Walking across the border into Argentina and getting one short 90km ride to the town of Perito Moreno marked an abrupt end to any hopes of hitching any further south. Chile's stunning Carretera Austral, dotted with small towns and habitable for any emergency camping, had accommodated me perfectly for the last ~1000km. I now found myself on Argentina's famous Ruta 40, a bleak stretch of road stretching 700km further south through barren Patagonian desert. After an unsuccessful day on the roadside and facing the prospect of unnecessarily expensive accommodation, I paid a hefty $400AR ($80AUD) for the 600km, 9 hour bus ride to El Chalten.
El Chalten is a bustling, touristy town set on the edge of the Los Glaciares National Park. The park is free and accessible for a range of trekkers, offering a range of one-four day hikes through pristine settings including lagunas, glaciers and the park's centerpiece – Mount Fitzroy. After a long bus ride consisting of far too many stops, we finally arrived at 10:30pm. Pleased that I'd booked my hostal in advance, I made my way across the small town only to find that I'd booked for April instead of March! Luckily after some searching and questioning I found a cosy hostal with a friendly group of Argentines vacationing south.
Aware of my timeframe before the weather window totally closed in Patagonia, I organised myself for the one-day hike to Mount Fitzroy the next day. I decided to trek the 6-8 hour route to Lagunas Los Tres, three lagunas at the foot of the Torres. After 45 minutes of walking, I bumped into some girls I'd spoken to briefly in Perito Moreno – Amit (Israel), Charlotte and Anne-Sophie (France) and we walked the rest of the day together taking photos and admiring the park's beauty. The trail passed around small lagunas and across rivers, offering views of distant mountains and glaciers. For the last hour the trail rose sharply and we climbed steep cliff side with loose gravel for the walk up to the Torres. Just as our legs felt as if they were going to give way we were finally rewarded with panoramic views of the landscape below and several brilliant viewpoints from which we could admire the Torres and lagunas. We rested our feet in the freezing cold water and feasted on a gourmet lunch of bread, ham, cheese, boiled eggs and cookies (yes, more cookies).
Other than the incredible beauty of the landscapes, one of the best parts of completing a challenging 8 hour hike is thinking about what you're going to eat afterwards. Anne-S ophie had cruelly started talking about steak and hamburgers as we started the 4 hour descent and by the time we reached town, we had arranged to eat together at the girls' hostal that evening. I threw caution to the wind and ordered the biggest hamburger on the menu, but balanced it with a salad. On the other hand, Anne-Sophie (who might track me down and kill me for writing this) absolutely destroyed the biggest plate of steak, eggs and chips that I have ever seen. A truly impressive effort for a petite French girl!
Charlotte and Anne-Sophie were also heading to El Calafate the following day and we arranged to continue travelling together. The following day I waited two hours on the edge of town and found some luck with two awesome Argentines from Buenos Aires who took me within 33km of where I needed to go. I promised to catch up with them when I get there in a couple of weeks. The girls left a little later than I did (they caught a bus) and I had dinner waiting for them at the hostal when they arrived!
Check below if you need some extra information on the town of El Chalten. I'm catching up on a couple of posts so more will follow very shortly. If you're enjoying reading through these posts and have any questions or comments, don't forget to use the comment space below! It is always a nice feeling to interact with readers and I reply to all comments!
Tips and recommendations for El Chalten:
- Hitchhiking to El Chalten from anywhere north is a seriously hard task. You can try your luck in peak season (Dec-Feb) but accommodation in Los Antiguos and Perito Moreno (the town, not to be confused with the glacier) is quite expensive – $100AR+ ($20AUD/USD+).
- If you have questions about bus ticket prices I can give you a rough idea, please use the comments section.
Accommodation/What to do:
- As I mentioned, El Chalten is very touristy and caters for travellers of all ages/budgets. I can only recommend HostelBookers or HostelWorld for great reviews and prices of the best places in town. There are plenty to choose from.
- There are also a number of excellent restaurants, most offering the traditional lamb roasted over an open fire, the Cordero Asado.
- The parks are free and offer multiple trails for hikers of all levels. Camping in the park is also free (in designated areas) and gives trekkers the opportunity an incredible view of the Torres at sunrise, as they briefly illuminate a smoky red for the first minutes of each day – clear skies permitting.