Today we’re sharing the best things to do in El Chalten and because this is Argentina’s trekking capital, that means lots of hiking!
El Chaltén is a small town nestled in the north end of Los Glaciares National Park. Surrounded by epic mountain peaks, granite spires and turquoise rivers, this mountain town has become a favourite destination in Patagonia for outdoor enthusiasts – hikers, rock climbers, rafters, you name it!
Most travellers to El Chalten are looking to catch a glimpse of two of the most iconic peaks: Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. However, there are loads of trails that lead to glacial lagoons, waterfalls and lookouts where you can see condors.
In this travel guide, we’re going to share all the best things to do in El Chalten and that includes the top hikes, where to eat, where to stay, as well as some non-hiking activities should your legs need a rest in between.
Note: If you only have time for a short visit, this 3-day El Chalten itinerary might be right for you. It covers the main hikes and town highlights.
Getting to El Chaltén
To reach El Chaltén, you’ll first need to fly into the nearest major airport, which is Comandante Armando Tola International Airport (FTE) in El Calafate. You can fly into El Calafate from Buenos Aires, Bariloche or Ushuaia. From El Calafate Airport, you’ll need to travel by bus, car or taxi to El Chaltén.
Several bus companies operate the route between El Calafate and El Chalten. The bus journey from El Calafate to El Chaltén takes between 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on whether your bus makes a midway stop at La Leona. You can browse ticket prices and departure times on BusBud.
If you prefer a more flexible schedule and want to explore the region at your own pace, you can rent a car at El Calafate Airport and drive up to El Chalten. The drive from El Calafate to El Chaltén is approximately 220 kilometres (137 miles) and takes around 2.5 hours, a bit longer if you’re stopping for photos along the way and you probably will.
One thing is for sure, the journey to El Chaltén is beautiful with epic landscapes ranging from Patagonian steppe to turquoise lakes and finally, Mount Fitzroy rising on the horizon.
Things to Do in El Chalten, Argentina
El Chalten is a dream destination for hikers travelling to South America, so of course the main activities revolve around hitting the trails and well as outdoor adventures like rock climbing, rafting, kayaking and horseback riding.
First, we’re going to cover all the main hikes in El Chaltén, and then we’ll move on to some of the other non-trekking activities you can enjoy in and around town.
Laguna de los Tres
- Difficulty: Hard
- Distance: 24 kilometres round trip
- Elevation gain: 1,068 metres
- Time: 8-10 hours
The hike to Laguna de los Tres is one of the most spectacular treks in El Chaltén and for good reason! It leads up to this beautiful glacial lagoon with a glacier and three towering peaks in the background.
The name Laguna de los Tres translates to ‘Lagoon of the Three’ and it refers to the three peaks you see behind the lagoon: Fitz Roy (3,405 metres), Poincenot (3,002 metres), and Saint-Exupéry (2,558 metres).
The round trip to Laguna de los Tres is approximately 24 kilometres (14.9 miles) round trip. Yes, it is a hardcore day of trekking! The duration of the hike will vary depending on your pace and level of fitness, but it generally takes between 8 to 10 hours to complete.
Laguna de los Tres is considered a challenging hike, not just because of the distance, but because the final kilometre is a steep ascent up a rocky slope that will make you question your choices. Trekking poles are a good idea for this trek.
I was so tempted to throw in the towel and turn around on that final kilometre – I had already been walking for hours, I was tired, and that final climb didn’t look like a whole lot of fun. But it was the encouragement from the people trekking down and telling us, “It’ll be so worth it!” that kept us motivated.
Well, once we finally made it over the ridge, it really was all worth it and the effort it took to get there was quickly forgotten. We were rewarded with the most pristine glacial lagoon shimmering a deep blue, a glacier winding down the side of the mountain, and clouds blowing over Mount Fitz Roy and its neighbouring peaks.
We sought shelter behind a boulder (it was windy up there!), stared at the incredible views in front of us, devoured what we had left of our packed lunch, and gathered our energy for the steep descent and walk back to El Chalten.
