If you are familiar with the brand name of the outdoor gear company, “Patagonia”, then you may have noticed their logo is a mountain range. This mountain range is not the famous Chilean Torres del Paine range, but rather the Argentinian equivalent: Mount Fitz Roy and his partners in crime (faintly seen below).
Mount Fitz Roy and the surrounding area is where we spent the next 3 days of our Patagonian adventure.
Driving north from El Calafate you enter the small mountain village of El Chalten. Driving into town is a memorable experience, as the winding road suddenly seems to drive you straight into this beautiful mountain range:
In the shadow of Mount Fitz Roy is the somewhat sleepy town of El Chalten. Interestingly, El Chalten has only been around since 1985. Chile and Argentina were previously in a border dispute, and Argentina created this town simply to secure this otherwise uninhabited portion of the border. A war never happened, and when Chile and Argentina settled, they agreed to keep El Chalten within Argentina.
Now that the border dispute is over, the sole purpose of El Chalten is tourism. It has earned the title of being Argentina’s Trekking Capital, and every summer the town explodes with eager hikers. The popularity of the city must be continuing to grow, as the whole town appears to be in a state of constant construction.
Telling you that El Chalten’s population has doubled in the last 20 years is almost misleading, as that has only brought the total inhabitants up to 350. And that’s just how remote the town still is. The wi-fi is spotty, the local ATM frequently runs out of money, the single gas station is occasionally and inconsistently refilled, and the local supermarket looks something like this:
Despite that, we liked El Chalten much more than our previous home in neighboring El Calafate. El Chalten somehow felt cozier, was full of adventurers, and offered some delicious restaurants for us to refuel after long days of hiking.
Getting Up Close and Personal with Fitz
If you’re like us and are always looking for a chance to get closer to such beautiful mountains, then you’ll be happy to know you can hike to the base of Fitz Roy much like you can the Torres del Paine. This can also be done as a day hike (“Laguna de Los Tres“), which starts right from town.
One of the highlights along the hike is yet another glacier: Piedras Blancas.
A steep climb at the end of the hike takes you to the Mount Fitz Roy mountain range, which is astounding to see in person. Mount Fitz Roy is the tallest of the mountains in the range at 3400 m, and is the star of the Argentinian Andes. However, as the unpredictable weather in Patagonia would have it, Mount Fitz Roy spent much of the day hiding behind clouds.
As the name describes (“Laguna Los Tres”), there are two additional lakes at the top of this hike. Not just the one at the base of Fitz, but also two adjacent lakes colored an unbelievable shade of blue:
The Other Torre
There are a number of other hikes that can be started right from El Chalten. Another 20 km hike we did was to Laguna Torre, which provides views of the other striking peak: Cerro Torres. Similar to the previous day, the clouds refused to unveil the mountainous peaks surrounding the lake. But, the lake and views still made it worth it!
Since the water in Patagonia comes straight from the mountain glaciers and there are few animals, all the water in streams is potable. We couldn’t resist taking a sip at the end of a long, tough hike:
I think we all agreed that El Chalten was our favorite of all the places we visited in Patagonia. It had the perfect combination of a great mountain town vibe surrounded by amazing hiking and outdoor activities. We see why it made Lonely Planet’s list of “Best Cities”!