I’m just going to go ahead and say it: El Chalten is my favorite mountain town that I’ve visited. And it shocked us to talk to multiple Americans who had (a) never heard of El Chalten or (b) had heard of it (or at least the story behind the Patagonia logo – scroll to the bottom of the article) but thought that it wasn’t worth their time to visit. This thinking was baffling to us, especially after we spent some time exploring the town and our appreciation of it grew. El Chalten is nicknamed “the trekking capital of the world” but there is plenty to do even if you aren’t a hardcore mountain trekker.
Getting to El Chalten
El Chalten isn’t the easiest town to get to, which is a large part of it’s appeal. The closest airport is El Calafate International Airport, that has about 5 flights daily from Buenos Aires and 1 flight daily from Ushuaia. Many companies in El Calafate offer tours to El Chalten (although most are only day trips) and there are buses that will take you from the airport to El Chalten. You can find information about the buses here.
Since we spent the two nights before in El Chalten in El Calafate, and because we had our own car, we chose to drive the 215 km (about 135 miles). We left before dawn to beat the tour buses on the two lane road and were rewarded with a stunning sunrise over Lago Viedma. Driving also afforded us the opportunity to spend almost an hour driving the last 10 km into town because we kept stopping to take pictures of the mountains towering over the road.
Staying in El Chalten
Although El Chalten is a tiny town (permanent population 1600), there are countless options for lodging. The cheapest option is to pay ~$2/night for a campsite, usually in someone’s back or front yard. The line between hostel and hotel is a little blurred in El Chalten, and there is a sliding scale of hostels/hotels that range from very basic and cheap to something comparable to a 3 star hotel. There are also a handful of true basic and luxury hotels for those willing to spend a little more money.
Patagonia Eco Domes
Since we went to Patagonia for our honeymoon, we choose to stay almost exclusively in hotels (and two Hosterias to save a little bit of money) so we mostly skipped out on the cheap accomodations. Our first night in El Chalten we opted to stay in Patagonia Eco Domes. Although still not cheap, I was able to snag a great deal on Booking.com for an all-inclusive rate, which meant we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner included in our stay. We tried to avoid paying for all-inclusive rates when they included tours/excursions because we like exploring on our own.
Patagonia Eco Domes is located on the “back” side of Cerro Fitz Roy, down a pretty-well maintained dirt road. Although we drove ourselves, they also offer complimentary transfers from town for guests who arrive via bus. Our dome featured a king bed, two chairs draped in sheepskin rugs, a wood stove, and a three piece bathroom (sink, toilet, shower). The bed was extremely comfortable and looked out onto the imposing Fitz Roy massif. During dinner one of the staff members lit our wood stove, but they also provided instructions on how to open and operate the wood stove so we could keep it going throughout the night. Let me tell you, falling asleep in a private dome, with a wood fire crackling next to you, well sated from a delicious meal is the key to the most romantic night of your life.
After our magical night at Patagonia Eco Domes we headed back into town for three of the nights at Hotel Poincenot. Hotel Poincenot is located at the north end of town and is within walking distance of everything the town has to offer. We parked our car before checking in and only used it once to drive out of town to get a picture of the moon and stars over Cerro Fitz Roy.
The hotel itself seems pretty new and is very modern compared to the other hotels in the area. Our room was comfortable but we never found out how to get a comfortable temperature in the shower (it had a nob for hot water and one for cold water and it seemed like no matter how we turned each of the individual nobs, the water was either freezing or scalding). The room was very clean and always smelled great after they cleaned it – which is saying a lot because we had been traveling for 1.5 weeks at that point and were a little stinky! They also provided a complimentary breakfast buffet complete with cereals, breakfast pastries, deli meats, and a variety of fruit.
Eating in El Chalten
I did a whole post about the amazing meals we had in Patagonia. Every single thing we ate in El Chalten was delicious so they are all featured in that post. For more information about where to eat, read my Eating Well in Patagonia post.
Things to Do In El Chalten
El Chalten is located in the northern section of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and is known as the “trekking capital of the world” so there are lots of hiking options. In the four days we stayed in El Chalten, we went on four different hikes:
We made the decision to prioritize trekking/hiking over other activities and mostly exhausted the more challenging day hikes in the area. There are a handful of easier ones as well, including Salto El Chorrillo and Miradors Condores y Las Aguilas.
There are also a lot of non-hiking options in El Chalten. Although we arrived slightly too late in the season (1 day too late to be exact), Patagonia Aventura offers multiple excursion options on the nearby Glacier Viedma. We were most interested in the more high activity options of the Viedma Ice Trek (walking on the glacier with crampons) and Viedma Pro (ice climbing) but they also offer the Viedma Trek which involves walking near the glacier and the Viedma Light which is a boat tour of the face of the glacier. If you have more time, they also offer an overnight excursion that combines the Viedma Ice Trek and Viedma Pro, along with an overnight stay near the face of the glacier.
Surrounded by rivers, Rio Fitz Roy and Rio de las Vueltas being the closest, El Chalten offers world-class fly fishing and kayaking. In fact, the entire main street is dotted with guide companies offering everything from casual floats down the river to technical mountaineering expeditions to the famous peaks surrounding the town. For aquatic tours, we considered Rafting down the Rio de Las Vueltas Canyon with Calafate Mountain Parks and fly fishing on Lago del Desierto with Chalten Fishing.
For non-aquatic options, we also looked into horseback riding with El Relincho (sorry their website is only in Spanish) and rock climbing with Mountaineering Patagonia (they also offer ski mountaineering in the winter!).
Finally, there is a little bit of mountain biking around El Chalten. I’d personally call it more of a gravel ride since it’s mostly on dirt roads. If you’re interested in a casual ride, there are companies that will rent you a bike and drop you off at Lago del Desierto. Then you can ride the mostly downhill road back to town. Be forewarned though, the roads are dusty so be prepared to eat dirt, and not from falling!