I realize Laguna de los Tres may not be for everyone considering how demanding it is, so this next trek is an alternative that will still give you spectacular views of Mount Fitz Roy.
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Distance: 8 kilometres round trip
- Elevation gain: 430 metres
- Time: 3-4 hours
The hike to Laguna Capri is a popular and relatively moderate trek and it’s on the way to Laguna de los Tres.
The round trip trek to Laguna Capri is approximately 8 kilometres (4.9 miles), and it usually takes around 3 to 4 hours to complete.
To be honest, the day we hiked to Laguna de los Tres, we were only planning to go as far as Laguna Capri. We got there and had a snack next to the lagoon, but then we realized it was still early in the day, we weren’t tired, and if the views were already this epic, it could only get better from here.
But I digress, Laguna Capri is a beautiful hike in its own right and there’s zero shame in making this your final destination.
The trail winds through diverse landscapes, including forests and open plains, with the stunning backdrop of Cerro Fitz Roy in the horizon. While this hike is considered moderate, some uphill sections require a reasonable level of fitness.
Overall, Laguna Capri is a fantastic way to experience the stunning landscapes of Los Glaciares National Park without the intensity of some of the more challenging treks in the area. Plus, the serene beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains make it a beautiful place to linger and enjoy the views.
Laguna Capri is a half-day hike, so I would suggest packing a picnic and enjoying a leisurely meal next to the lake.
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Distance: 17.5 kilometres round trip
- Elevation gain: 501 metres
- Time: 6-7 hours
The hike to Cerro Torre is another iconic trek in El Chaltén offering stunning views of the famous Cerro Torre.
This peak is the highest of a four-mountain chain that also includes Torre Egger, Punta Herron, and Cerro Standhardt.
The round trip to Cerro Torre is approximately 17.5 kilometres (10.8 miles). The duration of the hike varies but usually takes around 6 to 7 hours, depending on your pace and the trail conditions (some stretches can be muddy). It is considered a moderately challenging trek.
You start out hiking through a beautiful valley and you also get to see some waterfalls along the way.
The majority of the elevation gain happens at the start of the trek, but then things flatten out around kilometre 3.5, which makes it easy to set a steady pace and cover a lot of ground.
One of the things we enjoyed about this trail was the fact that we could see Torre Glacier in the horizon, which was motivating. Plus we got to hike through forests and along a river, so the scenery was constantly changing.
The highlight of the Cerro Torre hike is reaching the viewpoint overlooking Laguna Torre, a glacial lake at the base of Cerro Torre. The lake is often dotted with icebergs, and the backdrop of the iconic mountain provides a stunning setting for photography.
The downside of our experience was that by the time we reached the shores of Laguna Torre, clouds had rolled in and they covered Cerro Torre, so we didn’t get that iconic view.
Once you reach Laguna Torre, you can continue a bit further to Mirador Maestri for even better views of the Torre Glacier.
Loma del Pliegue Tumbado
- Difficulty: Hard
- Distance: 18.3 kilometres round trip
- Elevation gain: 1,127 metres
- Time: 7 hours
Loma del Pliegue Tumbado is a good trek for those seeking a slightly less crowded alternative to some of the more popular trails in El Chaltén – namely Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre!
The trailhead starts at the Visitor Center, same as Mirador de Los Cóndores and Mirador de Las Águilas, except there is a marker indicating you go right.
You’ll hike through scattered forests, then reach a section known as Pampa de las Carretas which is flat, and you’ll then continue your ascent until you’re past the timberline.
The final push is the hardest and most demanding portion of the hike given the quick elevation gain. It also consists of switchbacks and loose rock.
However, the highlight of Loma del Pliegue Tumbado is reaching the summit and taking in the breathtaking vistas. The final destination is a viewpoint on a ridge that offers 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, including Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, Lake Viedma, Cerro Huemul and the Río Túnel Valley.
Be warned that it can be very windy at the top! The big joke with this hike is, “The only time you don’t go up is when you go down!”
