If you find yourself in El Chaltén, you’re likely an outdoor enthusiast or at least plan on doing some adventuring outdoors. This little Argentinian town is surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscape we’ve ever seen. While the town itself small and quieter than some of the other nearby cities frequented by travelers, we could have stayed here for ages exploring the area. Here are a few great things to do in El Chaltén.
1. Take a Hike
Okay, this is the most obvious of things to do in El Chaltén. The town is situated directly by a large system of trails that lead into Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. We thought this was awesome because you can wander through the most incredible landscape at your own leisure without having to take a tour. We just walked right from our hostel and into the mountains. While the trails are located within the national park, there is no entrance fee when hiking in from town.
People come from around the world to see the glaciers, Fitz Roy, wildlife, and other marvels of the area. While some of these hikes are multi-day treks or require a full day, there are other shorter options like taking a stroll to Chorillo del Salto. The visitor’s center in town has a ton of information on the hikes in the area. If you would be more comfortable hiking with a guide, there are agencies in El Chaltén and El Calafate offering tours.
Whatever hike you choose to do in the area, you won’t be disappointed!
2. Visit La Leona Petrified Forest
La Leona Petrified Forest sits a couple hours southeast of El Chaltén. Hiking through the petrified forest offers quite the change in scenery from the lakes and glacier-covered peaks surrounding El Chaltén. Here, you’ll find otherworldly badlands where the remains of old petrified trees lie on the eroded ground and dinosaur fossils have been discovered. Legend has it that the famous Butch Cassidy also made a stop here in the early 1900s.
La Leona Petrified Forest sits on private land, so the only way to reach it is by tour. Some tours can be booked online in advance. Many have the option to leave from El Calafate or El Chaltén, so be sure to clarify your starting point.
3. Take a Kayak, Rafting, or Fishing Tour
With so many lakes and rivers in the area, spending time on the water is another great way to experience the beauty here. We visited El Chaltén during the winter, so it was a bit too chilly to be out on the water. However, in the summer, water sports are popular.
According to a woman we talked to in town, Lago Del Desierto and Rio De Las Vueltas are great places to raft, kayak, and fish for trout and salmon. There are tour agencies that will provide transport, gear, and information needed for these activities. ElChalten.com and other agencies offer a variety of excursions and information about trips online. If you plan to fish, note that you will be required to obtain a permit in town.
4. Explore the Route to Lago Del Desierto
As mentioned above, kayaking and fishing are popular at Lago del Desierto. However, if those activities don’t sound appealing or you’re visiting in the winter as we were, you can still experience the beauty of lake.
The lake itself is pretty and there are various hiking opportunities in the area, including Glaciar Huemul (for a small cost of several US dollars) and walking the trails along the shores. There is also a boat tour available leaving from the dock by the end of the road in the summer months. This boat can also take you to the start of the trail to Glaciar Vespignani.
If you have a car, you can drive to Lago del Desierto yourself – just use caution on the rocky road. We have been told the condition of the road has declined and there are mixed sentiments on driving it in a low clearance vehicle. You can also rent bikes in El Chaltén or hire a tour guide/private transport.
5. Sample Some Local Brews & Local Foods
Wine was definitely our go-to drink during our few months in Argentina and Chile, but we were pleasantly surprised by the local beers we came across in the Patagonia region. After a long day of exploring, a beer always hits the spot. Some great places to try some local brews include La Cervecería, Fresco Bar, La Vinería, and La Birre del Rancho.
While eating out in town, you’ll likely come across lamb dishes, steaks, empanadas, and the famous mate drink. All are great local dishes to try! There is also a bit of a European influence here, so you’ll find quite a few pizza and pasta dishes.
6. Make a Day Trip to Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most popular attractions in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. We visited while we were staying in El Calafate since it is closer to this city. But if you skip over El Calafate, it’s still worth looking into making the trip from El Chaltén to see the glacier for a day.
The glacier is absolutely huge and the mountainous landscape and lake around it are truly beautiful. Activities range from an easy walk to a series of viewpoints to boat rides and glacier trekking tours, making this a great day trip for any traveler. From El Chaltén, you can reach the glacier by tour or your own transport.
7. Experience an Estancia
Estancias, or ranches, are pretty common across Argentina. Many of them will let visitors stay on the property to get a true taste of life in the countryside. Estancias offer a many different activities, such as hiking, horseback riding, and fishing excursions, informative presentations, opportunities to try delicious traditional foods, and more. With all the activities, you’ll definitely be able to fill your time with memorable experiences!