El Chaltén is in the Patagonian region of southern Argentina. El Chalten was founded in the late 70s/early 80s as an outpost of Argentina to anticipate land claims of Chile for that area. It is still a small town that is best known for being the gateway to Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres, two of the most rugged and impressive peaks in the Patagonian Andes. The growing number of hiking tourist lead to an increase in construction and in summer the town is full of tourists.
- From El Calafate : Daily buses take 2h30 hours to drive the 222 kilometers (138 miles) over a fully paved road. Price for the buses is 420 pesos one way (Apr 2016). Avoid the company Taqsa/Marga; they have old and bad buses with failing or no ventilation at all which is terrible.
- From Bariloche : Buses ride the mostly-paved Ruta 40 across the desert-like landscape (24 hours; 2014). On the way, they stop in El Bolson, Esquel, Perito Moreno and Los Antiguos (12 hours). Marga has a direct bus that leaves on odd numbered days, but there is a longer route that goes through Rio Gallegos and El Calafate that leaves everyday. Buses are likely 1500 pesos or more. The general rule of thumb is that the bus will cost about US $5 for every hour of travel. Beware the company Taqsa/Marga, who advertise a semi-cama with two meals (as of 28/03/14) for their Ruta 40 route, however it was just a seat and only a crappy breakfast on the 24 hour ride.
- From Villa O´Higgins (Chile) : See Get out
If coming from the north, note that as of Apr 2016, about 70km of the road between Gobernador Gregores and Tres Lagos are still gravel and mainly in bad condition. It goes through some hills, is very windy and offers few/no spots protected from the wind. Especially due to rain and snow, a 2WD car was struggling to pass some sections of this road, and some cyclists were really miserable.
Only by foot or car. The main streets have been recently paved and have sidewalks. Side streets remain mostly gravel.
The gas station in town is a single-pump set up on the main road just outside of town (inside a bright blue shipping container with the YPF symbol). They are open 9am-12pm and 3pm-8pm. If they are out of fuel, you will likely wait until the next day no earlier than 10 am for a refuel truck to arrive (like most gas stations in the southern half of Patagonia). (January 2015)
The information point from the national park (across the bridge, about 500m from busstation) is very helpful with information about the trekkings.
On the Laguna de los Tres hike
- Lago del Desierto. A dead-end ripio road (about 37 km one way) leads you to the very remote Lago del Desierto through a wonderful valley along a river. You can do easy hikes and strolls there and enjoy the peace and quiet. edit
- KouSeki Mountain SPA, Cerro Solo 136 (Same block as El Gringuito supermarket), . 10-13, 16-20. Offers a variety of therapeutic and relaxing massages, complemented by Thai herbal sauna and steaming compresses. (49.19,72.53) edit
This area is a trekking mecca.
- Laguna Capri. 4km one way. Supposed to be 2h one way, easily feasible in ~1h15. This laguna is on the Sendero fitz Roy, on the way to Laguna de los Tres. There are great views of Fitz Roy from the laguna and it is a great spot to watch the sunrise. There is a free camping next to the laguna.
- Laguna de los Tres (Sendero Fitz Roy). 10km one way. 8 hours, mostly easy, round trip from the town (you can easily do it in around 6h return). There are outstanding views of the Fitz Roy range along the way. The trail ends at the cobalt-blue Laguna de los Tres, at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy. The hike starts by going up a bit before being almost flat for many kilometers. The last 1.5 kilometers of this hike are steep and exposed, and as a result some hikers choose to overnight at the nearby Campamento Poincenot prior to climbing the last, steep stretch, though it is possible to do the whole round-trip trek from town in one day. A 500-meter, well marked additional trail winds around to to the left of Laguna de los Tres and leads to a spectacular, cliff-side overview of Laguna Sucia, some 200 meters below Laguna de los Tres. A good alternative route is to start at Hosteria El Pilar and hike back to El Chalten, stopping at Laguna de los Tres mid-way.
