Those who’ve heard about El Chaltén – or Mt. Fitzroy – may know this is no destination for the addicted to PlayStation, or the “I love to spend my days on the sofa” lifestyle. For some reason, El Chaltén is indeed known as the capital of hiking in Argentina. With dozens of getaway options just a few steps away from this peaceful little town, any hiker will meet his match.
Whether you choose self-guided easy hikes like El Condor and Las Aguilas Lookout (2 hours round-trip), or ultimate mountaineering experiences like Paso Marconi or the Fitz Roy Circuit (for that, please consider that special mountaineering abilities and glacier hiking experience is a must), a trip to El Chaltén is an incredible way to explore the hidden gems of Los Glaciares National Park…and to fall in love with Patagonia.
But here, we wanted to come straight to the point and to introduce you to the most well-known (and unmissable) hikes in the area. Not because everyone knows them; but because we are convinced these are some of the best hikes in the world, and we wanted to tell you why.
LAGUNA LOS TRES
Distance : 22km/16,6mi
Length : 8/9 hours
Elevation : 750 meters
A world-famous hike, Laguna Los Tres is often compared to the towers’ base lookout hike in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. It is true that the diversity of landscapes and the numerous surprises along the way make it a great competitor and by far the most classic hike in Argentina. Here, you have two options. One is to start the hike from El Chaltén, leaving the city in the early morning and going uphill for about 4 hours before reaching the lookout. The second option is to take a transfer to El Pilar (about 17 kilometers north of the town) and to warm up with a gentle walk through a beautiful lenga forest. No doubt about it, the second option is way better – you’ll see more landscapes, and you’ll be less tired.
As for us, our van drove us to Hostería El Pilar, where we started walking along the Electrico river and could indeed warm up with the sweet melody of the Magellanic woodpeckers searching for a tasty lunch on the trees in the distance. I’ve got to admit, the walk could hardly be easier; but as easy as it is, the views are always rewarding. After only an hour and a half you can reach El Electrico Glacier, a hanging glacier with a beautiful lagoon at its base. The contrast between the greenness of the trees and the blue/whiteness of the glacier is seizing. And that’s only the beginning.
The next step is to get out of the forest to start the last ascent to find the “icing on the cake.”
Get ready and take a break in the Poincenot campsite: the 1h15 final ascent is something you should be ready for. Nothing that strenuous; however, if you have limited hiking experience, you may feel it in your legs. The good news is that the view constantly improves as you go up, and the Viedma Lake looks almost infinite as it appears in the distance. The final moments look like a procession, with dozens of hikers from around the world accomplishing a dream. Take a deep breath; because the last viewpoint is unforgettable (if you’re lucky enough with the weather).
Laguna Los Tres is just too perfect to be true.
The blue lagoon itself is striking, but if you raise your sights, you’ll see the legendary granite peaks you may have seen in adventure books when you were a child. Mt. Fitz Roy (4,405mt/11,020ft) is simply the most legendary peak at the world’s end and is also known as Mt. Chaltén, the “Smoking Mountain” in indigenous Tehuelche language (take a look at the cloud formations around the summit, and you’ll understand this name). Fitz Roy’s little “brother” is Mt. Poincenot (3002mt/9849ft), a giant granite mountain which reigns over the mountain range with other cousins like Mt. Mojón Rojo, Mt. Aguja de la S, Mt. Saint Exupery and Mt. Ragael Juarez.
Now, lower your gaze and take a look at the tremendous amount of ice at the feet of the mountains. Watching these (disappearing) glaciers will make your heart sink – and this mix of giant natural “things” really makes the place one of the most astounding viewpoints in the world. If Laguna Los Tres is not enough, walk about 10 minutes along the left side of the lagoon and you’ll reach another viewpoint, this time to see the Sucio glacier and the lagoon of the same name.
Whenever you hike up, you have to hike down. This basic rule in the mountains is so true in El Chalten, but the good thing is that after the descent the last section of the hike is mostly flat and offers different angles of Mt. Fitz Roy and the other peaks. Photographers will no longer know where to look or what to focus on as everything here is fantastic, mystic, and different. Don’t miss Laguna Capri, a Mediterranean-like lagoon that contrasts with the cold glaciers and the snowcapped mountains (if the weather is not good, it should warm up your heart).
A one-hour final descent is waiting for you, but no worries: the last 3 kilometers should seem quite easy after the climb to Laguna Los Tres. You may feel tired, but you may put things into perspective and remember there are a couple of very good local breweries waiting for you in El Chaltén, and a hot shower should help you recover from the unforgettable hike you just undertook.
Distance : 18km/11mi
Length : 8 hours
Elevation : 250 meters
I believe there is one really good thing about this hike which makes it a must-do if you go to El Chálten; despiste its distance, this hike is relatively easy and offers a very, very, very (very) rewarding final viewpoint. Here, no need to sweat all day long to get a scenic landscape of one of the most impressive peaks in South America: Cerro Torre (3128mt/10.262ft). The 8-hour hike (round trip) mostly takes place on “Patagonian Flats”, which means that despite a few ups and downs, everything is smooth and if you think you’re not trained enough for the ascent of Laguna de Los Tres, rest assured that you can handle this one.
We started early morning from the town (here, there is no other alternative), hiking through the Fitzroy Valley. After 15 minutes we reached a first viewpoint. From there, you can observe the whole massif, with the mighty Mt. Fitz Roy in the background and Cerro Torre on its left. Enjoy it, because Fitz Roy is not today’s highlight, and after this first lookout you may not see Fitz Roy again. Now, you can focus on Cerro Torre as you walk along the Fitzroy river with the sweet melody of the roaring water down the valley.
After an hour we reached a kind of plateau where hikers rest before undertaking the “straight line” to the final viewpoint, from which the final destination can be seen. Get ready for a bunch of easy ups and downs through the lenga forest and within a couple of hours you’ll reach the last portion of the trail.
The last ten minutes we hiked up a rocky surface – a moraine – and the picture-perfect landscape appeared all of sudden, with the gigantic Cerro Torre literally towering from the glaciers. The granite tower is indeed looked after by glaciers (the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields are stretching along these mountains) and just by looking at it, you’ll understand why climbers from around the world come every year to conquer the mountain.
In 1959, Cesare Maestri, an Italian mountain-climber, achieved the first ascent of Cerro Torre. He had undertaken the climb with his partner Toni Egger, who unfortunately died in an avalanche on the way down. However, doubts were quickly expressed due to Cesare’s lack of proof, and the fact that no trace of the climb has ever been found. The granite towers have been climbed several times since then, but the suspicions about who climbed it first have made the climbing history of Mt. Torre the most controversial climbing story in the world and gave the mountain an incredible reputation. If you reach the lookout (I wish you do), here’ some good advice: just sit down at the shore of the Lagoon, and observe the mountain.
Feel the wind. Feel the cold, the rain, the sunshine, anything you can feel.
And when you have felt the power of nature in that place, you’ll think about all these guys who conquered the mountains (some of them losing their lives) and why Cerro Torre is a source of fascination for the whole world.
Eventually, after you hike back to El Chaltén, have a beer (or two).
If you want to do it yourself: hike the most incredible trekking routes in El Chaltén
If you want to spice up your trip to Patagonia, explore the Perito Moreno Glacier and for a trekking adventure in Torres del Paine National Park!