Best Time to Visit El Chalten for Hiking
How to Get to El Chalten
Accommodation
How Hard is the Fitz Roy Hike?
What to Wear and My Equipment
Day 1: Fitz Roy Trek to Campamento Poincenot and Laguna de Los Tres
Day 2: Hike to Campamento Agostini and Laguna Torre
Day 3: Return to El Chalten

The Mount Fitz Roy trek arguably has the best viewpoint of the famous mountain with a picturesque Laguna de los Tres radiating turquoise water in the foreground.

The mountain was named in honour of Captain Robert FitzRoy, who led the HMS Beagle around the world including Patagonia to mainly complete a nautical survey of South America. There was also a young naturalist on the ship, who would later change the world: Charles Darwin.

I was fortunate to have camped for 2 nights in Los Glacieres National Park while trekking to see Mount (Cerro) Fitz Roy (3405 m) and Mount (Cerro) Torre (3102 m) from El Chalten.

How I Did the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre Trek without a Guide

Best Time to Visit El Chalten for Hiking

The best time to visit El Chalten is during Patagonia’s austral summer, December through February, when the temperatures are warmest. In addition, less technical equipment and experience is required when there is little to no snowy terrain.

On the flipside, the southern spring and autumn seasons have smaller crowds but you’ll need to be prepared for harsh weather.

Keep in mind most of El Chalten shuts down during winter.

best time to visit el chalten

How to Get to El Chalten

First, you need to travel to El Chalten, Argentina. It’s a small and developing town in southern Patagonia. It’s considered the trekking capital of Argentina, maybe even the world.

Most people travel to El Chalten from El Calafate or San Carlos de Bariloche by bus. The travel time takes 3 and 22 hours respectively. Bariloche also has some good hikes.

El Chalten doesn’t have an airport and the closest airport (FTE) is in El Calafate. Aerolineas Argentinas and LATAM Airlines both fly to El Calafate from within Argentina. It’s best to book flights in advance as the prices increase significantly closer to the departure date. I ended up taking the bus from Bariloche to El Chalten because my travel plans are a bit more spontaneous

Accommodation

There are plenty of hostels and low-rise hotels in El Chalten. You can easily get a dorm for less than $20 per night or a private room for $40.

Most hostels and hotels are within walking distance to the bus stop or to the start of the Fitz Roy and Torre trails. You won’t be needing a taxi.

The main thing to look out for in accommodation in El Chalten is luggage storage. You’ll need a place to safely store some of your belongings while you’re in the backcountry. I had to store my wallet, passport, and some other items.

El Chalten is a trekking town so luggage storage won’t be a problem but keep it in mind.

Oh, you’ll also need hot showers with good water pressure. After beating your body on the mountain, a hot shower goes a long way. I mean, a really long way.

How Hard is the Fitz Roy Hike?

In my opinion, the Fitz Roy hike has a moderate level of difficulty but it’s only the last hour that is the most challenging and steepest. You’ll need to be in decent shape to complete the last stretch which takes about an hour.

Fitz Roy and Torre trail distances and time

The Fitz Roy trek from El Chalten is 10 km and takes about 4 hours to complete one way.

The Torre trek from El Chalten is 11 km and takes 4 hours to complete one way.

The Fitz Roy and Torre circuit, which is connected by the Madre e Hija trail, is about 32 km and takes 3 days/2 nights to hike.

If you can complete the Fitz Roy trek, then the Cerro Torre hike to Laguna Torre and the Maestri viewpoint will be no problem.

fitz roy and torre trail map

I did these hikes without a compass. The trails are marked well for the most part. Google Maps also helped with providing me my location at various points.

What to Wear and My Equipment

Getting prepared to hike in Patagonia requires essential technical equipment.

Here are a few important items:

  • backpack with rain cover
  • water bladder or bottle
  • sleeping bag
  • tent
  • waterproof windbreaker with layers to wear underneath
  • hiking pants with plenty of pockets
  • high-cut waterproof hiking shoes
  • multi-purpose tool or knife
  • flashlight or headlamp
  • cookware
  • sunblock

There are a few obvious items you can void if you’re only doing the day hikes to Fitz Roy and Laguna Torre.

For the backpack, make sure it’s an ergonomic backpack that has hip and chest straps. This helps distribute the load.

I recommend a water bladder over a water bottle as it allows easier access to taking sips of water while you’re on the move. To let you know how useful a water bladder is, I also use them when I snowboard.

A jacket comes down to preference. I easily could have worn my snowboard jacket as well. 3-in-1 winter jackets are a good option since they already include the layers. Just make sure whatever you wear that it’s waterproof.

