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Walking around the Hiking Capital of ArgentinaPablo EtcheversPablo Etchevers
Just a visit to this town lets everyone understand why it has come to be called the Hiking Capital of Argentina. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
Saying “Chaltén” in Patagonia is a synonym for mountain, walking, hiking. Thus, when we had the possibility to visit El Chaltén, we did not hesitate for a second.
As usual, buses leave very early in the morning to El Chaltén and El Calafate Bus Station was already crowded with backpackers and foreign tourists queuing for a seat.
Ever since the international airport of El Calafate was built, Mount Fitz Roy, Mount Torre and the Perito Moreno Glacier have been available and today they stand as the most precious destinations in Patagonia.
According to the maps, we had to travel along approximately 220 kilometers on the new route in order to reach El Chaltén. We took Provincial Route 11 and then turned into National Route 40.
We continued traveling now along Provincial Route 23, which is surrounded by mountains. Passing by Lake Argentino first and Lake Viedma later, it led us to this picturesque village dwelled by lovers of the mountain. The day was clear and promising good weather for us to see the youngest town in Argentina.
El Chaltén was created in 1985 as a geopolitical strategy that helped solve the border conflicts with Chile over Lago del Desierto. Ever since the military regiment settled there invited the civilians to populate the area, it has not stopped growing.
At first, the pioneers arrived in their caravans. They came not only from Patagonia, but also from other locations in the country where the climate is quite different.
Once the committee granted a piece of land, the owners started to build a place that could let them survive during the entire year or else work hard during the high summer season, from November to early May.
Today, the latest census results have stated that El Chaltén has a steady population of approximately one thousand inhabitants, which is multiplied every summer, when it welcomes visitors from all over the world.
A dreamed-of place for mountaineers from all places, El Chaltén has been declared the Hiking Capital of Argentina. Beyond this title, there are more than enough reasons for its visitors to set out along its hiking trails that lead to ideal scenes which seem to become magical sites.
If observed from the air, the town may be seen resting on the mountains by Lake Viedma and bordered by Río de las Vueltas (River of the Bends), whose winding light-blue course when the waters run clear grants a supernatural facet to its shores.
Settled on an old glacier basin, El Chaltén is surrounded by ravines that announce the presence of the mountain range and is watched by the Viedma Glacier and the granitic needles of Mounts Torre and Fitz Roy.
Some of the trails starting at the village are a must. The one leading to Laguna de los Tres (Lake of the Three) at the base of Mount Fitz Roy, the hikes on the Torre Glacier and, for the most expert adventurers, the seven-day hike across the continental ice fields.
But if there is one icon in this small village, that is the local brewery. Every summer, dozens of hikers gather there on sunny summer afternoons to thank God and to toast to Nature and the mountain while holding a good mug of chilly beer.
Obviously serving craft beer, this brewery has become an indissoluble part of the small city. It leaves track of the bond created behind its doors, just like when first-comers have a look at this place the primitive dwellers came to call “smoking mountain”, in honor of the majestic Mount Fitz Roy or Chaltén.
No wonder it has been named the Hiking Capital of Argentina: El Chaltén gives origin to countless trails that keep tempting visitors towards really paradisiacal destinations.
At the access to town, a path forks into several viewpoints. Some of them are the Condors Viewpoint (situated 1 kilometer away from the city), the Eagles Viewpoint (2 kilometers away), Loma del Pliegue Tumbado (12 kilometers away) and peerless Lake Toro, reached after a 7-hour hard hike along 15 kilometers.
Before getting to the superb Torre Glacier, there appears famous Lake Torre, the end of another trail starting at Chaltén, right behind gorgeous Los Cerros Hotel. This hike takes 3 highly justified hours, as the wonders of nature are manifest at every bend.
At the other end of town, a sign post at a small yellow house announced the trails leading to the base of the Fitz Roy, many of which show visitors other emblematic sites like Lake Capri, Lake Mother and Daughter, or the Poicenot or Río Blanco campsites, whose beauty is evident.
El Chorrillo Fall, which is appreciated either before or after visiting famed Lago del Desierto (Lake of the Desert), is another attraction lying just 4 kilometers away from El Chaltén. After climbing for just 15 minutes, it features an amazing fresh waterfall also accessible by bike, which visitors may rent in town.
No matter how many trails there are, El Chaltén has everything for hikers to find their way through this world, at least for a few hours.