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Hiking in El Chalten - Is it for me?

2 ladies smiling with Fitz Roy snowcapped mountains as backdrop in El Chalten Argentina
March 21, 2024
12 min. read
El Chalten · Argentina

As two travel aficionados with differing levels of hiking experience, one of us a seasoned hiker and the other less engaged in physical activities, we embarked on a journey to El Chalten, a renowned addition to the itineraries of travelers heading to El Calafate. Our mission? To uncover firsthand whether this destination is suitable only for experienced trekkers.

Why is hiking experience relevant? Well, El Chalten, located 220 km north of El Calafate - see our map below - proudly boasts the title of Argentina's hiking and climbing capital.

While both El Chalten and El Calafate offer stunning glacier views in Argentine Patagonia, the key difference lies in the exploration mode. Unlike El Calafate, where attractions are easily accessible, in Chalten, hiking is the primary means to reach natural wonders.

A map with light blue areas depicting the glaciers of El Calafate and El Chalten tourist destinations in Argentina. The map shows the roads linking both and the lakes formed by the glaciers

The main advantage of engaging in active exploration? We anticipated encountering fewer crowds along the trails, offering a more serene and intimate experience amidst nature's splendor.

What's the highlight of Chalten? Is it only for hikers?

Undoubtedly, the 'Laguna de los Tres' hike is the must-do of every stay in Chalten. It offers breathtaking views of Mount Fitz Roy (3405m / 11171ft) and many glaciers.

The Fitz Roy mount of granite partially covered by snow with a blue sky in the background. This mount is the highlight of El Chalten hiking region in Argentina
Close up of Mount Fitz Roy

This 20 km journey includes a challenging ascent lasting approximately 1 hour. For a seasoned hiker, this trek poses minimal difficulty. However, it can be quite demanding for someone leading a sedentary lifestyle with little to no regular physical activity.

Two hikers on an even terrain with rocks of different sizes in Argentine Patagonia. Both on their way to Laguna de los Tres
Last leg of the trail heading to Laguna de los Tres

After our four-day stay in Chalten, during which we explored hikes of varying difficulty levels, we can confidently affirm that this destination caters to both avid hikers and those less accustomed to physical exertion. There are shorter hikes suitable for less active individuals.

Yes, we took on the 20 km Laguna de los Tres hike and successfully completed it, despite the vast difference in our physical fitness levels. One factor that may have contributed to our success was the series of short walks we undertook in the days leading up to the challenging hike, serving as preparation.

Frozen Laguna de los Tres underneath Mount Fitz Roy

For parties consisting of both hikers and non-hikers, our suggestion is to split up to maximize the enjoyment of the day dedicated to hiking and witnessing the beauty of Mount Fitz Roy.

Hikers can tackle the longer Laguna de los Tres trail (20 km) with its challenging ascent, while non-hikers can opt for the ‘shorter’ Laguna Capri trail (8 km). Further details on our suggested itinerary can be found below (DAY 3).

The Laguna Capri trail also offers magnificent views from Fitz Roy from the distant but doesn't require the strenuous ascent (of Laguna de los Tres trail).

Our suggested Itinerary for hikers & non-hikers

DAY 1AM Hike to Green & Blue Lagoons
PM Madsen House
DAY 2Navigation in Del Desierto Lake &
Hike to Huemul Lagoon with picnic
DAY 3Hike Laguna de los Tres (for seasoned hikers)
Alternative for non-hikers, hike to Laguna Capri
A map depicting glaciers, rivers, lagoons, hiking trails and the location of El Chalten town (in Argentine Patagonia)
Map of Chalten and its main outdoor attractions


Hike to Green & Blue Lagoons (morning)
This 5.3-kilometer loop trail is classified as a moderate hike within the private reserve of Los Huemules. It typically takes about 1.5 hours to complete and offers a less crowded alternative for hiking enthusiasts. We had the privilege of experiencing the vibrant hues of both lagoons in solitude, making it a truly rewarding adventure.

