Call us masochists. Instead of sleeping in and resting our tired old bodies, we were on a 7 am bus on our way to El Chalten, Argentina, to spend 3 days hiking the superb trails of Cerro Torre and Monte Fitz Roy, part of Los Glaciares National Park, a world heritage site. You would think we would want to take a break after 5 grueling days of hiking, but with Sally’s schedule, she wanted to maximize her time in Patagonia and didn’t want to waste time on silly things like laundry and recovery. So here we were, with barely enough sleep, rushing to our next trekking adventure, ready to inflict more pain on our already worn-out bodies.
Argentina’s Trekking Capital
Due to it’s location at the foot of Monte Fitz Roy, this colorful backpacker outpost of El Chalten is known as the “trekking capital” of Argentina and offers easy access to some of the best trekking in Argentina, if not Patagonia. All the trailheads start right from town, so instead of lugging our heavy packs from Refugio to Refugio, we were going to base ourselves in El Chalten and do day hikes while luxuring (yes I made that word up) in comfort and indulging ourselves at many of the fine restaurants, microbreweries and cafes here. This is gliking (glamorous hiking for those not up on your urban slang) at its best. So maybe this wasn’t going to be that painful after all.
The bus trip to El Chalten from Puerto Natales takes 7 to 8 hours and requires 2 border crossings and a bus transfer in El Calafate. The first leg of the trip to El Calafate goes through the deserts of Chile and Argentina and takes between 4 to 5 hours depending on congestion at the border crossings. The 2nd leg of the trip from El Calafate to El Chalten involves changing buses and takes about 3 hours. The challenge for us was getting to El Calafate in time for the 1 pm bus to El Chalten. If the bus schedules were accurate we would arrive in El Calafate at 12:45 pm at the latest, giving us only 15 minutes to catch our next bus. So any delay will throw off our whole schedule and could mean losing a day in El Chalten.
We arrived in El Calafate at 12:30 pm, 1/2 hour before our bus to El Chalten was scheduled to leave but not without some slight drama on the ride over. The border officials in Argentina noticed a discrepancy with the passenger manifest and informed our bus drivers that they had a “StowAway”. It turned out that a woman was supposed to be traveling with a different bus company that took off at a later time. WTH? How do you mess something like that up? It took about 30 minutes to sort out and to find and unload her bags before we were able to leave. For a while there we didn’t think we would make our 1 pm bus to El Chalten.
Welcome to Los Glaciares National Park
Before entering El Chalten, the bus dropped us off at the park’s visitor center where a Ranger gave us an overview of the park and park rules, descriptions of the different trails, and even the upcoming weather forecast.
The three most recommended day hikes in the park are:
- Laguna Torre. Offers excellent views of Cerro Torre, 18 km RT
- Laguna de Los Tres. This marquee hike goes to the base of Fitz Roy, 20 km RT
- Lomo del Pliegue Tumbado. Panaromic views of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, 20 km RT
There are also some shorter hikes near the visitor’s center for those with limited time or hiking mobility: Los Condores (The Condors) & Las Aguilas (The Eagles).
Once more our lucky streak continued as the weather during the duration of our stay was predicted to be sunny and clear with some low clouds. Apparently, we came just at the right time as it had been raining for the past few days with clouds covering the peaks of Fitz Roy. With Saturday expected to be the most clear day, the Ranger basically ordered us to hike the Laguna de Los Tres trail on Saturday to see the famed Fitz Roy.
Afterwards the bus dropped us off at the bus station across from the visitor center where we walked a few blocks through this tiny adorable town to our home for the next 4 nights, Hosteria Infinito Sur. Along the way we were able to get glimpses of Fitz Roy’s jagged peaks giving us a preview of what was to come.
Infinito Sur turned out to be the perfect place to base ourselves with its open common area and large picture windows providing spectacular views of Fitz Roy.
After checking in we still had enough daylight left to do errands and let our bodies recover from the long journey before dinner at Techado Negro. While G&D took care of laundry, Sally decided to hike the shorter trails near the park’s visitor center. The woman is completely unstoppable.
The next day we finally gave our bodies a much needed break and took time off to recover. We worked on the blog, walked around town, ate a leisurely lunch and generally allowed ourselves to relax. The real Wonder Woman, Sally, was having none of that and went off to hike the Laguna Torre trail to see the Cerro Torre.
We wrapped up the day with a traditional parilla at El Viejo Nando where we ordered the grill plate: a huge pile of sausage, lamb, beef and chicken.
The food was OK. Some of the meat was overcooked. Definitely not in the same league as Buenos Aires. The Argentine wine was delicious, though, and a great start to all the gluttony we expect to partake in over the next few days.
7am, Puerto Natales, CL to El Calafate, AR
Bus was nice and clean and not too crowded. Left on time and we got to our destination with no problem other than the issue with the stow away. We caught up on sleep and podcasts which are excellent form of entertainment on long bus trips.
1pm, El Calafate, AR to El Chalten, AR
Double decker bus and had seats on the top deck for great views. Bus ride to El Chalten was pleasant. A 10 minute stop at La Leona hotel before heading the rest of the way to El Chalten.
Puerto Natales, Chile
A special shout out to the staff at Hostal Amerindia for accommodating our early hour, arranging our taxi pickup and making breakfast for us.
Hosteria Infinito Sur
El Chalten, Argentina
Dark hardwood floors, stone work, an open common area with spectacular views of Fitz Roy. We couldn’t ask for a better place to base ourselves as we used some downtime to catch up on the blog and recover. Rooms were cozy, modern and spacious.
El Chalten, Argentina
We ate here on our first night. Funky cozy restaurant with colorful paintings on wall serving classic Argentinian fare. The locro and lentil stews were really delicious. The stuffed squash was OK.
El Chalten, Argentina
Lunch at this nice cozy pizza place. Had the Fugazetta (onion & cheese) pizza. Good but not as good as Pizzeria Guerrin in Buenos Aires.
El Viejo Nando
El Chalten, Argentina
Traditional parilla serving grilled meats and Patagonian lamb.