Patagonia and Altiplano Expedition | #27 – El Chaltén

From El Calafate, we drove to the next famous tourist hot spot in this area: El Chaltén. It’s an easy 3.5 hours drive from El Calafate. First along the Lago Argentino and then later following the Lago Viedma.

(Editor’s note: we currently have a delay of about 12 weeks between real life and our blog posts. We were in El Chaltén in January)

About halfway we had a short break at the Hotel La Leóna which reminded us of the roadhouses in Namibia or Australia.

At the next crossing, we found an interesting metal sculpture.

At one of the viewpoints along the road, we were able to watch a couple of very cute foxes (wildlife images in this post were again shot by Linnéa).

Close to El Chaltén, we did a short side trip to the Bahía Túnel where you can find abundant birdlife.

Just before reaching our next destination, we had the first views of the spectacular Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. And Linnéa’s friend Naomi had some fun posing in front of these two famous mountains.

At the entrance of the village, you can find the only gas station in this area. It looks a bit weird with its small container-like building and hundreds if not thousands of stickers on the wall of overlanders passing through. But it was a reliable source to get high-quality diesel (which is quite rare in this area as you will learn in the next blog posts).

Getting accommodation in El Chaltén in high season is definitely not easy. We tried to find an apartment for us. But everything was either fully booked or insanely expensive. Combined with Torres del Paine it’s one of the rare places in Patagonia where you really have to book about one year in advance. Therefore our only option was to go to the campground. Sadly, even this campground was extremely crowded and we barely found a space for our three tents at the edge of the parking lot.

In low season or with a nice pre-booked accommodation El Chaltén is probably an enjoyable village with many good restaurants and cafés. But in high season staying at this extremely crowded campground, we couldn’t fully enjoy it. Next time we would probably choose the campground further down the road to Lago del Desierto and not the one in the city center. But then, you have to use your car for every visit to a restaurant, café, or supermarket and also to get to most of the trailheads. There is no perfect solution in El Chaltén in high season.

Very close to El Chaltén, you can find the Chorrillo del Salto waterfall. It’s not exactly one of my favorite waterfalls but it’s easy to reach in a few minutes from the parking lot next to the falls and worth the quick visit.

Originally I had planned to do the 3 to 4 days overnight hike to the Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre. Sadly, I had a gastrointestinal infection since El Calafate and the recovery took longer than I had hoped. Therefore I decided that it would be safer to skip the planned multi-day hike. Naomi still wanted to do the hike alone and therefore left us for three days. On the main trails in El Chaltén, you will never be alone for long. She soon connected with some other hikers and thoroughly enjoyed her time on the trails.

In the meantime, we did the day hike to the Glaciar Huemul. It’s a short but steep trail that leads at the beginning through a beautiful forest and later offers some nice views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the Lago del Desierto.

At the end of the trail, you reach the glacier lake with a nice view of the blue Glaciar Huemul.

After the hike, we explored the Lago del Desierto and the valley along the Rio Cañadon de los Toros. Not far from the trailhead to the Glaciar Huemul, you can find the Salto del Anillo, my favorite waterfall near El Chaltén. It has a very mystic atmosphere and would fit perfectly in any fantasy film.

Since the weather was really great on that day we decided to go for a swim in the beautiful (but quite cold) Rio Cañadon de los Toros.

Along the road between El Chaltén and Lago del Desierto, there are a couple of spectacular viewpoints of Mount Fitz Roy.

Close to El Chaltén, the valley widens and offers a lovely view of the river and the surrounding mountains.

In the warm evening light at sunset, the mountain ranges near El Chaltén looked just stunning.

During the three days while Naomi was doing her multi-day hike, we were shooting nightscapes and sunrise images from different viewpoints, often with Mount Fitz Roy and/or Cerro Torre in the background.

I even shot a couple of timelapse sequences (to be processed after our trip).

The following image shows a view of El Chaltén, Cerro Torre, and Fitz Roy directly at sunrise.

On the next night, we drove around midnight to a viewpoint on the road to Lago del Desierto and spent the whole night there shooting timelapse sequences of the night sky and the sunrise at Mount Fitz Roy. Wearing a down jacket and using a sleeping bag it was warm enough to enjoy the experience. We were the only people there during the whole night and it was no problem to put the sleeping bag just next to the main road. A very pleasant change to the extremely crowded El Chaltén.

Light pollution was very low and the night sky was just awesome.

About one hour before sunrise the color of the landscapes and the sky begin to change significantly.

It’s probably my favorite time of the day for shooting landscapes (ignoring for a moment the fact that I prefer to sleep longer). The soft light and beautiful colors are just stunning.

From one hour before sunrise to the moment of sunrise there is another very significant change in the colors, as you can see in the following 4 images.

It was definitely a great experience spending the night completely alone at this viewpoint and partially compensated us for not being able to do the hikes to Laguna the los Tres and Laguna Torre.

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