After a couple of days in El Calafate, Jason and I hopped on a 3-hour bus ride to the less-visited sister town, El Chaltén. There are three bus companies that bring you from El Calafate to El Chaltén. First, they stop at the tourist centre in El Chaltén and then at the town’s tiny bus terminal.
The sole reason for El Chaltén’s existence is tourism and even during high season, it’s a pretty isolated little town. It’s the self-declared trekking capital of Argentina, and is the gateway to amazing climbing and trekking territory. It provides fairly easy access to the famous Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains. Those who are familiar with the Patagonia clothing company might find the mountain range here familiar-looking – the highest peak in the company’s logo is Fitz Roy.
One catch though: since we were visiting during the off-season (Argentina’s winter months), the town would likely be almost deserted. We had read that most accommodations and restaurants would be closed for the season, so we were a little wary coming here. However, the California couple we met at Perito Moreno Glacier gave us a great tip on where to stay since they had just come from El Chaltén.
Upon arrival, we discovered that – in the whole town – there were two hostels and one restaurant that were still open. Their local market was also still open so we ended up spending the next four days making our own meals in the hostel’s well-equipped kitchen.
I loved our time there. It was quiet, relaxed and peaceful. The town was a charming little place full of smiling locals and, since it was off- season, almost no tourists. We arrived on a brilliantly sunny day and the friendly guide at the town’s tourist centre made sure we understood how lucky we were – calm, sunny days were rare during the winter. Many travellers who arrive here in the winter never even get to see the mountains because of the snow and clouds.
Unfortunately, I was trying to get over a pretty bad cold so we “wasted” the sunny day by staying indoors. Luck was on our side though, because I got up the next morning (rested and feeling much better) and was greeted by another sunny day. And we weren’t going to waste this one.
Jason and I were getting pretty good at trekking, at this point. But trekking through icy and snowy terrain was a little new to us. Our trusted hiking shoes that got us through slippery rocky terrain in Cusco and dry, dusty desert in Arequipa were no match for ice-covered trails. Luckily, only the beginning of the trail was icy since those trails remained in the shade for most of the day. The terrain was pretty varied actually. Some parts of the the trail looked like this:
And then other parts of the trail looked like this:
But no complaints when you get to soak in scenery that looks like this for most of the trek:
We had chosen the slightly shorter hike (3 hr), which took us to the nearby lake (lago Capri) and look-out point near Fitz Roy. We arrived at the lake to find it completely frozen over and covered in a blanket of snow. There were signs everywhere that warned us not to step on the frozen surface but there were footprints all over the lake, so it seemed pretty safe. The view of Fitz Roy from the lake was magnificent. Again, we were so lucky to have such amazing winter weather – couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.
Hiking in Patagonia was an awesome experience – the scenery is unmatched by anything else we’ve seen in South America.