Everyone I spoke with prior to the trip said I HAD to visit El Chalten, Argentina too, which is about two hours northwest of El Calafate. Most people either start with El Chalten before going to Torres del Paine or vice versa. I’m glad we did Torres del Paine first!
Quite a few people feel El Chalten is similar/more beautiful than Torres del Paine. I think it really depends on what weather you’re having as I think both are very similar to each other! Mt. Fitz Roy at El Chalten is the inspiration for the Patagonia logo, by the way, but to me, it looks very similar to the Blue Towers except the jagged mountain is on the left overlooking a beautiful lake while the Towers are on the right.
Anyway at this point of our trip we were so exhausted from hiking that we did not attempt to hike to Mt. Fitz Roy. Instead we opted for the easier hike, going to Cerro Torre.
However, let me backtrack first and discuss how we got from Puerto Natales to El Chalten.
Getting from Puerto Natales to El Chalten via El Calafate
We took the same bus back from the way we came, hopping on with Cootra. I had a small mishap before we got on the bus though—we were in the taxi going from our hotel to the bus terminal in Puerto Natales (a very short ride) when I realized I forgot an important bag (it was my daypack with some personal effects) at the hotel! Thankfully I realized this before I got out of the cab and so the driver took me back but he definitely overcharged me for the ride (should’ve been like 2000 pesos but he asked for 5000! But honestly this is like a $3 difference, but still). Had I not realized it before we got out of the taxi, I may have been screwed as the bus terminal was really busy and there were no free taxis.
Anyway, the bus left at 7:30 am on a Wednesday morning and it was nice to get the border crossing over with at the beginning of the ride. We arrived in El Calafate at 1:30 pm and waited for our private transfer to pick us up. I had booked us lodging at Aires del Fitz, which is family owned and has just 4 rooms. The guy who owns/operates it lives on the property and built out other units for rent. He also offers transfer services for reasonable prices so we just booked with him to pick us up from El Calafate to El Chalten. The roundtrip price for 4 of us $300 USD, so about $75 pp. I don’t think this was significantly more than the bus, but also the bus schedule is limited so this made sense for us to do. We found the roads to be quite paved (prior to going I heard there were a lot of potholes but maybe they fixed the roads?) and it took us about 2 hours and 15 minutes to get in between the two towns.
El Chalten is tinier than El Calafate but has as similar vibe—laid back, lots of bars and restaurants. A couple of friends did laundry in town here as well (very cheap) and the weather here was incredibly fickle. About 15 minutes after the above picture was taken, it hailed for half an hour!
Cerro Torre Hike
The day after we got into El Chalten, we decided to do the Cerro Torre hike, which brings you to a lake, Laguna Torre. It is an 18 km hour round trip hike (you go back in the way you came, it’s not a loop) and there are markers along the way (first I’d seen anywhere during our hikes). The markets were extremely helpful. The hiking trail starts at the edge of the town (easy to find, follow the signs!).
We had pretty good weather for this hike. We left at 9:30 am and I’m glad I brought my trekking poles on this trip as the first 2 km are steep to go up and then km 3 + 4 is a mixture of uphill and downhill. I also didn’t wear my knee brace for this hike and I really felt the difference—I’m really glad I had it for Torres del Paine as my knees were a bit sore from this hike. After km 4 though it’s pretty much flat to the end of the trail, which is pretty well marked and a lot of people along the way.
There’s also a couple of bathrooms on this hike (ok, more like port-a-potties with the hole in the ground) but bring your own paper/cleansers!
As we got closer to Laguna Torre, it got cloudier and windier. At times along the trail we could see the top of Mt. Fitz Roy (the highest points of the mountain to the right below) but not much.
We at least got to taste the freshness of glacier water one more time on this trek.
By the time we reached the end though it was really gusting and we took shelter behind some short wall fortresses to rest and have lunch. The clouds covered the money shot for us but it was still lovely.
We spent a lot of time taking pictures here and left at 1:15 pm, getting back to town by 4:30 pm. Although for me it wasn’t as scenic as Torres del Paine (though it was pretty!) it was a much easier hike than any of the trails we did on the 5 day trek. This was the last hike we did on our trip and a nice way to close out.