Our next stop in Patagonia is the small town of El Chaltén in Argentina. This town rests in the rain shadow of the massive spires of the Patagonian Andes and is a dry, windy and cool place.
The region around El Chaltén is part of Los Glaciares National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is very remote. It is usually reached by taking the bus or driving from El Calafate some 220 km to the south, El Calafate itself a remote town which we’ve previously discussed here.
The town resides in a glaciated valley adjoining the Rio de las Vueltas. The most dramatic aspect of El Chaltén is the beautiful mountains that frame it to the west, including the amazingly steep and narrow spire of Cerro Torre….
and characteristic and widely known shape of Cerro Fitz Roy (Fitz Roy Massif)….
These and the surrounding sheer peaks are very popular with mountaineers, although they are rarely summited (some years only a single party of climbers might reach a given summit).
The classic peaks of the Patagonia Andes are seen at a great distance when driving towards El Chaltén and the mountains loom ever closer as you approach the small town. We had the great fortune to spending two beautiful clear and sunny days in El Chaltén, a treat because we were told the weather is often cloudy and hazy. We stopped a number of times to take photos of these peaks, and were rewarded with some memorable images, including of Andean condors soaring in the sky, framed against the Fitz Roy Massif and a backpacker walking his alpaca up the town’s main street….
It’s the wild wild west of Argentina, a land of cowboys and adventurers.
El Chaltén is a fairly new town, built as an outpost in 1985 by the Argentinian government to help firm up its claim to this territory which was in dispute with Chile. Because of its beautiful surroundings, the town quickly became popular with outdoor lovers and adventure travelers. Besides mountaineering, it has became Argentina’s capital for hiking and trekking. We did several hikes nearby and the scenery is even better than the photos imply. There are also opportunities for glacier exploration, fishing and photography.
As you’d expect, the town’s industry is oriented to servicing the outdoor loving tourists who visit here. The types of businesses you find here include adventure travel vendors, restaurants, lodging, gasoline, grocery stores, gift shops and so on.
The weather in the summer is pleasant, but frost can and does occur any time of year, even in the summer, so bring a jacket when you come.