Here is a list of my gear:

TentMarmot Tungsten 1 Person Tent

FlashlightBlack Diamond Storm Headlamp 350 Lumens

TowelBOGI Microfiber Travel Sports Towel L

Sleeping BagMarmot Trestles 15F/-9C

Air MattressEcoTek Outdoors Hybern8 Ultralight Inflatable Sleeping Pad

Water BladderCamelbak Crux 3L Reservoir

DSLR cameraCanon 6d with Tamron Lens SP 24-70mm Di VC

KnifeVictorinox Swiss Army Sports Huntsman

BackpackGregory Men’s Paragon 58L Backpack

FlaskGSI Outdoors Boulder Flask 10 fl oz filled with Chivas 12

SunglassesOakley Radar Polarized

WindbreakerThe North Face Men’s Summit L4 Windstopper

Other – flushable wipes, sandwiches, bananas, Clif Bars, clothes, hiking shoes, hygienic products

Note: The Fitz Roy and Torre treks are free as are most of the other hikes. And you don’t need to register with the national park to do the overnight Fitz Roy or Torre hikes. You can also do the treks as day hikes.

Day 1: Fitz Roy Trek to Campamento Poincenot and Laguna de Los Tres

I started from my hostel in El Chalten and I walked towards the beginning of the Fitz Roy trail which is on the northwest edge of town from San Martin Road. It’s the main street in town so the start of the trail is easy to find in addition to El Chalten being small.

The recommended hiking time to the Poincenot Campsite is 2:45 hours.

Within the first kilometer of the trek, I arrived at the Rio de las Vueltas viewpoint. The river, which is fed from Lago Viedma, southeast of El Chalten, breaks up into smaller streams with a mountain backdrop providing a photogenic scene. The wind here was extremely strong making it hard to take a stabilized photograph. There was a couple at the viewpoint with me and we were smirking at each other due to the strength of the wind. I estimated the wind speed was 50 km/h.

I spent about 5 minutes at the Rio de Las Vueltas viewpoint and continued with the trek. I eventually arrived at a trail split, one going towards Laguna Capri and its campsite, and the other going to a Fitz Roy viewpoint. I chose to go towards the campsite assuming it would be faster to Campamento Poincenot but it didn’t make a difference.

At Laguna Capri there were people relaxing by the lake and eating. Mount Fitz Roy was covered in clouds from here. I saw some tents setup and I was like shit; maybe I should have just trekked to the Fitz Roy viewpoint and see what was there.

I didn’t want to fill up my water from the lake because I felt I had enough water for another 2 hours.

I decided to detour and still checkout the Fitz Roy viewpoint (mirador); I was glad I did. The view was nice, not like what I would see later, but still nice. I took a few photos with my Canon DSLR and ate some salted peanuts for snack.

The paths and intersections of Campamento Poincenot and Mirador Fitz Roy, Campamento Capri, and to El Chalten formed a circle. Hiking to both Campamento Laguna Capri and the Mirador Fitz Roy only added about 15 minutes extra to my total time.

After Mirador Fitz Roy, I continued the trek towards the Poincenot Campsite. I arrived at another trail split. One which goes to Campamento Agostini and Laguna Torre via the Laguna Madre e Hija (mother and daughter) trail, which I would hike to the next day, and the other which goes to Campamento Poincenot and Laguna de los Tres. I took the latter which goes over a stream via a wooden bridge.

Eventually I arrived at the Poincenot Campsite. I can’t remember how long it took in total but was definitely under 2:45 hours, especially since I didn’t stop for lunch except for some peanuts I ate earlier at the Fitz Roy viewpoint.

Campamento Poincenot was conveniently located by a stream with fresh water. There are washrooms in the area which I never visited due to the smell. I only did number ones in the forest. I recommend setting up camp away from the washrooms. But the smell can still reach you due to the eternal Patagonia wind.

I setup camp, ate lunch and took a short nap.

Around 4 pm, I left my backpack and only brought my water bladder, DSLR camera, and my removable backpack (part of the interior of my trekking backpack) and continued my journey for the day.

I went up to Laguna de los Tres. This part of the Fitz Roy Trek is the hardest and is the steepest part. There are warnings that you need to be physically fit to reach the top. I also wore my trekking gloves in order to grab the large rocks for balance.

While I was going up to Laguna de los Tres, I crossed paths with a French girl coming down. I saw her earlier in the day on the trek and she was much faster than me, almost like a mountain billy goat. She told me to “make sure to go left once I reached the top because there is second lake you can see which many people miss.”

