What to do in El Chalter – Trekking to Fitz Roy and much more
After spending weeks in the suffocating heat of Buenos Aires, I decided to give myself a break and visit the Patagonia Argentina.
The temperature difference is around 20 degrees, I need to stock my wardrobe with at least one fleece shirt, windbreaker, gloves and ear covers.
With relatively few pesos I buy everything in a small shop Buenos Aires also frequented by Argentines; avoid the big trekking/outdoor brands which are imported here and cost twice as much as in Europe.
After taking a few Spanish lessons in Buenos Aires I feel ready to face the trip alone, backpack on my shoulders and off I go.
The destinations of my trip are El Calafate e El Chalten in Patagonia, ed Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.
My journey begins in El Chaltén, a tiny village of just 5000 inhabitants (in high season) located within the Glaciers National Parkin the province of Santa Cruz in Patagonia, at the foot of the mountains Torre e Fitz Roy.
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I arrived in El Chaltén with a bus from El Calafatewhich is just over 200km away.
Camera in hand, the journey from El Calafate on Ruta 40 it immediately offers an enchanting landscape.
Patagonian steppe as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by the intense blue of Lake Argentino and the Santa Cruz river; flamingos, eagles, condors, guanacos and so on and so forth.
Upon arrival in El Chaltén, the forest ranger welcomes us, asking us to get off the bus and sit inside the offices of the National Park to explain a couple of things to us… I must say that there was an exchange of slightly surprised looks at the unusual request.
The park ranger pointed us to the possible paths to cover during our stay in El Chaltén and warned us of the various dangers, particularly wind and rain.
In general there are two main paths with various branches:
- Laguna Torre
- Fitz Roy
It is also possible to walk the paths Laguna Toro e Friar’s Stonebut you must register at the National Park offices before venturing on these routes.
The first thing you can’t help but notice as soon as you arrive in El Chaltén is the ventoprotagonist and undisputed coordinator of all the events of the place.
It is vigorous and does not give much respite, it is necessary to take the wind factor into consideration before venturing into the more dangerous areas of the paths. So pay attention to the weather forecast before making risky choices!
Trekking a Laguna Torre
On the first day I chose to take the “simplest” path: Laguna Torre.
The trail is approximately 11km long (one way) with two panoramic points: the first is located after 5km, the second in Laguna Torre where you have an excellent view of Monte Torre and the Grande glacier. You can stretch up to Viewpoint Maestri, 3km after Laguna Torre, to see the Grande glacier up close; however, the route is very exposed to the wind.
The Laguna Torre trail is of medium difficulty, you pass through Middle Earth-style woods, streams from which you can drink, plateaus and glaciers. It is also possible to camp along the path, but only in the De Agostini area, next to the Fitz Roy river.
The journey takes place in about 6 hours, round trip, there are no particularly complicated climbs, so it mainly requires time and good trekking shoes. The towers are often covered by clouds, but the journey is worth it!
Trekking al Fitz Roy
On the second day I ventured down the trail Fitz Roy. Medium-high difficulty.
The trail is 12.5km long if you get to the Lagoon of Threeat 750m above sea level, from which you have an unforgettable view of Mount Fitz Roy.
Otherwise you can stop at the last viewpoint of Fitz Roy called Poincenot, where it is also possible to pitch tents. The trek takes between 8 and 9 hoursin particular the most tiring part is the last hour, from the Poincenot refuge to the Laguna de Los Tres (the trekking poles were a great help!), but the view that awaits us is worth the effort!
The landscapes crossed are in fact very varied, and, unlike the Mirador Torres, where the walk to get there was, in my opinion, harder, but above all less scenic, this one also allows those who don’t feel like doing the last now, to see the towers (provided the sky is clear obviously, but this also applies to those tackling the last climb). So it doesn’t force anyone who doesn’t feel up to it to require a certain amount of resistance in the last kilometre.
Not only. There is a trekking option which makes the walk even easier.
A transfer from Chalten to Pilar hostel (AR$175) already takes you to a certain altitude so you can follow a route that avoids the initial climb and above all doesn’t make you go and return via the same route.
You cross a forest and pass in front of the Piedras Blancas glacier to reach the junction point to go up to the lagoon.
After two days spent in El Chaltén, and a new pair of hiking shoes, it’s time to head back to El Calafate.
It is important to underline that the prices here in El Chaltén, as in the rest of southern Argentina, are almost at European level, that is, expensive!
Nonetheless, I will not forget the landscapes and the sense of tranquility that I saw and felt along these paths, definitely a mandatory stop for nature lovers.
El Chalten Vs Torres del Paine
The doubt that grips trekkers is: El Chalten or Torres del Paine?
It’s not easy to answer but there are some factors that can help in the choice. Firstly, Torres del Paine offers complex circuits lasting several days (W, 5 days, O, 10 days, Q, 12 days), the problem is that the park’s notoriety has increased enormously, in fact if up to 5 years ago it was possible to go with your own tent sure of finding a place in the campsites, today these same places must be booked with at least 6 months in advance.
El Chalten on the other hand is a village that allows you to sleep in the village and then leave daily for different treks, it is also possible to camp following different routes and these are free (when in Torres del Paine a pitch can cost up to $60 per person).
Treks in El Chalten are freeeven if we are in the Los Glaciares National Park, you do not have to pay entrance fees. Entrance to Torres del Paine costs CLP$21,000 per foreign adult (CLP$6,000 for nationals or residents) and is valid for 3 days.
Finally, the most famous treks of both destinations, Fitz Roy (Chalten) and Mirador Torres (Torres del Paine) they are similar in many ways.
Duration, both require between 8 and 9 hours, level of difficulty, first part uphill, rather flat route and last hour among the rocks with a slope of approximately 45 degrees (the last hour in both treks are quite tiring), lagoon with towers that somehow have many things in common (as I walk at the same level of difficulty I preferred the Fitz Roy as it is more varied and fascinating in terms
Torres del Paine Vs El Chalten in breve
Torres del Paine
- Entrance fee to the national park
- Paid campsites
- 3 different circuits
- Book well in advance
- Difficulty: moderate/high
- Free entry
- Routes starting from the village
- Free campsites
- It does not require advance reservations
- Difficulty: for all abilities depending on the route you choose
El Chalten then offering numerous trekking routes which can be chosen based on levels of difficulty and duration, being just 3 hours away from Calafate, it is a more logical and less complicated solution, as well as less expensive, than Torres del Paine, unless you want to follow a of the routes, in which campsites must be reserved more than 6 months in advance, is an excellent alternative to its Chilean counterpart.
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