El Chalten could perhaps be considered a quintessentially Patagonian town. Sure, it has plenty of touristic infrastructure and is lacking the gauchos you might expect on a typical Patagonian ranch, but it definitely has all the trappings that Patagonia is famous for. Fresh, crisp air, awe-inspiring landscapes, incomparable mountain peaks and the call of the wild. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Even the most ardent trekker needs a little light relief after a day traversing the mountains, and Patagonia doesn’t disappoint when it comes to providing a well deserved reward post-trek in the form of a delicious, hearty craft beer. While artisanal beers might be all the rage now in the rest of the country, in Patagonia they have long been a staple of daily life, and some of the best beer in the country can be found in some of El Chalten’s bars and microbreweries. Head to Don Guerra and hit up their happy hour.
While Mendoza might be known for its Malbec, Patagonia is known for its lamb. Lambs are found in abundance on the rocky plains of Patagonia and are still bred by farmers and gauchos on the local estancias. It can be tricky to find lamb on the menu in the rest of Argentina, but in El Chalten, it is practically inescapable. It is cooked in the traditional way, “a la cruz,” or on the cross over an open fire, and served crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside, with the meat falling off the bone as soon as you look at it. Head to the tiny shack El Muro for some of the best lamb in town.
El Chalten really is in the middle of nowhere, a three hour bus ride from the local hub of El Calafate. For a long time it was shotgun town that straddled the Argentine/Chilean border, but once Chile tried to get their mitts on this particular area of land, Argentina had the bright idea of creating a tourist town so Chile couldn’t muscle in on their territory. Having said that, there are still very few mod cons, and high-speed, fully functioning internet is one of them. Forget about having signal once outside the hotel or hostel, and even when you are connected, the line cuts out frequently. So just enjoy the feeling of disconnecting from your daily routine and absorb the natural wonders that surround you.
El Chalten is home to one of Patagonia’s most famous mountain peaks – the Cerro Fitz Roy. The unique form of this granite bluff was the inspiration for the logo of the Patagonia clothing company, known for supplying hikers and trekkers with durable, reliable clothes that will withstand the harsh elements when you are out in the Patagonian wilderness.
Once you have seen Cerro Fitz Roy from afar, why not make it a goal to hike up to it? After all, what else did you come to El Chalten for?! Obviously one of the most popular hikes in all of Patagonia, the Cerro Fitz Roy towers above the Laguna de los Tres, a blue lagoon that sits at the base of the towers. Fitz Roy can be reached in a single day hike, but many choose to spread it over two days to get the sunrise early in the morning, and because the final ascent can be steep and icy at night.
Once you have conquered the Cerro Fitz Roy, you might want to turn your attention to the other behemoth in the area, the Cerro Torre. This granite tower also has a lagoon of the same name at its foot, and the two make an incredible sight, with the soaring peak reflected in the waters below. If you’re feeling energetic, get up early to complete the nine-hour round trip to base of Cerro Torre, or otherwise spend the night at the nearby De Agostini campsite.
Named after a native deer, the huemul, this glacier is actually located about an hour outside the town near Lago del Desierto, but heading to the turquoise waters that the glacier feeds into is well worth the trip. The hike up to the glacier and the lake will bring you through some of the most picturesque scenery in the area, past rivers and streams and through virgin forests. The grand prize at the end, apart from the glacier and lake, is the view back toward Cerros Torre and Fitz Roy.
This thundering waterfall is located a short walk from the town centre, making it the perfect activity for those who arrive in El Chalten in the evening and don’t have time to complete a trek or hike before it starts to get dark. A half hour walk along flat ground and through a sparse woodland area will bring you to the waterfall, which can be heard before it is seen. A great spot for photographers, there are plenty of rocks to sit on an enjoy the spectacle of the water falling over the cliff edge above and running past in the river below.
Considering that El Chalten is surrounded by high peaks, it follows that there are a number of lookout points a short walk from town that afford visitors incredible views back over this Patagonian enclave. Hike up to the Mirador Los Condores and Las Aguilas, both named after native birds the condor and the eagle, who get the best view of all. These viewpoints can be easily reached after an hour’s hike or so, so perfect for those lazier days when you don’t want to stray too far from town.