laguna Capri (left) or Mount Fitz Roy (right). But don’t worry, both trails meet again. So here you can either take one and see Laguna Capri, or take the other straight to the Fitz Roy.
I recommend visiting Laguna Capri, as it is beautiful (see picture below) and offers another view of the mount. Some people take one path and return taking the other, which sounds like a sensible strategy.
Continuing the trail you will also find a few other signs, such as a well-marked natural rocky viewpoint with the main peaks illustrated. From this point until the last kilometre the trail is of moderate difficulty, fairly flat with some hills.
You will also find a signed meeting point, where the alternative (and shorter trail) meets the main one. 15 minutes more and you will arrive at Poincenot Base Camp, the most popular campsite in the National Park. Bear in mind that there are no facilities, just some wooden houses that act as toilets, which are far from being clean (it’s just a hole on the ground).
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 before this last and difficult part begins.
This is the real challenge. You will need to be prepared mentally and physically!
Shorter trekking trail from Hosteria El Pilar
Fortunately, 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 Pilar 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. The trails are signed and marked, as you can see in the pictures above, so you won’t have problems to find your way around. Besides, you will meet people all along the way.
This alternative is of moderate difficulty, slightly easier than the main to Laguna Capri, and it takes around 2 hours until you reach Poincenot Base Camp.
One of the benefits of this route is that you will be able to see Piedras Blancas Glacier as well, as shown in the picture above. Some people taking the main trail also walk to this viewpoint to see this glacier.
The last km
As mentioned above, the last km is the most challenging and difficult part. Moreover, this part is reached after 3 to 5 hours of trekking, depending on the trail and your speed, so your body and in particular, your knees, will probably be already tired.
The starting point of this part includes a map, toilets and a small canal/river where you can fill your bottles.
You will be tired, but you will also get rewarded with stunning views. The trail can be wet so better to have good trekking boots. But it is not slippery, as there is no mood nor seeds, it is mostly rocks. Poles can also be helpful.
The last picture above shows the last hill. As you approach the Fitz Roy Mount, you will be able to see it, but there is still another 2 minutes to go. Keep going! Once you see it, and if you are lucky enough with the weather (it’s likely to be covered fully or partially by clouds), I can ensure you that it is simply breathtaking.
Last but not least, if you walk down to the Laguna’s shore and look for its natural draining point, you will find an additional path heading towards another breathtaking viewpoint: Laguna Sucia and its hanging glaciers.