Prior to the mid 1980s, El Chaltén was the subject of a large dispute of ownership between Chile and Argentina. Although a war was never declared, the tense period was concluded with the creation of El Chaltén in 1985, solidified by a mass movement of settlers creating Argentina’s youngest city.
Even though El Chaltén is the trekking capital of Argentina, and thus, Patagonia, it is a revolving door to travellers and trekkers coming and going. In fact, even though there is constant construction and growth occurring in the city, there are only roughly 400 inhabitants that stick out all four seasons down here in El Chaltén.
Although Argentina is one of the South American countries that benefits from a strong European influence, don’t expect that you’ll be able to throw up your photos of your treks onto social media at the snap of your fingers. Even to this day, and with the influx of tourism and money, there is very poor WiFi accessibility throughout El Chaltén, so use this time to unplug, relax, and enjoy the fact that you can’t be contacted.
To put things in perspective as to how remote El Chaltén really is, mostly all the restaurants, hotels, and stores don’t even have terminals that support the payment of credit cards, as the signal is not strong or consistent enough to hold through the duration of a card payment. There is one inconsistent ATM in town, so have plenty of cash on you for when you arrive!
‘Make hay when the sun’ shines doesn’t really hold sway down here, but the moral of the saying certainly applies. The sun and clear weather starts as the southern hemisphere moves into summer, around December and January, so be aware that periods of good weather are going to be drawing in lots of trekkers – so don’t arrive without at least your first night or two booked somewhere. It’s not uncommon for disorganized people to be spending more cash than they expected on lodging, or spending their first night in the bus station.
Be prepared for some of the windiest places imaginable, as hot and cold weather patterns come together here to create huge gusts that are accelerated through over the mountain tops and into the valleys. In El Chaltén you’ll see people leaning into the wind, their hats flying down the street – when out trekking, some of the trails that reach the open plains and valley like Laguna Torre can be home to some extremely windy conditions that could knock you on your backside, so be careful.
Granted there is an endless amount of things to do outside when the weather is prime, but be aware that there are very few things to do when the weather has turned sour. When a poor forecast is on the horizon, people might be heading for the exit, and if you don’t book your bus in advance, you may be stuck at the end of the queue in El Chaltén for a few extra days.
As much as you will hear and see El Chaltén when entering Argentina, you will equally see and hear the words ‘Fitz Roy‘ on your journey towards the end of the earth. Once you arrive in El Chaltén, it may be the thing that stops you in your tracks, as the massive, jagged, overpowering mountain top as seen from the center of town is the infamous peak, named after Robert FitzRoy, a British officer of the Royal Navy who explored much of Patagonia and the Tierra del Fuego.
Even if you’re not a self-proclaimed trekker, or don’t have the wraparound sunglasses, dirt trail ski poles, or latest hover hiking boots, fear not, as there are many trails for beginners. The two lookouts, Condores and Aguilas, are both very easy hikes with great views, and the Salto del Chorillo is a tame stroll that will lead you to a beautiful waterfall, so don’t feel put off by those claiming they have conquered more mountains than Edmund Hillary, and just enjoy going at your own speed.
If you’re planning on trekking around El Chaltén, make sure to prepare yourself with as much information from people knowledgeable of the area, as the experience here may be different from any other treks you’ve previously done. Educate yourself on what specialities you’ll need and what things you can leave behind, so you’ll be both prepared and efficient.