Cerro Huemul Circuit
- Difficulty: Very hard
- Distance: 66.8 km
- Elevation gain: 2,838 m
- Time: 4 days
The Cerro Huemul Circuit is a challenging multi-day trek covering 66.8 kilometres on a loop trail where you’ll be overnight camping along the way.
This is a technical trek best reserved for experienced hikers as it involves two river crossings (these can be done via pulley or barefoot) and part of the trail is across a glacier! You also need to carry all your own equipment, so if you’re unsure, chat with the rangers at the Visitors Centre to see if this trail is for you.
Day 1 connects El Chaltén with Laguna Toro Camp. Then on Day 2 you continue from Laguna Toro Camp to Paso del Viento Camp. Day 3 brings you from Paso del Viento Camp to Lago Viedma Camp. Finally, on Day 4, you go from Lago Viedma Camp to Bahía Túnel, and you can then either arrange transportation (or hike) back to El Chaltén.
As with many treks in Patagonia, the best time to undertake the Cerro Huemul Circuit is during the Austral summer (December to March). During this period, the weather is more favourable for trekking, with milder temperatures and longer daylight hours, though it can be very windy.
Before embarking on the Huemul Circuit, you must first obtain a permit from the park office Centro de Visitantes Guardaparque Ceferino Fonzo. This can be done in the days leading up to your trek, or the morning of your departure. In order to qualify for the permit, you’ll have to demonstrate you have the required gear and also watch a short presentation so you know what to expect from the trek.
This is a good overview of what the Huemul Circuit entails from someone who has actually done the trek.
Easy Hikes in El Chalten
Mirador Rio de las Vueltas
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 2 kilometres round trip
- Elevation gain: 200 metres
- Time: 1 hour
Mirador de las Vueltas is a short hiking trail that provides views of the Las Vueltas River, which flows to the east of El Chalten.
The trailhead is on the north end of town at the end of Avenida San Martín and it’s the same route you would take if you were hiking to Laguna Capri or Laguna de los Tres.
It’s a 30-minute walk to reach the lookout. The trek is mainly uphill, but it’s a short walk with beautiful views. Once you reach the lookout, you have wooden benches where you can sit, rest your legs and soak in the landscapes.
The trail provides impressive views of the Río de las Vueltas Valley, a winding river valley surrounded by rugged mountain terrain.
Mirador de los Cóndores
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Distance: 2.6 kilometres round trip
- Elevation gain: 130 metres
- Time: 1 hour
The hike to Mirador de los Cóndores is considered easy to moderate, making it suitable for most hikers, including families.
This is a short 2.6-kilometre round trip hike, and though the uphill climb can be a bit steep in places, the reward is the panoramic view of the town of El Chalten.
As its name suggests, Mirador de los Cóndores is an excellent place to spot Andean condors flying overhead. These magnificent birds have an impressive wingspan, and they are often seen soaring on the thermal currents in the area.
Aside from spotting condors, from the viewpoint, you can also enjoy panoramic views of El Chaltén, the De Las Vueltas River, and the surrounding peaks including Mount Fitz Roy. On clear days, the vistas are particularly breathtaking.
Because the viewpoint faces west, this is a nice spot to catch sunset over El Chaltén.
The trailhead begins near the entrance to El Chaltén and it’s very well-marked, so finding your way will be straightforward.
Mirador de las Águilas
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Distance: 5.3 kilometres round trip
- Elevation gain: 215 metres
- Time: 2 hours
Mirador de las Águilas is another relatively easy yet rewarding trail, known for its breathtaking views and the opportunity to observe birds of prey, including eagles, which gives the viewpoint its name Eagles’ Viewpoint.
This loop trail is 5.3 kilometres in length and it starts at the same trailhead as Mirador de Los Cóndores and it includes a stop at the same viewpoint.
You then continue east until you reach another lookout point that offers views of the Patagonian steppe, the milky turquoise waters of Lago Viedma, the Viedma Glacier, and the Andes Mountains.
