The colorful mountain town of El Chalten is located right near Argentina's border with Chile in the heart of Los Glaciares National Park. Bordering the Southern Ice Field, the third largest mass of ice on the planet, the landscape around this town is rugged, dramatic, and impressive. Known as the trekking capital of Argentina, El Chaltén means "smoking mountain" – the reason for which will soon become apparent to you after arriving in town. The majority of people who come to Argentine Patagonia spend time only in El Calafate, but we highly recommend spending a couple of nights in the sleepier El Chalten to see the iconic spires of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre and explore the true, untrammeled wilderness of Patagonia.WHO: El Chalten is the perfect location to include on your itinerary if you like hiking, mountain towns, and getting slightly off the beaten path. The town is nestled at the base of Mount Fitz Roy and flanked by the Rio de las Vueltas. The main streets are lined with quaint restaurants selling craft beer and empanadas and the easiest way to get around is on foot. You can access all the major trailheads from town.
WHAT: El Chalten was founded in 1985 as a frontier town to help Argentina stake claim to this area during the border disputes with Chile. It still proudly wears its frontier town badge with sturdy buildings constructed to withstand the harsh winters, friendly and proud locals, and slow as molasses satellite internet. The two spires that have brought El Chalten to the world stage are Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. Views of these spires are best seen from the hikes to Lago Torre and Laguna de Los Tres (respectively) and are highlights for many people visiting Patagonia. The town is a mecca for rock climbers and hikers alike but there are endless activities in Chalten. You can raft the river, mountain bike the trails, rock climb, or hike on glaciers.
WHY: El Chalten is the less crowded and just as spectacular version of Torres del Paine. Due to its remote location many people omit El Chalten from their Patagonia itineraries. With many people transiting directly through Calafate without making the detour to Chalten, the trails stay relatively quiet compared to other parts of Patagonia. The town offers great food – some of the best in southern Patagonia – in a beautiful mountain town you're sure to fall in love with. I know I have.
Our Favorite Hotels
El Puma – a mountain lodge set in town. Friendly staff, cozy rooms, and easy access to both the trailheads and the main street.
Don Los Cerros – an imposing building set on a hill above town. Service is top notch and valley view rooms offer panoramic vistas of the town and river below
Destino Sur – a modern option in town. Great location and their spa features a hot tub and sauna for your apres hiking convenience.
Aguas Arriba – located 40km outside of town this offers a completely different experience in the Chalten area. Best combined with a night or two in town. Check out our blog on Aguas Arriba for more on the full experience.
Our Favorite Restaurants
La Tapera – Chalten's most famous fine dining establishment that still manages to remain completely unpretentious. Classic dishes presented beautifully in a restaurant that used to be a home.
La Cerveceria – great beer in a cozy setting. Their stew is top notch.
Maffia – homemade pasta that can make for a nice change from the usual meat heavy options
La Estepa – a tiny take-out spot that serves up our favorite empanadas in town. Roquefort, plum and pancetta, Mediterranean are some of their innovative (and delicious) empanada flavors.
Curcuma – the only vegetarian joint in town. Fresh, local flavors perfect for anyone looking for a break from steak or to add some more vegetables back into their diet.
La Chocolateria – a great post hike option to get chocolate in a staggering variety of manifestations. The shop tells the tales of famous mountaineers in the area on its walls.
Domo Blanco – creative, homemade ice cream in flavors such as calafate, dulece de leche, and banana split