Starting from Chalten town, you'll travel by vehicle towards the entrance station of the private reserve 'Los Huemules', where you'll have the last opportunity to use conventional restroom facilities. This serves as the trailhead for your journey. Upon returning to the trailhead, you'll have the chance to indulge in a picnic before heading back to your hotel.

The blue and the adjacent green lagoon

Walk from El Chalten Town to Madsen House (afternoon)
Just 2.3 kilometers away from Chalten town lies Madsen House, a significant historical landmark. It holds the distinction of being the first dwelling established by European settlers in the region, enjoying a prime location that offers breathtaking views of Mount Fitz Roy.

In 1903, Andreas Madsen and his wife Stephanie Tomsen, hailing from Denmark, erected a humble residence amidst the harsh weather conditions of Patagonia. Despite the adversities, they persevered, leading a self-sufficient lifestyle throughout their years.

The 1.5-hour guided tour provides insights into the hardships endured by European immigrants who ventured into this remote and breathtakingly beautiful corner of the world. The tour culminates with a delightful teatime in the simple yet charming kitchen of the house.

Madsen House surrounded by trees with stunning views of Mount Fitz Roy


Navigation in Del Desierto Lake (30 minutes)

This is your ideal choice if walking isn't your preference, yet you still desire to behold the majestic Fitz Roy with minimal crowds and time investment.

We drove 37 km north of Chalten to reach the tranquil pier at Del Desierto Lake. From there, we embarked on a small boat, gracefully navigating the pristine waters towards the heart of the lake, a journey lasting a total of 30 minutes.

This lesser-explored area of Chalten offers a serene escape with vistas of the majestic Vespignani Glacier and the awe-inspiring north face of Fitz Roy Mount. If you're fond of rafting, you'll find the alluring turquoise waters of the lake irresistible. Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) are also viable options to explore its pristine expanse.

Pier at Del Desierto Lake
Glacier sights from Del Desierto Lake boat trip.
North face of Mount Fitz Roy
Kayaking at Del Desierto Lake

Our incredible host, Zoe, surprised us with a magical picnic lunch before our hike to Huemul Lagoon. Savoring delicious sandwiches paired with an IPA from Mendoza, we continued our adventure in the same vehicle that had transported us, arriving at the trailhead within minutes.

Short Hike to Huemul Lagoon (2 hours)

This 4 km moderate hike winds through a forest of endemic trees, offering a tranquil journey amidst nature's beauty. The highlight awaits at Huemul Glacier, where its majestic presence feeds the lagoon of the same name. We felt truly privileged to have the entire landscape to ourselves.

Perfect for beginners, this hike took us a leisurely 2 hours to complete. Afterward, we returned to Chalten by vehicle (37km).

The gentle path to Huemul Lagoon traversing picturesque 'lenga' woods
Huemul Lagoon, with the glacier of the same name in the backdrop

Here's a suggestion: start with the hike, follow it with the navigation, and save the picnic for the finale. That way, you can relax and indulge in your wine and/or beer as a rewarding treat after completing the day's activities.


Hike to Laguna de los Tres (experienced hikers, 20km)

Map of Laguna de los Tres hike
A portion of the whole trail traverses a forest of endemic trees (lenga)
View of glaciers along the trail

The pictures below show lookout points along the trail. In the left picture 'Piedras Blancas Lagoon' fed by the Fitz Roy Glacier.

The pictures below were captured during the trail's final stretch. The signs caution of a steep path demanding good physical condition (~ 1 hour).

After ascending through rocky terrain for an hour, Mount Fitz Roy emerges on the horizon
Mount Fitz Roy looms over the frozen Laguna de los Tres below
Mother & Daughter lagoons with Viedma Lake in the distant horizon shot while heading back to Chalten

Laguna Capri (suitable for non-hikers, 8km)

As mentioned, a shorter alternative for enjoying good views of Mount Fitz Roy, albeit from a more distant perspective compared to Laguna De Los Tres hike, is the 8km Laguna Capri trail, starting from Chalten.

