South America Travel Tips

El Chaltén: Christmas @ Argentina’s Trekking Capital

I was looking for a nice way to spend Christmas in Argentina, and with my glacier trekking tour completed, I decided to go to El Chaltén, Argentina’s Trekking Capital, located only 3 hours North of El Calafate.

Not a bad plan for a guy who loves trekking and walking up and down the mountains. El Chaltén is a gem – before entering the town our bus left us at the park ranger office as we were in the middle of a National Park and guidance and warnings needed to be learned.

I found a lively and lovely hostel called Rancho Grande. Affordable, with a 24/7 restaurant/cafe’ and over 100 beds this is probably the biggest and most popular hostel in town. It’s located no more than a few hundred meters from the start of the top two 10 kilometer hikes, the trails to Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy.

El Chaltén – Hike to Miradores Los Cóndores y Las Águilas

The first day it rained (Dec 24th), so I decided to work a little in the morning. The weather suddenly improved in the afternoon so I put my trekking gear on and walked back to the town entrance, where the Mirador los Condores and las Aguilas are reachable within 2 hours round trip.

It was more like 40 minutes to reach both, excluding photo time – the views of El Chaltén on one side and the Desert Lake on the other were just unbelievable. Oh, it was super windy too, but what a great start for my Christmas treks!

El Chaltén – Hike to Cerro Torre

The weather on Christmas day was given for unstable, while on the 26th it was forecasted sun. So I changed my initial plan and decided to hike Cerro Torre first and Fitz Roy (the best of the two) the day after. Great choice, and it seems many other hikers did the same.

Cerro Torre is a 9km hike where along the way you get to view the peak of the mountain but it’s not until the very end that you get to appreciate the whole thing, together with a lake and a view point where it’s possible to see this majestic glacier. I hiked together with a Japanese friend I met the day before in the hostel, so the walk was really pleasant.

Atsushi and myself!

Only the first 1 or 2k are steep, while the rest is mainly plain or slightly uphill until you reach the glacier lake. From there, you can get to the Mirador – which overlooks the lake itself and it’s closer to the glacier –  in another 40 minutes, and even in this case it’s not hard at all.

The weather was overcast and we couldn’t see anything on the way over. You get to walk in a valley, cross a few rivers and forests, pass a couple of campsites and then you finally reach the grey-coloured Laguna.

I was expecting another unbelievable blue, but probably the surface was reflecting the colour of the clouds in the sky. Still, the view was very, very nice, and the extra 40 minutes uphill allowed me to enjoy my lunch while looking at the full glacier – hoping that some iceberg might fall into the water like at Perito Moreno Glacier (which didn’t happen).

On the way back we were rewarded by sunny views of Cerro Torre, which finally appeared in all its beauty.

Back at El Chaltén, once again I “ruined” the good effort with some fresh pastries and a warm latte… you can’t say no to homemade Argentinian pastries really.

I think this was the perfect Christmas day, however I missed a lot not being with my family and friends!

Ah – Christmas day… a group of Israelis were staying in the hostel that same day, and they celebrated Hanukkah. They took over the two hostel kitchens and cooked fried pastries (I think they’re called bunuelos), which I got to taste. Awesome.

Only thing is that they kept celebrating until late – besides, at 6am a French couple was getting ready in my room for the early bus and basically I did not sleep all night!

Anyway, I learned that Israelis were all 21 years old (the boys) and 20 y.o. (the girls). They told me that they’re forced to go to the army for 3 and 2 years respectively when they turn 18 (hence the age). After their duty, they all go on a lifetime trip for 6 months – usual destinations are either Patagonia or Australia for some reason.

The hostel was literally taken over by young Israelis, which were super nice – they told me Israel is safe and I should definitely visit it some day, and that what we hear/see on TV is just the bad side of the story and you never hear the rest.

Well, after another homemade pastry and their loveliness, I definitely think Israel is on my to-visit-soon list, together with Iceland and New Zealand 🙂

El Chaltén – Hike to Fitz Roy (best hike I’ve ever done)

The Hike with the big “H” in El Chaltén is the 10km trail to Fitz Roy, a mountain that is pretty spectacular on sunny days. Weather forecast was right, with 20 degrees and just a few clouds in the sky.

I started hiking from the hostel, and the first 2km were very challenging. Not particularly steep, but constantly going up without giving you a break. I could feel the sweat and thankfully the trekking poles I rented in town helped me a lot.

Along the way I overtook many trekkers, for some reason I wanted to go faster than everyone and be left on my own without feeling the pressure of people behind or ahead of me… yes, there was a lot of “traffic”.

The next 7km were mostly plain. I could already admire the beauty of the mountain, but I didn’t want to spend too much time taking pictures – I knew it was going to be amazing once on top.

And then the last km.

A super steep trail that literally climbs the last mountain almost vertically. Wow, that was a tough one. Slippery rocks and a challenging trail, with more people on their knees, breathing or sitting down than people walking up. I stopped a couple of times, and this means it was pretty hard 🙂

On top, when you think you’ve made it, there is a downhill (typical in Patagonia) and then another bloody uphill. It felt like it was never going to end…

And then, you’re there.

Unsurprisingly, the view was just amazing.

There are two glacial lakes, one on the left and one on the right, connected by a waterfall. In the middle, a bulky hill and behind this the giant Fitz Roy, with its 3 columns and an incredible quantity of ice and snow.

At some stage. I even managed to film a snowfall – very cool. It got pretty cold and windy up there but I didn’t care. What a place for a pic-nic!


This was one of the best hikes I’ve ever done in my life. And trust me, I couldn’t be happier that it was a tough one – reward comes from challenges.

The walk back was pleasant and not hard, apart from the first 1km. Coming down was even tougher than going up on that stretch, however seeing suffering people on the way up while I was carefully descending made me feel good 🙂

I had made it!

Back at the hostel, I had once again fresh pastries and coffee… this time totally deserved!

I slept very well that night, knowing that my Patagonia trip (on the Argentinian side) had finished in the most perfect way.