Patagonia was by far my favorite place that I visited in Argentina and I only saw a small portion of it. I flew into El Calafate and after spending a day there took a bus to the nearby town of El Chalten. The weather (although cold) ended up being perfect and the snow held out until after we left. It was the end of the season (the seasons are opposite so it was fall in May) so there weren’t as many hotels/hostels and restaurants open but it was nice to be on the trails with only a few other people. I was only there long enough to do two of the main hikes with friends and but you could easily spend a week there on a new trail everyday.
BY BUS FROM EL CALAFATE
The closest airport is located in El Calafate, about a 3 hour drive from El Chalten. Buses run everyday to and from El Calafate at 8am and 6pm. If you’re coming from the north there are also buses to and from Bariloche. You could also rent a car and drive there. The route is well paved and clear. The bus stops about halfway at a rest stop “town” called La Leóna.
The bus from El Calafate will bring you to the El Chalten bus station which is located at the end of the town’s main street. I booked my bus ticket through Chalten Travel which accepted credit cards but only the ones with the larger square chip worked.
We stayed Anita’s House and I would definitely recommend staying there. Anita welcomed us and gave us an overview of the trails and a few restaurant recommendations ($60 per night for a triple in the off season).
EL CHALTEN TOWN
The town is very small with only a main street that starts at the bus station and breaks into two smaller streets. Everything is walkable. There are lots of hotels/hostels, restaurants and shops. There is also a bank with an ATM but I would get money out in El Calafate before hand. It’s also a good idea to know basic Spanish, many places do not speak English.
Most restaurants accept pesos, chilean pesos, USD and Euros but check beforehand. Many places were closed for the season but the grocery stores and several restaurants were open. In the mornings there was one bakery that opened around 8am. Also for your hikes don’t forget to pack a lunch. Some of the restaurants/bakeries sell box lunches pre-made if you want or there are a few grocery stores in town to make your own.
LAGUNA DE LOS TRES (May 9, 2016)
Our first hike was to see Laguna Los Tres and view Mount Fitz Roy. It was the longest and hardest trail but the most famous and spectacular. There are two ways to get there. The first is shorter but you backtrack the trail that you came in from town. The second you have to take a bus/taxi to a farther point to start your hike. We opted for this route and took 9am bus from bus station to El Pilar (30 mins, 120 pesos per person). We tried to take a taxi but they weren’t running at that hour. It was light by 9am and we arrived at the start point around 9:30am. We then hiked for about 2.5 hours to the start of the uphill trail to Laguna de Los Tres. There is a campsite at the bottom of the mountain if you want to camp as well and break the hike into smaller pieces.
The hike to Laguna Los Tres was 1.5 hours and it was uphill steep and rocky the whole way but the view at the top was more than worth it. Make sure you go around the left side of the lake to see the other glacier and lake behind it. You can climb to edge and feel like you are on the end of the world. It was slightly cloudy that day so we only had a partial view of Mount Fitz Roy at the top of the mountain and walking back along the trails.
After lunch we headed downhill which was much faster and took us about 50 minutes. Our hike back to town (the hike you could start with from town and backtrack on your way home) took us a little less than 3 hours passing another campsite by a lake.
LAGUNA TORRE (May 10, 2016)
The next day with our tired legs and knees we did a much easier and shorter hike to Laguna Torre. The trail starts up above the town where there is an area of newer houses and construction. It only took us 2.5 hours to get there starting at 9:30a. It was shaded by mountains so half the trail is cold and frosted and half is in the sunlight, a little chillier than the day before hiking. We had lunch at the Laguna and then headed back the same path. It took a little less time, about 2.25 hours to town.
*There are several other hikes of varying difficulties. You can ask in town or there are several places online explaining the different routes.
*It is not necessary to hire a guide, the trails are very well marked and it’s very hard to get lost.
*The days I hiked it was about 32 degrees Fahrenheit so it was good to wear layers. I started with all my layers but by the end removed my coat and was only hiking in leggings and long sleeves.
*Some people were wearing sneakers but trail shoes are better. There are a lot of uneven and steep paths. If you are hiking more than a few days definitely get shoes with thicker soles than trail sneakers. The trails are very rocky and I could feel every rock I stepped on. And make sure you have good socks! I recommend SmartWool.
*Bring a backpack with an outside water bottle holder (you can refill your water bottles in the stream), lunch, snacks, toilet paper, gloves/mittens, and a hat.
*Also, make sure to take your trash with you, it is a National Park.