Billing itself as “Capital Nacional del Trekking,” Argentina’s national trekking capital, El Chaltén has become popular for easy access to Fitz Roy–range trailheads in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Many trails are suitable for overnight backpack trips, access is so easy that day hikers can cover nearly as much ground.
Exposed to fierce westerly winds and to potential floods from the Río de las Vueltas, El Chaltén has somehow managed to achieve a sense of permanence in what, just a few years back, seemed a bleak outpost of government offices aimed to uphold Argentina’s presence in a disputed border zone (the last of many Chilean-Argentine territorial quarrels, over Lago del Desierto to the north, was finalized a few years ago).
El Chaltén celebrates several events, including October 12’s Aniversario de El Chaltén, marking its formal founding in 1985; November 10’s Día de la Tradición, celebrating the gaucho heritage; and early February’s weeklong Fiesta Nacional del Trekking.
When the last 17 kilometers of the RN 40 link are paved, travel time from El Calafate will fall to about three hours. Meanwhile, the town is enjoying improvements as the streets are paved to keep down the dust, and a new bus terminal is under construction.
El Chaltén (pop. about 500) is 220 kilometers northwest of El Calafate via eastbound RP 11 to the Río Bote junction, northbound RN 40, and westbound RP 23 along Lago Viedma’s north shore. It’s worth mentioning that, while street addresses are increasingly common, locals pay little attention to them.
Getting to El Chaltén
Several bus companies connect El Chaltén with El Calafate (3.5 hours, US$18–20): Cal Tur (San Martín 451, tel. 02962/49-3062), Chaltén Travel (San Martín 724, tel. 02962/49-3005), and Taqsa (Antonio Rojo 88, tel. 02962/49-3294). Departures are usually in the late afternoon around 5–6 p.m. There are several buses daily in summer, but this falls to about one daily in winter.
With Chaltén Travel, it’s possible to travel north on gravel RN 40 to the towns of Perito Moreno and Los Antiguos in Chubut Province (13 hours, US$57). Chaltén Travel leaves Chaltén on alternate days in summer; passengers from El Calafate can board the bus at the RN 40 junction. The rest of the year, there may be only one bus weekly. Corredor Patagónico also does this route.
Transporte Las Lengas (Viedma 95, tel. 02962/49-3023, laslengaselchalten [at] yahoo [dot] com [dot] ar) goes to Comandante Luis Piedra Buena (6 hours, US$29) at 5:30 a.m. daily in summer. It has also started a new service to Aeropuerto Internacional El Calafate (3.5 hours, US$21) at 6:30 and 10:30 a.m. daily, returning at 1:30 and 7 p.m.
Also in summer, at 5 a.m. Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, Transpatagonia Servicios (Cerro Solo 95, tel. 02962/49-3160) provides door-to-door service to Río Gallegos (5 hours, US$36), which makes it feasible to connect with buses to Argentine Tierra del Fuego and to Punta Arenas, Chile.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition