A Pedacito Of El Chaltén, Argentina Patagonia
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
The long days of summer in South America are the only reason I really need to go to Argentina in January. However, the beauty of Patagonia certainly makes the trip even more worth it. I spent a week in El Chaltén, Argentina, and discovered that it’s a very affordable way to see Patagonia.
El Chaltén is a 37-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires, so I suggest flying to nearby El Calafate. This is a fun town right on Lake Argentina and very close to several major glaciers. From El Calafate, you can visit the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is spectacular and massive. There are two ways to visit, by boat or on foot. I went for a boat tour, which also went to two other glaciers: Spegazzini Glacier and Upsala Glacier.
To visit on foot, you can either take the bus to a set of metal walkways set around the edge of the glacier or go for a guided tour where you get to walk on the glacier. The guided tours are expensive because you need a trained guide as well as crampons and other equipment.
Hiking is more my jam, so after my glacier tour, I took a 2-hour bus ride to the town of El Chaltén. This is one of the best towns in the world for hiking. It’s inside Los Glaciares National Park and the trailheads for the best trails are on the edge of town. I didn’t rent a car and didn’t need one to access the free hiking trails in the national park.
Oh, the places you can go! My favorite hikes were to Laguna Torre and Laguna de Los Tres. There were fewer people on the trail to Laguna Torre, but I think it was a nicer trail. Most of the trail was a wide glacial valley full of small trees and the stream that comes down from the lake. It’s the only lake I visited that wasn’t the typical glacial turquoise, but it was still beautiful.
Laguna de Los Tres is by far the most popular hike and had the most people on it. It didn’t feel crowded, even though January is the height of tourist season in El Chaltén. When you get up to Laguna de Los Tres you are only a few minutes’ walk from an overlook where you can also see Laguna Sucia.
Sucia means dirty in Spanish, but Laguna Sucia was the cleanest and most sparkling turquoise of all the lakes I saw. The person who named it must have been blind or maybe they just had a thing for sarcasm. The water is safe to drink almost everywhere in the national park and there are lots of cold springs that bubble up out of the ground where you can fill your water bottle.
I also loved hiking up Río Eléctrico to Lago Eléctrico. Yes, that’s Spanish for the Electric River and the Electric Lake. I was there on a cloudy day, but they were still a bright electric blue. The trail goes through forests most of the way and I had the best luck birdwatching there. I saw a family of Magellanic Woodpeckers and watched the male teach the two juveniles how to hunt.
The trails are very well marked and easy to follow. I never felt like I was at risk of getting lost. Also, as a woman traveling solo, I felt very safe in El Chaltén and hiking in the national park. There were enough people around that if I needed help, I would have been able to get it. There is no cell reception in the area, not even in town.
If you go to El Chaltén, I recommend taking the bus from El Calafate. When you arrive at the bus station you can get a free map of the hiking trails. If you haven’t already booked a hostel or hotel, just ask at the tourist information desk in the bus station.
Every morning places in El Chaltén inform the tourist desk if they have any rooms or beds available. It’s a pretty cool system that I haven’t seen anywhere else.
After you drop your stuff off at your hotel or hostel, your first stop should be at the park ranger station. Trails are very well marked and easy to follow but it’s still good to get more information than just the free map.
The ranger station is staffed with friendly volunteers who love talking about the wildlife in the park as well as the best places for hiking and camping.
There are no camping fees in the park, which makes it the best budget option if you brought your own camping gear. If you don’t have a tent and sleeping bag, there are several camping stores in El Chaltén that rent gear for about the same price as a bed in a shared room in a hostel.
Of course, El Chaltén also has lots of nice hotels and boutique apartments for those who aren’t into camping or shared hostel dorm rooms.
Whether you want to do boat rides, glacier tours and stay in fancy hotels, or whether you want a truly budget trip of hiking and camping, I hope this article gave you some good ideas for Argentine Patagonia!
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