The most popular hike in El Chalten is probably the hike to Laguna de los Tres to see Cerro Fitz Roy. For a day hike from El Chalten there are two options. The first option is to walk from El Chalten to the trail entrance. The trail entrance is located at the opposite end of town from the bus terminal. Look for the weary hikers walking back to town to find the entrance. The other option and the option I decided to go with is purchase a bus ticket to El Pilar.
Glacier Piedra Blancas
By starting the hike from Piedras Blanca you have the opportunity to visit the mirrador for the Glacier Piedra Blancas.
If you decide to start the hike from El Chalten you will be rewarded with this view as quickly gain elevation.
Another look back on the views as you leave El Chalten behind.
Cerro Fitz Roy hiding in the clouds.
The bridges in Patagonia always have instructions on how people can safely cross the bridge at the same time.
The hike to Laguna Torre is one of the two most popular hikes in El Chalten, Argentina. This 9 km hike takes you to the lagoon that sits at the base of Cerro Torre. You can choose to extend the hike to Mirrador Maestri.
Having just arrived from the US a day prior with two consecutive red eyes I decided to take it easy and hike the easier of the two hikes I had planned for my time in El Chalten. The hike takes 6-7 hour with some elevation gain at the start.
This hike has two entrances, the entrance closer to the center of town is marked with heavy signage. The entrance closer to the entrance for Laguna de los Tres is less marked and is the trail I chose. At times I was unclear if I was on the correct trail, I knew the general direction I wanted to head so I just tried to pick trails in that direction. For the most part the different trails were all going the same way.
Hiking the day after Christmas it was to my benefit I started early because I had the whole trail to myself. At times I wondered is this really the most popular trail during peak travel season, maybe there’s a new trail everyone else is on. Later when I was hiking back towards El Chalten I ran into crowds of people.
I wasn’t so lucky to see Cerro Torre that day. Cerro Torre stayed hidden in the clouds. I sat down at Mirrador Maestri to have my lunch while staring up at the clouds and wishing they would disappear. I could hear the glacier breaking every so often.
If you’re thirsty, grab a drink from this river beside the trail, #nofilter needed.
Cerro Fitz Roy is viewable from a section of the Laguna Torre trail.
Cerro Torre, with it’s head up in the clouds.
The view from Mirrador Maestri.
El Chalten, Argentina
El Chalten is a small town in Argentina popular with tourists for hiking and climbing. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from one end of town to the other. The town was established in 1985 to settle a border dispute with Chile.
I spent 4 days, 3 nights in El Chalten with plans to do two hikes, Laguna Torres to see Cerro Torres and Laguna de los Tres to see Cerro Fitz Roy. I had wanted to do a short hike on the day I arrived but my flight was delayed and I got in much later than I had originally planned. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in El Chalten as my introduction to Patagonia.
From the US I flew to EZE, the international airport in Buenos Aires located 22 km outside the city center. To catch a flight to El Calafate, Argentina you can choose between Aerolineas Argentinas or LATAM Airlines. Aerolineas Argentinas departs from EZE whereas LATAM Airlines departs from AEP, the domestic airport. When I initially booked flights LATAM airlines was cheaper. If you need to transfer between airports you can read more about it here. From El Calafate airport or bus terminal there are multiple bus companies that provide transport to El Chalten, Argentina. CalTur is one of the larger bus companies and charges 450 Argentinian pesos one-way from El Calafate to El Chalten.
In El Chalten it’s good to have cash. It’s suggested you get cash in Buenos Aires or any other major city before arriving in El Chalten in case the ATM in El Chalten runs out of money. At EZE there are multiple ATMs located outside the customs exit. Each ATM withdrawal is limited to $2400 Argentinian pesos with a $6 USD fee. You can read more about using ATMs in Argentina here. There is also a bank located inside the airport that offers a fair exchange rate. There are two entrances to the bank, one inside customs and one outside customs.
El Chalten is small, you can walk everywhere.