Because this viewpoint faces east, this is a nice spot to catch sunrise.
Chorrillo del Salto
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 6.6 kilometres round trip
- Elevation gain: 139 meters
- Time: 1.5-2 hours
Chorrillo del Salto is a popular and relatively easy hike in El Chalten. It is 6.6 kilometres round trip on a mostly flat trail, and it can take between 1.5 to 2 hours to complete depending on your pace.
The trail leads to the Chorrillo del Salto Waterfall, a picturesque and serene spot surrounded by lush forest. The waterfall itself is about 20 meters (65 feet) high and is a beautiful sight, especially after the rainy season when the water flow is at its peak.
The one thing we didn’t like about this trail is that most of the hike is on a dirt road, Provincial Route 23, so it doesn’t have the same appeal as a forest hike.
This is a suitable trail for hikers of all levels, including families with children.
There’s a parking lot near the waterfall, so if you cannot hike, you can drive there and it’s then a short walk to visit the waterfall.
Tips for trekking in El Chalten
- Stop by the Visitors Centre. The office is located at the entrance of town and it’s a good place to get information on various day hikes and current weather updates. This is also where you register for overnight treks.
- Start the day early if you want to witness sunrise and bring a torchlight so you’re not tripping on the trail.
- Wear a sturdy pair of hiking boots. While you can get away with sneakers for easy hikes, you’ll want a good pair of hiking boots if you’re attempting some of the more challenging trails. Also, make sure you’ve broken in your boots before you arrive in Patagonia!
- Pack a pair of trekking poles. These will come in handy for trails with a high elevation gain.
- Dress in layers. Because the weather conditions in Patagonia are constantly changing, it’s good to be prepared for all climates. I recommend a quick-drying base layer, a fleece, a weatherproof jacket and hiking pants. Bring a hat to protect yourself from the sun. Depending on the time of year you’re visiting you may need a hat, scarf, and gloves.
- Bring sufficient water and snacks. Many guesthouses around town offer a packed lunch service you can order the night before. Alternatively, there are small stores around town where you can load up on energy bars, nuts and fruit.
- Wear sunscreen. Even if the weather feels mild, you can still get a sunburn.
- Check the weather forecast before embarking on a hike. Intense winds can make certain hikes near impossible to complete. When in doubt, check at the Visitors Centre.
- Register for overnight treks. This is mandatory so no hikers are unaccounted for. Share your proposed route and expected date of return at the Visitors Centre.
Other Things to Do in El Chalten (Not Trekking!)
Now let’s move on to some fun things to do in El Chalten that don’t involve any hiking! Your legs will probably need a break at some point during your visit, so here are other activities to consider.
If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure that’s not hiking, consider kayaking the Río de las Vueltas on a guided tour.
Río de las Vueltas is a river of glacial origin that is born in Lago del Desierto and flows into Lake Viedma.
The first 6 kilometres of the river are calm, so it’s a good opportunity to enjoy the surrounding scenery (hello Mount Fitz Roy!) and ease into the experience.
The second part goes through a canyon area. The initial rapid is called Portage (no, you are not getting out of the water and portaging your raft!) followed by a succession of class III to III+ rapids for the next 10 kilometres. Get ready for the adrenaline to start pumping!
Yes, these waters are glacially cold, as you’d expect, but you’ll be geared up with a neoprene suit, microfleece, jacket, life jacket, helmet, neoprene boots and mittens.
Once the descent is finished, a van will be waiting to take you back to the base where you will change and enjoy a snack and a drink to recover your energy.
You can book your river rafting adventure on Río de las Vueltas here.
If you want to hit the water, but rafting sounds a little to extreme, consider kayaking instead.
For this trip, you’ll travel with your guide along Provincial Route 41 until you reach Lago del Desierto or Lake of the Desert.
Kayaking in these waters means getting decked out in all the necessary gear; in this case a neoprene suit, microfleece, jacket, helmet, life jacket, boots, mittens and paddles.