- Laguna Torre. 6 hours easy round trip that leads to a lake at the base of the dramatic Cerro Torre, which, although only 3100 meters tall, was not summited until 1975, a generation after all the 8000-meter+ Himalayan peaks had been conquered. Cerro Torre's near vertical walls and a permanent, unstable ice veneer at its summit defeated all earlier attempts. Backpackers can combine the Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre treks using connecting side-trails that create a loop. There is an optional side continuation to Dagostini that leads closer to the glacier near Laguna Torre.
- The Condor Mirador and Eagle Miradors are easy climbs (two hours at most combined) behind the National Park office. Great views of the town, and the Fitzroy range and of course Condors.
- Beside hiking you can do a boat trip combined with a glacier trek on the Lago Viedma and the adjacent Glacier Viedma.
- In the centre of town you can also pay to go horse riding with a gaucho guide along some of the major walking trails. The horses here are very easy-going and well suited to beginner riders.
Supermarket with everything hiker and camper might need. Opening hours depend on season but in general closes rather early so better check out upon arrival.
The supermarket Distro Sur, on San Martin (main street), is the biggest of the three markets. During the summer (2016) the opening hours were 0900-2000.
The calafate berry ice cream (a bit like blueberry but milder) from the ice cream shop in the middle of the town is worth trying.
If you plan cooking at your hostel or while camping, there are also two small grocery stores that sell food and supplies. If coming from Bariloche or El Calafate, it's advisable to bring some groceries with you as the variety locally is limited.
There are a number of restaurants in town, mostly with meals from 70 pesos upward. For budget travellers, your best bet is to cook, unless you can survive on empanadas only.
- Como Vaca, Lago del Desierto 410. Very nice parrilla restaurant, great steaks and also other home made food at fair prices. Open at 19h. Can be very busy around 21h. edit
- La Cerveceria, San Martín 564. This little brewery has great salads, pizza, pasta and stews. The caprese salad was loaded with great cheese, tomatoes and really fresh basil. They have amazing cafe con leche and fantastic desserts. They only take reservations for bigger groups and can be very busy around 21h. They can also do pizza for take-away. edit
What better after a long hike in the mountains then to enjoy a good beer. Home brews (rubia y negro) at the Cervezeria! Good food and friendly staff as well. Though 50 pesos for two beers is a bit pricey.
- La Nieve. This is the bakery that supplies many of the area restaurants and shops with empanadas. They have some of the best prices (5 pesos for an empanada) and s many of the locals talk about of as having the best deals. Friendly staff. edit
- La Cerveceria, San Martín 564. This little brewery is great place for post-hike bites. They brewed two kinds of beer: Bock (dark) and a light (bohemian pilsner). edit
There is a range of hotels and hostels in town. It can fill up quite fast in summer.
- There are several free camping sites in the park, e.g. the Camping Capri (1h away from town. Easy to come back for shopping when necessary) and Camping Poincenot.
- Rancho Grande Hostel, ☎ 02962-493005, . Nice HI hostel with a kitchen, wifi, tv, bar etc. Breakfast not included. Dorm bed 200p (Apr 2016). edit
- Hosteria Koonek, Lionel Terray (415), ☎ 0054 02962-493304, . (,Hosteria Koonek) edit
- La Comarca Hostel, Perito Moreno 70. Cheapest hostel in town, very close to bus station, friendly owner but with bad ventilation in the dorms. Appears a bit shabby from the outside but is really quite nicely-appointed. 75ARS per bed (April 2014.) edit
- Latitud 49° Apart - B&B, arbilla 145, ☎ 0054 2962 493347, . 2 apartments full equipped up to 4 people. warm and modern ambient, with complete kitchen, fridge, microwave, central heating, clean service, towels and linen included. lcd 22" with DVD recorder and available films. wi-fi internet. 3 double rooms with private bathroom at B&B accommodation. breakfast and wi-fi internet included. good view and convenient location rear the bus station. (49° 20' S,72° 54' W) edit
- La Base, ☎ 0054 2962 493031, . Small guesthouse with garden, 6 rooms with private bathroom + 3 shared kitchens. edit
- camp with locals, try asking locals in back streets to camp in their backyard (for example a friendly man in a light blue house behind the Rancho Grande and Poincenot hotel). You get the same or better service as the campsites for half the price. You might also be able to negotiate a dormitory style accommodation this way. edit
- El Relincho campsite. Mediocre service, big surcharges for storing luggage and other extras, very crowded and expensive. edit
There are only two ATMs in town. One is located in the bus terminal. The other is a couple blocks away. Neither of the ATMs work for cards with chips in them. It's best to take out cash before arriving to avoid potential problems. (March 2015)
Cash is king -- most businesses, including the bus companies, and restaurants do not accept credit cards. It's best to come earlier in the day, as the ATM will run out of cash towards the end of the day.
