El Chalten – Swoop’s top tips

On my first visit to El Chalten in 1999 I was wowed by Mount FitzRoy and the other peaks and glaciers that lie within a few miles of the small town. In January 2011 I returned to the town that, in the Los Glaciares National Park of Argentina is the base for some of Patagonia’s very best trekking, mountaineering and mountain biking. It’s changed a lot since my first visit: dusty streets and a few shacks replaced with paved roads and good transport links, a range of good bars and restaurants and lots of different accommodation options. (However, there’s still no mobile phone signal and internet connections are very slow indeed).

El Chalten was built from nothing in 1985 to make the most of the incredible opportunity that the area presented in terms of adventure travel. It sits just a few miles to the East of Mount FitzRoy and Cerro Torre and a series of other peaks that separate Argentina from the South Patagonian Ice Cap and act as the border with Chile. And the conspiracy theorists also argue that its creation was also a move by the Argentinians to secure the border. This geography presents some spectacular views of granite peaks and blue glaciers, and great trekking opportunities to viewpoints (‘miradors’) of the mountain range, including Lago Toro and Laguna del los Tres. Unlike it’s Chilean counterpart, Torres del Paine, the FitzRoy has the benefit that you can access almost every route and viewpoint with day hikes from El Chalten, ideal if you don’t fancy camping or Refugios.

From El Chalten you can also access the South Patgonian Ice Cap through two different passes: Paso Marconi to the North (via Piedra del Fraile and La Playita), and Paso del Viento to the south. Please note, unless you have significant mountaineering experience you will need a guide for this.

A few of our top tips for El Chalten:

  • Hiking – if you only have one day visit Laguna los Tres
  • Where to stay out side of town – spend at least one night out of town. One of our partners runs an Adventure Camp about 20kms north of town. Alternatively Hosteria Pillar is a great base for hiking about 10kms north of town.
  • For Hotels in El Chalten – if you want affordable, informative and friendly we’d recommend El Paraiso where we always stay. Gonzalo speaks perfect English and really goes the extra mile to help you out.
  • Where to eat – Como Vaca serves some of the best steak I’ve ever tasted
  • If you’ve got an hour free – do visit the Visitor Centre – some interesting history, and very helpful and knowledgeable staff. It’s at the southern end of town, over the bridge.

More detailed posts on getting to El Chalten, hotels in El Chalten, and bars in El Chalten to follow.