El Chalten is a small mountain village located inside the northern part of Parque Nacional de los Glaciares. Home to the famous Cerro Fitz Roy range. This tiny town, founded only a few decades ago has since become the trekking capitol of Argentina. Chalten provided the best, as well as the cheapest, experience for us in southern Patagonia. For the budget traveler, this place was absolutely ideal: easy to navigate, free entry and plenty of free camping.
What to expect:
Before the bus from El Calafate drops you off on the edge of town it stops at the ranger station where an Antonio Banderas look-alike in khaki overalls orates so passionately regarding park safety and ‘leave no trace’ that Jordan and I were at once seduced and afraid. However, we were glad for it because you can drink the water directly from the lakes and rivers in the park, which was an amazing experience.
The walk from the bus station to the other end of town takes about 15-20 minutes. Chalten is completely surrounded by mountains, with a glacial river running along one side. Literally, at the end of each road is a mountain trail head. Entry into the town/park is free and all campsites along the trails are also free. There is also a campsite in town (El Refugio) where we stayed every few nights where you can access a hot shower and free cooking fuel for 25 pesos a night, which at our exchange rate was $2.50 (in February 2014)! It also happens to be right across from a grocery store, which offers affordable meat and staples.
The free trail map provided upon entry into the park at the bus or ranger station is all you need to start exploring. The great thing about Chalten is that you can set up camp and do mostly day hikes, leaving your bulky pack behind. If you are a budget traveler like us, we bet you could easily get away with spending less than $5pp a day while inside Chalten. See our next posts regarding the hikes we did!
Where to Stay:
Best Free Campsite: Campamento Laguna Capri
This campsite is only about an hour and a half from the trail head in town. It is situated next to Laguna Capri and offers an incredible view of the Cerro Fitz Roy. This makes for a laughably easy ‘mountains glowing red sunrise experience’ which in Torres Del Paine, required hard work, early wake up, and in the end totally kicked our ass. Campamento Laguna Capri offers a basic pit latrine that you can also deposit your TP in (nothing else though!). There is no ‘running water’ at the campsite but according to the rangers you can literally drink the water right from the lake, which we did and it was just fine. The best day hike to do from Laguna Capri is the Sendero Fitz Roy, but it is also situated close to the trail connecting sendero Fitz Roy to the trail to La Torre.
Other free campsites:
Poincenot: In the woods about 2 hours from the end of Sendero FitzRoy. Good for those wanting to make a sunrise attempt at the Laguna Fitz Roy (the end of the Sendero Fitz Roy). However, as the sunrise view from Laguna Capri is amazing and requires no work at all, why not stay there? The last leg of the Sendero Fitz Roy was incredibly steep and arduous and not something I would want to do while waking up/in the dark.
D’Agostini: The site right before Laguna Torre. The final view of Laguna Torre is nice but not as impressive as the Fitz Roy. The campsite here is next to a beautiful, but loud, running river. I also felt that this site was colder than the other two sites at night.
Best Budget Campsite: El Refugio
This site is run by a jumpsuit wearing Gaucho named Domingo. The place has plenty of sites to set up a tent (though try to get next to a fence or something to help block the wind if you can!). There are hot showers and a outdoor sheltered kitchen area which provides free propane and a few burners to cook with. Each night Domingo and his friends, along with the campers, started a huge fire and we enjoyed cooking our meat on the parilla for a traditional Argentinian/Patagonian asado of beef or lamb. At the end of each night, an older Chilean ex-pat would pick up the guitar and stun the crowd with his soul-touching voice. Truly a great place to stay and at 25 pesos a night, it doesn’t get better than this.
Coming soon: Posts on the day hikes we did!