The kayaking adventure begins north of El Chaltén in a section of the river that’s shallow. From this point, you’ll travel 12 kilometres downstream, which will take between 1.5 and 2 hours depending on the river flow and wind conditions.
Along the way, you’ll get to enjoy a unique perspective of Mount Fitz Roy, the Rio de las Vueltas Valley and the Andean forest.
The destination of this kayaking tour is Estancia Bonanza, where you’ll have a delicious lunch at the ranch before returning to El Chaltén.
You can book your kayaking trip to Estancia Bonanza here.
Another activity you can enjoy in El Chaltén is horseback riding at Estancia Bonanza.
This estancia is located 12 kilometres north of El Chaltén and it sits at the foot of Cordón del Bosque, a mountain range that’s characterized by its forests, glaciers, rivers and lagoons.
This horseback riding tour is 2 hours long and it takes you to the most remote corners of the ranch where you can enjoy unspoilt scenery in a corner of Patagonia that not many get to see.
Two daily horseback riding excursions are available: one in the morning with lunch, and the other in the afternoon with dinner. Hours are adjusted depending on the time of year.
So if you didn’t get your fill of estancia life in El Calafate, you have the opportunity to visit another estancia here in El Chaltén!
You can book your horseback riding excursion at Estancia Bonanza here.
Rockclimbing in El Chaltén
El Chaltén is a popular destination for rock climbing. The Paredón is a giant wall to the east of town overlooking the Las Vueltas River, where you can often see rock climbers.
If you’re looking to go with a guide, Mountaineering Patagonia are your people. They offer a single pitch rock climbing outing where you’ll tackle routes ranging from grade IV to VI. You’ll learn the basic knots, how to belay and rappel. This activity takes around 4 hours and is geared at those in beginner and intermediate levels.
They also offer a multi-pitch rock climbing full-day outing. The morning is spent on single-pitch routes ranging from grade IV to VI, and in the afternoon you move on to the multi-pitch climb (4-5 pitches) graded IV to V+. This activity takes between 6-8 hours.
Where to Eat in El Chaltén
This restaurant is part of Hostería Senderos, a boutique guesthouse in the south end of town, and they serve up some delicious meals. We ate here on two occasions.
The first night, we tried their blue cheese risotto with walnuts and sundried tomatoes, as well as a lentil stew. This was our celebratory dinner after trekking to Laguna de los Tres.
We enjoyed the meal so much that we went back another time and had their ñoqui with wild mushrooms and stuffed ravioli in tomato sauce.
For dessert, we tried the apple pancake with calafate berry ice cream and a chocolate mousse. Both were divine!
La Zorra Taproom
This is another spot in town that we revisited because there’s nothing better than a juicy hamburger and a mountain of loaded fries after a long day of trekking!
La Zorra Taproom is a brewpub and they specialize in hamburgers, pizzas, loaded fries and salads.
They also craft beer on tap with fun names like Scotch Ale, Passion Summer and Choco Milk.
They’re located in the north end of town, so it’s very convenient if you’ve just finished hiking one of the trails in that area.
This is a vegan restaurant in El Chaltén and we visited out of curiosity. Though we are not vegan, we were starting to crave some healthier veggie options after many of months pizza, pasta and parrilla in Argentina.
We were pleasantly surprised by their quinoa bowl loaded with grilled veggies, and we also had a type of barley bowl with more veggies and alfalfa.
Their current menu features items like pumpkin risotto, stuffed eggplant, zucchini pasta, and various wraps and salads. Plus loads of smoothies and fresh-squeezed juices.
This spot specializes in waffles with savoury and sweet toppings. If you’re craving something savoury, you can get waffles with ham and cheese, with bacon and eggs, or with blue cheese and walnuts.
And if you’re craving something sweet, like we were, you have waffles with dulce de leche, with ice cream, or with whipped cream and berries. We got one with scoops of calafate berry ice cream.
Another cool thing about this restaurant is that they have card games available, so that makes it a nice place to linger.