Where to Stay
There are numerous hostels and hotels in El Chalten. I stayed at the Rancho Grande Hostel. I found this via Booking.com. The hostel is located 15 minutes by walking from the bus terminal. The location is convenient for the two day hikes I had planned. Breakfast is not included but there is a kitchen and a 24 hour restaurant. I was also able to order a packable lunch to take with me on the hike.
What to Do
The next Tulum? The next Cancun?
The NY Times did a write up on Valladolid here.
SF Gate did a write up here.
The LA Times did a write up here
Coba is an ancient Mayan city 30 minutes from Tulum. I wanted to visit Coba because the highest pyramid, the Ancient Pyramid can still be climbed unlike El Castillo in Chichen Itza. The steps are not in the best condition, they can be a little slippery so wear footwear with good grip. I climbed straight to the top refusing to stop for breaks, at 42 meters or 137 feet it is comparable to the Santa Monica Stairs (111 feet), but still far below the Culver City Stairs (342 feet).
We opted to rent bikes in Coba to cover more ground quickly. There is an option to hire bike peddlers just past the entrance or you can hire them further inside. I would recommend renting bikes as the city is quite large and I think biking through an ancient Mayan city is a unique experience.
There’s a “fish spa” in the parking lot. For $10 USD you can have little fishies nibble away at your feet. I’ve never tried it before and I decided to give it a go. At first it feels like there’s a steady stream of electricity running through your feet but you get used to it. I figured if there was any dirt and grime to be found the fish would nibble it away.
Chichen Itza was once one of the largest Mayan cities. Today it is a UNESCO world heritage site and plays host to over one million visitors a year. In a worldwide poll it was voted one of the new 7 wonders of the world. On any given day Chichen Itza is packed with tourists. We went on a Monday and there was a constant stream of tourists. We hired a guide ahead of time, but it’s possible to book a guide at the entrance. From watching the other guides I could tell everyone was basically reading off the same script. Our guide made sure to stop us to take photos at his unofficial designated photo spots. At first we were kinda of like, uh why does he keep making us pose for pictures, but after reviewing them we realized he knows what he’s doing. You don’t really need to get a guide, but I think we got more from it then if we had just winged it on our own, and we had a personal photographer! Unlike other Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza is more commercialized than I expected. There are vendors inside Chichen Itza selling souvenirs.
El Castillo (the castle) is the photo most commonly found when searching for Chichen Itza online. The temple stands about 30 meters high, since 2006 it can no longer be climbed. Most everything is hands off at Chichen Itza, that’s not the case at all Mayan ruins. Coba is nearby and you can still walk the stairs of the highest temple.
Akumal Bay is just north of Tulum, half an hour by car. We opted to stop at Akumal Bay on our drive south towards Tulum. We flew a red-eye so had plenty of time before the check-in time for the hotel. If you bring your own goggles you can go without renting anything additional or going without a guide. When you drive in you will see tons of rental shops and guides will be trying to sell you tours. We didn’t go with a guide so I can’t say anything about that. We did have someone talk to us and follow us to the beach, but we decided to check things out before committing to anything. There were snorkelers in groups everywhere! I was surprised just how many people were there. We walked along the beach and sat down at the edge of the private resorts. We jumped in the water with our goggles and almost immediately ran into a sea turtle! We didn’t get to see many turtles that day. Someone we talked to said the day before the sea turtles were everywhere, so I guess it’s random. The guide who tried to sell us a tour previously found us again, but by then we were fine with just goggles so we declined again.
The ruins of this Mayan city is unlike many others in that it sits on a cliff overlooking the water. The ruins themselves are not all that impressive compared to other Mayan ruins. It’s the stunning backdrop that makes this worth the trip. Don’t forget your swimsuit, there’s a small beach with lifeguard! You will want to take a quick dip to cool off.
The best al pastor tacos can be found in town at Antojitos La Chiapaneca. Tulum beach and Tulum town are a good distance apart. We rented a car so we just drove, but we saw lots of people biking. You could walk but it will probably be over an hour.