I eventually made it. At the top, I saw the turquoise chivalry of Laguna de los Tres. I looked up and saw the mountains of Fitz Roy, Poincenot, and Saint Exupary hiding in the clouds. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t see the peaks. I saw the tops the day before at Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. Plus, it added a bit of mystery.

There were less than 5 people at Laguna de los Tres, probably because it was after 5 pm. This provided several unobstructed landscape photos.

I whipped out my camera in the drizzling rain and started taking photographs while moving to the right and then down the hill to the base of Laguna de los Tres.

At this point the drizzling rain was a mix of freezing rain and snow crystals. Barely a storm but the wind was about 70 km/h which made it challenging to get the shots I wanted. Imagine a monkey swinging on your arms while trying to take a photograph.

I remembered the recommendation of the French girl and I started walking left, or what I believe was southwest, along the lake. I came to another hill and saw a waterfall where Laguna de los Tres was pouring out from.

Then I saw Laguna Sucia several meters below. It was well hidden and I now know why many hikers can miss it.

laguna sucia from fitz roy hike

Laguna Sucia

Laguna Sucia was more saturated in color with royal blue. Sucia translates to dirty in Spanish but it was royalty to my eyes.

I wanted to go up a steep hill to try and get a panoramic photo of the lakes and mountains but I was a bit hesitant of the terrain and the 70 km/h wind. The wind was blowing up the hill so I decided to ride it. It was the easiest climb of a steep hill in my whole life. The wind practically lifted me up effortlessly without my legs consuming much energy or getting tired. The way down the same hill was easy because it was holding me up. I wish my hike from Campamento Poincenot to Laguna de los Tres was that easy.

After spending about an hour at Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Sucia, I went back down to camp.

I ate some snacks, brushed my teeth, filled up my water bladder for the next day, and went to bed early.

Day 2: Hike to Campamento Agostini and Laguna Torre

I woke up early around 7 am, or at least early for me, and prepared myself for the hike through Madre and Hija which connects the Fitz Roy and Torre trails.

I didn’t eat anything for breakfast since I would just eat one of my cliff bars and some dried papaya along the trail.

I left Campamento Poincenot around 8 am and started my journey.

At this point I just needed to back track until I reached the trail split going to Madre and Hija, and of course the other way returns to El Chalten.

The Laguna Madre e Hija trek consists of walking along two lakes that are side by side, one obviously bigger than the other. Hence, the names translate to mother and daughter.

The trail is a bit narrow and there are many parts where I walked between trees and tall bushes. I had to maneuver my face away from branches several times. Sometimes the string on my tent bag, which was attached to the bottom of my backpack, would get caught in the branches

Eventually, the Madre and Hija trail heads into a forest which was mostly downhill. It was nice to be in the shade and out of the sun.

I didn’t find this trail particularly beautiful, or with amazing viewpoints for the most part but there was a good resting point towards the end with a good view of Cerro Torre. More importantly, the trail was very calm and relaxing, probably because I didn’t see anyone else for the most of the journey.

The hike takes about 2.5 hours to complete but I was able to comfortably do it in less than 90 minutes. The trail itself is not difficult as it doesn’t have much ascents or descents. It’s pretty level for the most part except the part when you go through a forest and descend a bit, but the descent was easy.

Eventually, the trail comes to a split where one leads to the Cerro Torre viewpoint and returns to El Chalten, and the second goes to the Agostini campsite, Laguna Torre, and the Maestri viewpoint of Glaciar Grande.

It’s very easy to miss the signs or walk pass them and go the wrong way. The signs are angled weirdly so try to pay attention.

I continued towards Agostini and the trail splitted again towards Agostini and Prestadores. I think Prestador was a facility with supplies for trekking guides. I’m not sure if the public can make obtain food or supplies here. I went towards Agostini and reached its campsite around 11 am.

I was lucky to beat the crowd and I setup camp right beside the Rio Fitz Roy. The campsite was in the cover of trees with some sun piercing through.

While I was eating lunch, I noticed groups of campers having a hard time finding an adequate camping spot.

After eating, I went to the Laguna Torre viewpoint, which is pretty much a five-minute walk from the campsite. As usual, I only brought my camera, water bladder, and small backpack with some snacks.

The Laguna Torre viewpoint is right at the base of the shore. You can see the entire lake, and its murky, brown water with the edge of Glaciar Grande trickling in. There were also a few small icebergs in the lake which provided good photo opportunities.

Cerro Torre was hiding there also, but again the clouds were covering the top even though it was mostly a sunny day. I swear, these clouds have a thing for covering the tops of mountains on the best of days. But nonetheless, it was still amazing to see.

cerro torre trek

Laguna Torre, Glaciar Grande in the background, and Cerro Torre hidden in the clouds.

