Departing El Calafate by car we drove north along the famed Ruta 40 towards the small town of El Chaltén.
The road to El Chaltén
The drive into town in clear weather is truly stunning. We stopped frequently to take in the views. On the way, we spotted guanacos, rheas (similar to an emu) and small gray foxes.
Established in 1985, El Chaltén was settled by Argentina in order to fend off Chilean claims to the area. Today the town is the gateway to the northern part of Los Glaciares National Park, including the iconic Fitz Roy peak, and is the self-proclaimed national trekking capital. Most of the town consists of hotels, hostels, shops and restaurants. In the morning the streets are full of hikers setting out for the day, and in the evening they stream back into town for a drink and dinner.
Thankfully our luggage is (slightly) smaller than this carved wooden backpack.
Our daughter was starting to feel sick on our last day in El Calafate and had a rather nasty cough on the day we drove to El Chaltén. With all five of us confined in a tiny rental car there was little chance that any of us would escape the illness, and by the first morning in El Calafate our oldest son was feeling sick as well. Therefore it was decided that I (Wes) should go ahead and do one of the challenging hikes solo before I fell ill as well.
Laguna de los Tres Hike
The trail to the Laguna de los Tres began just down the street from our hostel. The hike was supposed to take roughly 4 hours each way. Fortunately the weather was spectacular, cool and clear.
Along the trail the spectacular Fitz Roy peak frequently came into view.
The hike was relatively easy, except for the last kilometer which required clambering up the trail full of huge boulders.
After the challenging ascent I reached the end of the trail, a lake just below the granite peaks.
At the end of the main trail it was possible to climb another small hill to get a better view of the three peaks, as well as a second lake below.
I lingered at the top for a while then made my descent, passing by another lake on the way down.
Meanwhile, back in town, Annette had taken the kids to the playground. On a clear day, you can enjoy views of Fitz Roy without the effort of a hike.
Our oldest son was not really in the mood though.
On the next day, we celebrated our youngest son’s 6th birthday. Being on the road, we weren’t able to give him any large gifts but he was quite happy nonetheless.
Later Annette and the birthday boy went out for lunch. The rest of us were feeling miserable with flu symptoms and spent most of the day in bed.
Ruta 41 Drive
The next day we were all feeling well enough to go exploring some more. We set out by car on Ruta 41, a dirt track that headed north out of town towards a lake where it is possible to catch a ferry into Chile.
The first stop on our drive was a short hike to a waterfall, Senda Chorrillo del Salto.
A little further down the road, we reached the trail head for the Glaciar Huemul hike. This trail was on private property and cost 300 pesos (about $7) per adult (the kids were free).
The hike was mostly through the forest and as we made our way we saw several native birds including red-headed woodpeckers.
Towards the end of the hike the trail became steep; fortunately there were ropes for support.
At the end of the trail we got a good view of the Glacier Huemul. The glacier is named after a species of deer (resembling a short-legged whitetail) that live in the area.
Mirador De Los Condores
The following day we went on yet another hike, this time to the Mirador De Los Condores, a trail just south of El Chaltén.
Annette and the kids made quick work of the short hike. Unfortunately my flu symptoms had returned and I had a hard time keeping up the pace. The condors that the trail is named for circled above me, sensing the opportunity for a meal.
I didn’t make it to the top but the others did, and they snapped this lovely photo of El Chaltén and the mountains beyond. From reading the guide books and talking with other people at our hostel, it seems we were very lucky to have so many beautifully clear days to see the mountains.
Mirador Del Cerro Torre Hike
The next day it was time for (you guessed it) another hike! The destination du jour was the Mirador Del Cerro Torre.
Along the way we came to a big boulder where the kids got to practice their climbing skills.
There are multiple ways to reach the mirador and there was a small disagreement between the adults on which trail we should take. We set out on a less-used trail north of town and for the first hour or so part of our group insisted that we were lost. Fortunately we have an Eagle Scout among us who made sure that we stayed on course.
Upon reaching the Mirador (“viewpoint” in Spanish) we took plenty of photos. Once again, we had crystal clear views of the mountains. Our Lonely Planet guide indicated that “Cerro Torre is the most difficult local peak to see” but we did not have any problems.
Laguna Capri Hike
After several days of hiking, the kids were ready for a break and Wes was still trying to recover from the flu. So, it was Annette’s turn to go on a longer solo hike. Although it was one of cloudiest days we had during our time in El Chaltén, the views were still very impressive.
All around town, we were very impressed with how well maintained all the trails were. It was very nice that we could just walk down the street a few blocks from the center of town and already be on a beautiful trail.
Time for a Steak
Argentina is famous for steak and wine so we resolved to have at least one meal with these specialties. On our final evening in town we found a steakhouse a few blocks from our hostel and we enjoyed an excellent meal on the rooftop terrace.
We spent a week in El Chalten, which provided time to do some of the great hikes described above and also time to recover from the illness that hit everyone hard (except for Annette). We loved the feel of the town and hiking in the beautiful Patagonian wilderness. This has quickly become one of our favorite places. Next time we’d buy or rent tents and do some overnight treks. There are a good number of campsites on the trails around town.
As we headed out of town we had to admire the view of Fitz Roy one last time.
Next up, we travel to the end of the world!