The green arrow on the map indicates the departure point, Chalten town. Laguna Capri is highlighted in a green circle, denoting that you follow the same route there and back from Chalten.

From the lookout point at Laguna Capri, you can enjoy panoramic views of Mount Fitz Roy in the distance. To locate Mount Fitz Roy on the map above, look for 'Laguna de los Tres'.

Laguna Capri and Mount Fitz Roy
The clear and refreshing waters of Laguna Capri 😉
The trail nears its end as you approach Chalten

Where to stay in Chalten

Outside El Chalten

When to visit Chalten

Summer Season (High Season)

Winter brings extreme temperatures to the region, prompting travelers to flock to El Chaltén during the summer months (November to February). However, this peak season also corresponds with higher prices.

During the summer, temperatures typically range from a comfortable high of approximately 19°C (66.2°F) to a cooler low of 5°C (41°F). Despite these relatively stable averages, it's crucial to remain prepared for potential weather fluctuations throughout the day. The region is known for its rapid changes, often showcasing all four seasons in a single day.

During the winter months, most accommodations and restaurants in town are closed.

Shoulder Season( March, April and & September)

Some travelers opt to visit in March, April, or September, during the shoulder season, when rates are more affordable. However, particularly in April and September, when tourism tends to dwindle, many businesses in the town, which rely entirely on tourism, are closed.

If your budget allows, explore the possibility of staying at Explora Chalten, a boutique all-inclusive resort boasting just 20 rooms. Situated approximately 35 minutes away by car (around 17 km) from Chalten, it's nestled within a pristine private reserve, offering breathtaking vistas of the Marconi Glacier. With all meals included, you can relax knowing you won't need to concern yourself with restaurant or supermarket availability.

How to get there

As mentioned, 220 km separate Chalten from El Calafate. Only El Calafate has an airport and daily direct flights from/to Buenos Aires. Therefore, it is common to combine El Calafate with Chalten.

While in Chalten we tested 2 options:

1. Private Transfer from El Calafate Airport - Chalten

An advantage of this option is the opportunity to make stops en-route, particularly on clear days. Along the way, there's a lookout point where you can enjoy magnificent views of the glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park. You can find it by searching for 'Lookout Point El Chaltén' on our second map.

However, it's worth noting that this option can be costly, as it entails approximately a 3.5-hour drive.

Glaciers of the National Park 'Los Glaciares' and Viedma Lake - Route 23
A pause in our private transfer journey from Calafate to Chalten along Route 23

2. Shared Transfer Chalten – Calafate with La Leona petrified wood en-route

We were intrigued by tales of a lunar landscape, distinct from the Patagonian vistas, nestled halfway between Chalten and Calafate— La Leona petrified wood, they said. And so, we embarked.

A map with light blue areas depicting the glaciers of El Calafate and El Chalten tourist destinations in Argentina. The map shows the roads linking both and the lakes formed by the glaciers
La Leona halfway between Chalten and Calafate, with the petrified wood marked by a green circle #5
La Leona serves as a mandatory stop along Route 40 between Calafate and Chalten

What awaited us was a sight to behold—truly lunar landscapes, adorned with fossils of ancient animals and petrified trees. We wholeheartedly recommend this excursion to those with a passion for geology, paleontology, and archaeology, as it promises an enriching and awe-inspiring experience.

In the image right below, you'll notice the van that transported us to the trailhead for the guided hike to the petrified woods. This vehicle is the same one we used from La Leona to Calafate, although this service is shared with other travelers and includes only a driver.

In the background of the same picture, you can see the regular bus operating the Calafate - Chalten - Calafate route, making its journey without any stops.

The remarkable tale of La Leona's origin intertwined with European pioneers

What to pack

Here are some of our suggestions: as weather conditions can change suddenly, remember to dress in layers.

El Chalten in a nutshell

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