El Chalten, Argentina

I finally made it. You remember my week spent in El Calafate nursing my knee and hoping to get to El Chalten right? One of the beauties of long term travel is the flexibility to deal with unexpected events. Two months later, walking without pain, I returned.

When the sun is out, this is one of those places where your jaw simply drops open and hangs there. This could be dangerous because the wind rarely stops blowing and you are likely to end up with a very dry mouth. No matter though, it will rain any second, I promise.

Fitz Roy towers above this small town that is still in the process of being built. It is obvious that Argentina is putting some money into making this a tourist mecca. Where it used to be a hard to get to destination for the most experienced rock climbers, it is now easily accessible and has a solid infrastructure. Buses stop on the way in at the park headquarters for an information session and trail map. In town, you have a choice between posh and super budget accommodations, the latter being camping in three super windy locations. There is a local brewery, numerous bakeries and even a vegetarian restaurant. It is easy to feel conflicted about the level of development. On the one hand I want it to remain pure and quiet, and on the other hand I want to be here. These feelings have always been hard for me to reconcile. I tend to want my favorite places to require effort to get there, though I also don’t want anyone denied this experience. I have no answer for this quandary. I did really love the artsy touches like these trash cans though:

All trails to the park are easily accessed from town. Chorillo del Salto is the easiest of these. It is a mostly flat walk, first along a gravel road and then a trail through forest. Since you can also drive to within meters of the falls, it tends to be a busy place.

Another short hike leads to Mirador de los Condores. I sat up there in the wind for a long time, but sadly didn’t see any condors! Fitz Roy was still shy that day, hiding behind the cover of a cloud. A spur off the same trail to the mirador leads to a view of Lake Viedma.

The hike to Laguna and Cerro Torre leads you through old growth Southern Beech forest and ends at a glacier. The total hike takes about seven hours from El Chalten and back. This day was speckled with light rain showers, sun and clouds, and of course plenty of wind.

The best hike hands down was the Sendero Fitz Roy. I woke after a day and a half of pouring rain to sunny blue skies and practically jumped for joy. Not only had my tent stayed dry all night, but now I had a gorgeous day for hiking. I cannot describe how incredibly beautiful this route was, so I will show you instead:

Like Torres del Paine, you can drink fresh water from glacial fed rivers without need of a filter. While you will likely run into other hikers on the trails, there are long stretches where you won’t see a soul, and it feels like your own piece of paradise. Days without rain or intense winds are rare, if you are there on a sunny calm day, take advantage of it.

I was really sad to leave the beauty of El Chalten on a bus heading north on route 40 in Argentina. I have to say, if you don’t have to go this way, don’t bother. Granted, I am a forest, mountains, lakes and rivers type of person so the Argentine steppe does not appeal to me. Add to that a bumpy, rocky, really crappy “road” and I’m likely to say once is enough. At one point, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, we stopped so one of the drivers could work on the bus. This was particularly comforting given the amount of skeletal remains lying on the side of the road where we stopped. I considered worrying, but decided instead that I have had a great life, plus there were other, meatier passengers that would be tastier than me.

We did get the bus going again, and made it to our destination that evening. Perito Moreno, Argentina. The town, not the glacier we talked about before. This was to be my last stop before I entered the Twilight Zone. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode!

Tell me, what do you think? Should places as wildly beautiful as El Chalten be tamed for the masses? Is it better to leave them raw for the intrepid few who can handle the adventure?

About stephwithoutborders

I decided to sell (almost) everything I own and buy a plane ticket to South America. This is all about why and how, and what happens next.
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8 Responses to El Chalten, Argentina

  1. Grace Stika says:

    Great blog…loved it! I feel like I’m travelling along with you, albeit vicariously! Keep up the good work…

  2. Heidi says:

    Love all the pics! I wish I was in some of them…that would mean I was there…with you…outside!

  3. dave says:

    Nice area you found there, steph.

  4. Barney says:

    Hmmm, a profound question… How accessible to make wild and wonderful places?… I don’t have the answer, just more questions… Can it be done in an environmentally sustainable way?… Will the volume of visitors detract from the experience?… or are there ways for the intrepid few to still access the more remote aspects of the site or place?… Will the development help or hurt the local population?… A complex topic!

    • I believe it can be done in a sustainable fashion with the right amount of resources. I do think a large volume of visitors detracts from the experience though. I picture Yosemite in all it’s awesomeness, which unless I’m hitting the back country I have no desire to go to due to crowding. The rock climbing routes of El Chalten will likely always be for those intrepid few, but since dangling off steep precipices on ropes does not appeal to me, it’s the regular hiking parts I wonder about. As for the local population, there wasn’t a local population until this area became more accessible and people moved there for tourism. So yes, it’s good for those who relocated, but there wasn’t even a town there before. Good questions, and definitely hard to find a fair answer!

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