The new tent which I inherited from my crazy Russian friend, Evgeny, proved to be of great value in El Chaltén, since all the hostels in the village were fully booked. Therefore, I ended up on the free campsite just outside of town, which was a perfect money saving as well. In this town, there are about 150 permanent residents living.
During summer, the influx of tourists and seasonal workers ramps up this number to a staggering 2000 people average on any day. Calling itself the “National Trekking Capital of Argentina” and being located in the “Los Glaciares National Park”, El Chaltén is splendidly surrounded by the mountains Cerro Torre, Cerro Chaltén (also known as mount Fitz Roy) and numerous glacier valleys and lakes.
Some guidebooks and brochures call this place “Paradise on Earth”. On a sunny day this description comes close. There are many treks through “Paradise”, ranging from two hour trips up to multi-day tours. All of them are absolutely scenic and breathtaking.
On the first day of my arrival, the Patagonian winds blew strong, but my new Russian tent withstood the forces of nature unharmed. Thanks Evgeny! The first trek, partially in rain, took me up to the “Poincenot” base camp at the “Laguna De los Tres”. This is the most famous of all hikes and is the closest spot to see mount Fitz Roy. Although the clouds were hanging low with some sprinkles of rain, the excursion was fantastic.
Next day, weather was absolutely superb and skies cleared of all clouds in the afternoon. It would stay this way until I would leave El Chaltén. Among the number of scenic treks that I undertook, was the “DeAgostini base camp” (resp. the “Laguna Torre”). There, the glacier “Clacial Torre” is calving its ice into a small lake – with mount “Cerro Torre” in the back drop. This looks kitschy like a Hollywood movie set. But it is reality and plain nature. Staying for an hour or so to enjoy the sight while enjoying a small lunch is an unforgettable experience.
The steepest hike was the twelve kilometer trip to the “Loma del Pliegue Tumbado” covering an altitude change of 1000 meters. The view from the sightseeing point near the top was absolutely rewarding the strenuous hike. Given the difficulty of the track, there were not many tourists – which is a bit of a drag on the other trails around El Chaltén.
I absolutely enjoyed this area, it was definitely one of the good surprises on this trip which made me stay longer than anticipated. Originally, I had planned one day of a bit of hiking, but I ended up staying four days covering most tracks around town. To be honest, this extension of stay was also due to the fact that onward bus tickets to the northern direction are hard to get. But waiting for the bus in El Chaltén was never boring. And camping in my Russian tent on the free and scenic campsite was definitely a fun change and had zero impact on my budget. Every morning, I woke up with the most beautiful mountain panorama I’ve seen so far. Other people pay for such vistas.
So where’s the catch? Well, the free campsite has no showers. You probably guess how I must have looked and smelled after four days of trekking. Luckily, I bumped into a French guy during the last trek. Since he stayed in a hostel, he sneaked me in and I got a free shower there. Well, there is another catch: Going further north to the next city on my list did result in a 30 hour bus trip through the famous “Route 40” in Patagonia. Leaving El Chaltén shortly before midnight, this meant two full nights on a bumpy, unpaved road in a standard bus. But the French guy who helped me getting a shower got on the same bus with some of his friends. The road trip through Patagonia definitely was bound to happen. Make sure to come back to read that fun part of the story…