I recommend eating lunch at Laguna Torre instead of Agostini. It’s just better with the view.

There were also a few small icebergs in the lake which gave some good photo opportunities.

Unfortunately, the condors in El Chalten are going human scavenger mode. They’ll come close to you for food, especially at Laguna Torre. You’ll even see them in the Agostini campground, below trees, which I don’t believe is normal behaviour. They should be more out in the open. I’m no ornithologist, but I suspect hand feeding the condors is contributing to this behaviour. Please don’t be like some of the people I saw and feed the birds. It doesn’t help the them.

Anyways, after visiting the Laguna Torre viewpoint, there is another trail up the hill that goes to the Maestri viewpoint. It’s a rocky hill that partially surrounds Laguna Torre. You can get closer to the glacier from Maestri and there are better photo ops from here than the base of the lake.

The same trail has trees and bushes on the opposite side. You’ll hear a small waterfall flowing while hiking towards Maestri. I initially wanted to fill up my water bladder from this waterfall because the Fitz Roy River and Laguna Torre have murky, brown water. The closet point from the Maestri trail to the waterfall was lacking a trail itself; it had a valley-like terrain which made it difficult to figure out a way to the waterfall. I decided I would go all the way to the top/end of the Maestri viewpoint to see if there was another way around to the waterfall.

When I arrived at the viewpoint, I took more photos here with closer shots of the glacier.

The trek to the Maestri viewpoint is fairly easy. But there are many small, lose rocks where it’s easy to lose your footing and twist your ankle. It’s better if you have tied-up, high-cut hiking shoes. However, my hiking shoes were low cut.

From the Maestri viewpoint, I noticed at higher ground there were larger boulders to sit on. I went up to them but this part is not recommended for beginners as it was challenging and steep. Then again, I consider myself a beginner at times and just went up. And beyond these large boulders at the top, there was a hidden path into the forest. So, way I went.

When I entered the forest, I knew I now had somewhat of a chance to find that waterfall. Surprisingly, there was already a beaten path through the forest. I walked for about 15 minutes and found a small waterfall, or more of a downward flowing stream, where I filled up my water bladder with fresh Patagonia water. Boy, was I glad I didn’t have to fill up water at the river or lake.

Now getting back to the trail, I had two options, go back the way I came through the forest and down past the boulders. I didn’t want to do this because it was steep. I decided my best option would be to find a shortcut back to the trail. Pretty much there was no actual shortcut and I had to force my way through some trees and bushes and made it back to the Maestri trail saving me some time.

I returned to Agostini after the Maestri trail. The time was about 3 pm and it was still early. I thought to myself I could have just made this two-night trek a one nighter and return to El Chalten. But I didn’t because wanted to get the maximum ROI on my camping equipment, and more importantly, spend an extra night outside on my own in Patagonia.

Instead I took some snacks, and returned to Laguna Torre to eat them. I relished my last hour or two at Laguna Torre and saw the last condor trying to scavenge for food, before my next day’s journey back to El Chalten.

I prepared myself for the night and went to bed early before 9 pm. I could have gone to sleep even sooner but I was watching Narcos Mexico on Netflix.

Day 3: Return to El Chalten

When I woke up around 6 am in the morning, I could hear the loud Patagonia wind. I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag and be cold. I was just too comfortable and I didn’t mind being a wimp. But then I realized that sound was actually the Fitz Roy River. I got out of my sleeping bag, brushed my teeth, and packed my gear.

I left the campsite bound for El Chalten by 7 am.

At this point I only had 1 Cliff Bar left for breakfast. I planned it this way as I didn’t buy a sandwich for the third day. I did wish I had some more dried fruit, but I ate them all. As usual, I ate the Cliff Bar while walking.

Now here comes the crappy part of my hike. I somehow missed seeing the split and the sign that points to El Chalten. I took notice of the angles of the signs the day before and made a mental note to watch out for this. I was just in the zone where I was walking fast and I was doing more thinking about travelling and life, than the actual trek itself. I felt like I wasn’t even using any energy.

So much for my trotting at a fast pace. By the time I knew for sure I was again doing the Madre and Hija trail, it was too late to turn back and I was like damn. What a waste of time especially since I knew to lookout for the trail split the day before.

This added an extra 90 minutes to my way back to El Chalten. I returned to El Chalten via the Fitz Roy trail and more importantly, I missed visiting the Cerro Torre viewpoint. Cerro Torre wasn’t even covered in clouds on this day. The story of my life.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This