There is no mobile phone connection in or around town (apparently much to the delight of some of the hippie population). Internet connections are slow at best but predominantly nonexistent, despite what the hostel, hotel or establishment might advertise.
Biking from El Chalten to El Calafate is doable in two days. At around 120 km from El Chalten there is an abandoned pink house next to the road where many bikers spend the night. The police is known to show up around 8 pm some days to throw people out. Try to arrive late at the pink house.
Driving from El Chalten, nearest refuel stop south is El Calafate; to the north, the stand-alone YPF near the Tres Lagos turn (unpredictable fuel reserves) and Gobernador Gregores (likely to have fuel all day).
If you are walking out, there is a spot where people hitchhike where Rt 40 meets Rt 23; you will multiply your odds of finding a ride if you can go the 87km - from town, your best bet is take a ride going any direction and if you plan to go the other way, ask them to drop you when they reach Rt 40.
It is possible to get to Villa O´Higgins in Chile by walking or biking (experiance and prices as in Feb 2017). First, hitchhike the 37 km long gravel road to the Lago Desierto. There are lots of cars going there but also lots of hitchers. You might have a better chance moving a bit for from the town to waterfall (about 3km), where lots of people stop on the way to Lago. Other option would be to take a shuttle bus, but that is ridiculously expensive (about 400 pesos). Once you arrive to the Lago, you can take a boat across the lake for about 20 usd (very frequent in the high season) or walk for about 4-6 hours around the lake. There is a paid camping also. The walk starts with a little bridge in front of the small church and its not realy easy as it goes up and down frequently. Do not attempt this walk with a bike (especially bikepacking bike) as its close to impossible to pass with it. Once on the north end of the lake, there is a free camping next to the police post. If you arrive in the afternoon/ evening and the police station is still open, get the stamp directly as they might open quite late in the morning. From there its again about 4-6 hours to the candelario marsilla in Chile. The way is a not very well maintained walking path with severel river crossings (at least one them had to be walked in knee deep water) going up the hill until the arg-chile border where the dirt track starts. Once you get to the c. marsilla, go through the chilean customs and then continue to the pier where the ship will pick you up. Paid camping on the spot and food available on the estancia. There are now three companies running the c. marsilla - villa O´higgins route in the high season, departing several times a week so it means there is AT LEAST one boat to Villa O´Higgins daily (weather permitting) - this is in strong contrast with what they tell you in El Chaltén. The agency is reselling tickets for one company only (Robinson Crusoe http://robinsoncrusoe.com) so they will lie to you that no other boats go there. Also, you can buy the ticket on boat so you dont have to pay the commision to the agency in El Chalten. If I remember correctly, the price in the agency was 65 usd, while on the ship we paid 36.000 CLP (Robinson Crusoe, payment on credit cards possible with them). The other companies should be even cheaper - around 30.000 CLP according to the chilean policemen, however I dont know anything more about the names or schedules. When you arrive to Villa O´Higgins pier, its still about 6 km to the village itself. We bought the ticket on the shuttle directly on the boat for 2.500 CLP each, but you can also hitch or walk. There is also a possibility of going on a extra side trip by boat from c. marsilla to the O´Higgins glacier if you show up early at the pier (another cca 20.000 CLP extra).
Overall, its doable in one day, though it does not leave much space for errors. Two days are perfectly fine even if you dont take the boat across lago desierto but if you would like to make a side trip (one can be done from south end of lago desierto and one from c. marsilla) it would take at least three days.