[Reading this on the day published? We're chillin out on the Falkland Islands]
El Chalten is a small town in Argentina's Pategonia region, famous for its hiking trails and impressive views of Mt Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres. We have mentioned before that we love day hikes, and Chalten certainly didn't dissappoint. We arrived by bus from Calafate, and the driver stopped at the information center at the beginning of town. All the passengers were shuttled inside, where they had separate rooms for English and Spanish. A guide came in, handed out a map of all the trails, and gave a short information session. They made everything so supremely easy to figure out! Afterward, we all re-boarded the bus and made our way to the center of town.
Our first day, we decided to trek to Laguna de los Tres, which is at the base of Mt Fitz Roy. The map said it should take about 8 and a half hours, but the information center warned against completing the final kilometer because it is very steep and that portion of trail is in poor condition.
The trek was strenuous, but absolutely gorgeous. Sometimes on hikes, you really don't see much of anything until you reach the very top for the "wow" moment. The thing I loved most about this trek was that there were several beautiful lookout points along the way. We decided to skip the final ascent, as we were both getting tired and had a long walk back. Even so, we saw beautiful views of Fitz Roy, Rio Blanco, and Laguna Capri.
After a day of rest, we did another trek to Laguna Torre. This trail was much easier physically, but was still about 12 miles round trip. Once again, the views were phenominal. Around every corner, we had to stop to take it all in. There were streams with the clearest, cleanest water I have ever seen. There were waterfalls, lagoons, and lakes. There were trees, mosses, and plants with colors so vibrant that it looked like a fairytale. And at the very end, there was a glacier. Holy cow, it was awesome!
We had a picnic lunch at the lake overlooking the glacier, then Daniel (being a typical boy) decided to poke around at the chunks that had fallen into the water. The water was a gorgeous milky green, colored from the glacier pulverizing the stone as it moves over it, causing minerals and sediment to mix in.
On our walk back into Chalten, the clouds that were hanging low early in the day cleared out, and we had some beautiful sunny skies. We both agree, this is our favorite hike to date. It wasn't overly difficult, and the surroundings were out of this world. When we reached the town, we were even greeted by some llamas! All in all, a fantastic excursion.
Aside from the amazing beauty of the area, the thing I loved about Chalten was how simple everything was. All of the trail heads are right at the end of town, so you don't have to bother with taking any kind of transport. When you are ready to go, you just go. No fuss at all. There is also no entrance fee to the park, and there is no pressure to do any type of tour. In general, the area is expensive, but it is easy to get around by staying in a dormitory and cooking your own meals.
We are headed to Puerto Natales next, which is the gateway to the famous Torres del Paine. People shout its praises from the rooftops, but I have a feeling that Chalten will be pretty hard to beat.
Nuts and Bolts
Hostel: Rancho Grande Hostel. ARS 60 ($12.65 USD) per person in a 4-bed dorm. Located at the very end of town, nearest the Fitz Roy trail head. The bus from Calafate will drop you off and pick you up at the hotel. Kitchen is not very well equipped, but managable. Everything else was fantastic, including showers with water pressure so hard it hurt!
Bus: The company Chalten Travel leaves from Calafate at 8am. ARS 225 ($47.39 USD) per person round trip. There is also an evening bus, but only the morning one stops at the info center along the way (which is REALLY helpful!)
Tip: Bring your food with you! We saw someone bring an entire crate of food from Calafate, and we thought they were insane. They ended up being the smartest people ever, as the small grocery store in Calafate is horribly under stocked. For example, someone asked where the butter was, and the response was "We don't have any." When we got there, there was very little in the way of fruit and vegetables, and what was there was not great in terms of quality. Also, food is about 30% more expensive than in Calafate, so bring what you can with you. Plan on cooking all meals yourself, as the restaurants are horribly expensive and not that great.