El Chaltén stands at the foot of the Andes mountain range, 90 kilometers from the mythical National Route (NR) 40 and 220 kilometers from El Calafate, in the province of Santa Cruz. Its name means “smoking mountain” in the Tehuelche language and is due to the presence, almost constant, of clouds on the top of the hill that the perito Francisco Pascasio Moreno baptized Fitz Roy in 1877.
A favorite destination for trekking lovers, El Chaltén has the charm of mountain villages.
Let’s talk about history
The first habitants of this area were the Tehuelches, who in their own language called themselves “aónikenk”, which means “people from the south”. Then, the first pioneers arrived, like the Madsen, the Halvorsen, the Red, the Jacobsen and the Arbilla. For years, only pioneers and mountaineers knew the existence and beauty of Fitz Roy, which reaches 3405 meters at its highest point.
The town, between the rivers De las Vueltas and Fitz Roy, was founded on October 12, 1985 by Law No. 1771/85, in the context of the conflict with Chile over the borderline demarcation in the area of the Desert Lake and the South Patagonian Continental Ice. The new locality was created on 135 hectares located on the edge of the northern area of Los Glaciares National Park (LGNP). Then, there was only one inn, a bridge and a handful of rustic posters that indicated the destination of the land.
The first settlers were provincial and national public employees, who settled in the thirteen houses built by the provincial government. The 1991 census recorded 41 inhabitants. Today, El Chaltén has a stable population of over one thousand inhabitants. Although it was born with geopolitical purposes, the town grew to be one of the favorite destinations for lovers of hiking and mountaineering, which is why it was declared National Capital of Trek on July 28, 1994.
How to arrive?
-Airway: There are several daily flights to the Armando Tola International Airport in El Calafate from Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Bariloche, Trelew, Córdoba and Rosario. There you can hire the transfer service to El Chaltén.
-Terrestrial road: Either by car or by micro, the most frequent routes are usually the national routes 3 and 40. Then, from the latter, it joins the Provincial Route (PR) 41 to El Chaltén. By bus, you can get there from Buenos Aires with a combination in Río Gallegos, Bariloche, El Calafate, or Puerto Natales, in Chile.
What to do?
-Path to the Fitz Roy: It is one of the best known trekking, because it allows to reach the base of Mount Fitz Roy. To make this tour you can start from the center of the town, through the Capri Lagoon, or from El Pilar, passing through the viewpoint of the Piedras Blancas Glacier. In both cases, the Poincenot Camp and the Blanco River are crossed. Then, the final ascent of 1 kilometer begins, which demands about an hour. To the left of the De los Tres Lagoon is the viewpoint of Sucia Lagoon and the homonymous glacier.
- Capri Lagoon. Distance: 4 km; One-way time: 1.45 hours; difficulty: medium.
- Camp Poincenot. From El Chaltén (Distance: 8 km, one-way time: 2:45 hs) or from El Pilar (6 km distance, one-way time: 2:30 hs). Difficulty: medium.
- Piedras Blancas viewpoint. Distance: 10 km; one-way time: 3:30 hs; difficulty: medium. From El Pilar, it is passed before reaching Camp Poincenot.
- De los Tres Lagoon. Distance: 10 km; One-way time: 4 hours; difficulty: high.
- Mother and Daughter Lagoon (connection with Tower). Distance: 8 km; Departure time: 2:15 hs; difficulty: low.
-Path to the Tower:
- Tower Viewpoint. Distance: 3 km; Departure time: 1:15 hs; difficulty: medium.
- Tower Lagoon. Distance: 9 km; One-way time: 3 hours; difficulty: medium.
- Maestri Viewpoint. Distance: 11 km; One-way time: 4 hours; difficulty: high.
-Desert Lake: From the center, you should take the PR 41, which borders the De las Vueltas River, and travel 37 kilometers of gravel to the Desert Lake. There you can perform different activities, such as sailing, diving, snorkeling or a simple walk along the shore. of the water mirror. The alternatives of trekking are:
- Huemul Glacier. Distance: 2 km; One-way time: 1 hour; difficulty: medium.
- North point – South point. Distance: 14 km; one-way time: 5 hours; difficulty: high.
- North point – Lake O’Higgins. Distance: 15 km; one-way time: 5 hours; difficulty: high.
-Condors and Eagles viewpoints: After crossing the Fitz Roy River, you must continue to the LGNP office. There begins the path that leads to both viewpoints, the first with a panoramic view of the town and the second of Viedma Lake.
- Condors Viewpoint. Distance: 1 km; one-way time: 45 min; difficulty: low.
- Eagles Viewpoint. Distance: 2 km; One-way time: 1 hour; difficulty: low.
-Chorrillo del Salto: The trail begins in the village and leads to a cascade twenty meters high. Distance: 3 km; One-way time: 1 hour; difficulty: low.
-Loma del Pliegue Tumbado: Distance: 12 km; One-way time: 4 hours; difficulty: high.
-Toro Lagoon: Distance: 16 km; One-way time: 7 hours; difficulty: high.
-Stone of the Friar: Distance: 6 km (from RP 41); One-way time: 2 hours; difficulty: low.
What to eat?
The typical cuisine of El Chaltén is very similar to that of the Patagonian region, standing out the lamb and the trout. The red fruits, in general, and the calafate, in particular, are used as an accompaniment to dishes and in the pastry shop.
-Our recommended: The Wafflery.
It is a classic from El Chaltén that invites you to enjoy a warm and appetizing exquisite sweet and/or salty dishes, before or after the mountain. The gastronomic offer is wide. The salted waffles range from the classic ham and cheese, to a caprese, to varieties with sautéed meat and vegetables. On the other hand, sweets contemplate simple options with dulce de leche or exquisite combinations with ice cream and berries.
Address: San Martin avenue 640 | Hours: from 11 a.m. to 21 p.m.
Where to Stay?
El Chaltén has a wide range of accommodations that adapt to the needs and pocket of each traveler.
-Our recommended: Patagonia Eco Domes.
It has: 7 domos suites with Fitz Roy view, equipped with solar panels, Scottish shower and fireplace; restaurant dome; dome living / reception; and dome yoga. The electricity in the rooms is 12 v, but at the reception is 220 v.
The best: the view, the surroundings, the cleanliness and the warmth of the whole team.
Address: kilometer 16 of PR 41 | Tel: + (54-2962) 493-359 | Web: www.patagonia-eco-domes.hotelrunner.com
Text and photos of Gabriela Naso.