An introduction to El Chalten
Just 2.5 hours from El Calafate, El Chalten is an authentic Argentinian mountain town situated in the heart of Los Glaciares National Park. The hiking trails lead you to the world-famous Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and beyond to the Ice Cap which is a popular area for mountaineers. You can also sample horse riding, kayaking and rafting. The town itself has a real buzz about it and it's always nice to enjoy a cold cerveza and tasty pizza with the locals after a long day in the great outdoors.
Reasons to go to El Chalten
The hikes to the viewpoints of Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre are the most popular in the Park. They are both around 20km so will take the whole day to complete but the rewards are worth it! For those looking to escape the crowds, we always encourage you to get off-the-beaten-track to places like the Electrico Valley, the Los Huemules Reserve and the Tunel Valley where few other hikers venture to. The landscape around El Chalten has been carved out by ancient glacial formations to form deep valleys so the approach hiking is relatively easy.
Linking together the day hikes with overnight camping means you can spend longer in the mountains with the added reward of evening sunsets and early morning sunrises. For those seeking a more remote trek, the Huemul Circuit leads you further south to a distant corner of the Park.
The ultimate multi-day hike in El Chalten is the Ice Cap Expedition which loops around the back of Mount Fitz Roy and involves snow shoeing and dodging crevasses on the South Patagonian Ice Cap - the perfect choice if you want to take your hiking to the next level.
Climbing and Mountaineering
Given El Chalten's proximity to the South Patagonian Ice Cap and the many large granite rock faces, it is the perfect launchpad for climbers and mountaineers alike. Most of the big climbs involve short approaches so you can save your energy for the ascent itself.
Cerro Madsen (1806m) isa suitable introductory climb for beginners close to Mount Fitz Roy whilst Cerro Vespignani (2146m) is a good glacier-level introductory climb further north. Gorra Blanca (2910) stands guard over the Ice Cap and although it is a physically demanding climb, it is also one of the less-technically challenging peaks in the area. For a more technical challenge, Cerro Solo (2221m) or Cerro Electrico (2257m) are perfect choices.
Experienced rock climbers have a whole host of routes to choose from and there are plenty of equipment shops in town to rent gear if required.
Food and Drink
El Chalten's food and wine scene has rapidly grown over recent years as chefs flock from Buenos Aires for a taste of the mountain lifestyle. Most of the eateries are positioned along the main highstreet (San Martin Avenue) on the way to the trailheads. It takes no longer than 20 minutes to walk from one end of the town to the other so everything is fairly central. Here are some of our recommendations:
Techado Negro - Warm, art-decorated, family-run restaraunt focusing on traditional dishes using local ingredients.
La Vineria - Wine bar with over 250 wines from 10 different states in Argentina. Also offer a selection of 50 craft beers including pales ales, porters, pilsner, lager and stouts.
La Ceveceria - Cosy alpine lodge offering locally-brewed pilsner and homemade food. The locro (spicy mountain stew) is a firm Swoop favourite.
La Tapera - Wooden-furnished grill restaurant set over two floors serving up the best steaks in town with a decent wine selection.
Curcuma Natural Kitchen - Small home kitchen offering lots of healthy vegetarian food including juices/smoothies, wraps, salads, soups and stuffed vegetables.They're vegan and celiac friendly and can make nutritious lunch-boxes too.
Waffleria - Stock up on sweet waffles with chocolate sauce and ice cream. The hot chocolate and coffee is also some of the best in town.
El Chalten has far more to offer than just hiking. The surrounding area can all be explored by horse, bike, kayak and raft:
Horse Riding - Estancia Bonanza is located just outside El Chalten and they offer horse riding excursions through the forest and onto the rolling steppe. Previous horse riding experience is advised as the gauchos don't speak much English.
Mountain Biking - The road from El Chalten to Lago del Desierto is an incredibly scenic route. Make the most of the prevailing winds from behind and stop off to enjoy waterfalls and lagoons along the way.
Rock Climbing - If you're a beginner climber then clinics can be arranged on the walls around El Chalten to build your skills. For more advanced climbers, local guides can you take you deeper into the mountains for a greater challenge.
Kayaking - The northern stretch of the Rio de La Vueltas offers gentle paddling suitable for beginners that takes you past mountains and lenga forest. The river is the product of glacial melt so it has a milky grey appearance.
Rafting - Accompanied by expert guides, you will descend from El Chalten into the canyons of the Rio de La Vueltas. The river builds in size and strength to sections of Grade 4+ which certainly gets the adrenaline pumping!
Most people spend a minimum of three days in El Chalten to make the most of the day hikes. However if you're an experienced hiker we recommend you spend longer to really make the most of the off the beaten track trails.
Trips in El Chalten
What our customers think
El Chalten is special. Although a remote town, we (as outdoors people) felt at home with the vibe and the people. The popular hiking trails were well-maintained, but we were very glad to have our guide lead us on the lesser-travelled paths as there were areas we would have had a difficult time determining our way.
Sarah and Jason Colorado, USA November 2017
If you happen to be in Chalten, get a completos from the food truck if it's there - you won't regret it.
Sonia Canada November 2017
El Chalten was our favourite town. Loved the funky, hippy, healthy vibe of the place.
Ellen and John Georgia March 2017
Overall El Chalten was my favourite place! I hiked every day and it was very easy to find the routes and they all led to stunning viewpoints.
Hannah UK February 2017
Some of the most beautiful hiking we have ever done.
Rachel December 2016
FAQs about El Chalten
El Chalten is located 215km from El Calafate and it takes around 2.5 hours to drive there.
On a clear day you can see the peak towering in the distance but the best view is from Laguna de los Tres which is a 22km round trip hike. It's best to start the hike from the north at Hosteria El Pilar to avoid coming back on yourself.
There's a wide variety of restaurants, bars and cafes that cater to all tastes and budget. Swoop's favourite restaurant is La Tapera for it's friendly service and juicy steaks. Take a look at Swoop specialist Harriet's blog post on places to eat in El Chalten for more recommendations.
The hiking in El Chalten is world-class. The day hikes to Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre reward you with incredible up-close views of the mountains. Longer multi-day hikes take you up to the Ice Cap and beyond to truly remote areas of the National Park. Other activities include horse riding, kayaking, rafting, mountain biking and rock climbing.
How to get there
El Chalten is 2.5 hours further north of El Calafate. There's a direct public bus service that departs both ways three times a day. The bus station in El Chalten is on the edge of town whilst the bus station in El Calafate is more centrally located.
Alternatively you can take a shared shuttle service that takes you door-to-door to your hotel.
You can break the journey up with a stop at the Petrified Forest (a collection of fossilised trees).
Where to stay
There are a range of different accommodations to choose from in El Chalten including basic hosterias, homely B&B's, alpine style lodges and upmarket hotels. For a truly unique experience the Fitz Roy Adventure Camp north of town is a great choice whilst the Aguas Arriba Lodge offers luxurious seclusion on the edge of Lago del Desierto.
Stop off after a long day's hiking at the local empanada shop on San Martin Avenue on your way back to your hotel for a tasty snack to tidy you over until dinner.
Tom Ludwig Swoop Expert
Things to do in El Chalten
El Chalten Hiking & Mount Fitz Roy
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Day hiking from El Chalten
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Los Glaciares National Park
The massive South Patagonian Ice Cap feeds the many glaciers that give Argentina's most famous national park its name. Hikers and climbers flock to the hub towns of El Calafate and El Chalten to explore the famous Fitz Roy massif, Perito Moreno glacier or the giant ice sheet itself on day hikes, long treks or boat trips.