This restaurant is located in the south end of town and specializes in pizzas, soups and salads. The menu is simple but the food is filling.
They have 15 different pizzas on the menu – Napolitana, Calabresa and Roquefort, to name a few. They even a vegan pizza option.
This is a convenient location if you’re planning to tackle some of the hikes near the Visitors Centre.
Where to Stay in El Chaltén
Here are three hotels in El Chaltén, representing luxury, mid-range, and budget-friendly categories, each with excellent reviews.
This is where we stayed and it’s a mid-range option! This guesthouse is located near the entrance of town, so on the south side overlooking the Las Vueltas River and the Paredón, which is the rock climbing wall.
It puts you close to the trailheads for Mirador de los Cóndores, Mirador de las Aguilas, and Loma Del Pliegue Tumbado.
The rooms are very spacious – great for sprawling all our hiking gear! And the bathroom is big with a piping hot shower, which was much appreciated at the end of a long day on the trails.
Breakfast is buffet style with plenty of sweet and savoury options. They also offer a packed lunch service, which we made use of for our two big days of hiking.
Los Cerros Boutique Hotel & Spa is a 4-star boutique hotel located in the centre of El Chaltén. Because it sits on a small hill, it offers great views of the town below and the surrounding mountains.
The hotel has a spa with a hot tub and sauna, plus you can book hot stones massages – ideal for those who want a bit of pampering in between all the hiking.
Their on-site restaurant serves a combination of Patagonian and international dishes.
Hostel Rancho Grande is a ranch-style hostel conveniently located in the north end of town near some of the most popular trailheads like Laguna Capri and Laguna de los Tres.
The hostel provides mixed dormitories with shared bathrooms and private rooms with en suite bathrooms. Plus, it has a communal kitchen and a social atmosphere.
It’s a budget-friendly option in El Chaltén, popular among backpackers and budget travellers.
When is the Best time to visit El Chaltén?
Spring (September to November)
Spring brings milder temperatures, and the landscape begins to awaken with blooming flowers. It’s a quieter time with fewer tourists. The hiking trails start to become accessible, although some higher-altitude trails may still have snow.
Summer (December to February)
This is the high tourist season with the warmest temperatures. Daylight hours are long, and evenings are pleasant. This is when hiking trails are fully accessible and it’s an excellent time for trekking and outdoor activities.
Fall (March to May)
Fall sees cooler temperatures, and the colours of autumn foliage add a unique charm to the landscape. The crowds diminish compared to the summer season, although it’s a popular time of year for photographers to visit El Chalten. Hiking is still viable, although some trails might close later in the season due to snow.
Winter (June to August)
Winter is the coldest season, with snow covering the landscapes. Many facilities and accommodations close during this period. Winter offers a serene and peaceful atmosphere. It’s a good time for photographers and those seeking a quieter experience. However, access to some hiking trails will be limited due to snow and ice. If you’re interested in specific hikes, check their accessibility during your chosen time at the Visitors Centre.
Ultimately, the best time to visit El Chaltén depends on your interests and the type of experience you seek. If you’re a trekking enthusiast, the austral summer months (December to February) offer the most favourable conditions. If you prefer a quieter atmosphere and don’t mind some limitations on certain trails, the shoulder seasons of spring and fall can provide a wonderful experience.
Regardless of the season, be prepared for rapid weather changes. Patagonian weather is notoriously unpredictable, and conditions can shift quickly.
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GROUP TOURS – If you’d rather join a group tour to travel in Argentina, check out Gadventures.
CAR RENTAL – To explore Argentina beyond the cities, the best way to do so is by renting a car. Discover Cars offers rentals across the country.
BUS TICKETS – Bus travel is a great way to see Argentina. BusBud offers numerous routes.
TRAVEL INSURANCE – Don’t leave on your trip without booking travel insurance. You can get a quote on SafetyWing.
HOTELS – Booking.com offers accommodations to suit all budgets and travel styles.
TOURS – For a variety of tours and activities, have a look at Viator.