El Calafate El Chalten

El Chalten, Argentina

Following our two-night stay in San Carlos de Bariloche, we flew to El Calafate (“Calafate” for short) and drove to El Chalten (“Chalten” for short). We stayed in Chalten for three nights, giving us two full days to explore this beautiful region of Patagonia.

Car rental

We rented a car with Avis. Avis does not have an on-site kiosk at the Calafate airport. Instead, an Avis representative met us at the airport and waited for us in the Arrivals hall as we exited baggage claim. 

We rented a “Renault Clio or similar” but were told they did not have any cars available in that class, so we would be getting a “little bit bigger” car, a Chevy Classic.

After signing a booklet of documents I didn’t understand (the paperwork was in Spanish), the Avis representative escorted us out of the airport and to our Chevy Classic. 

We were a little taken back by the condition of the car. It was not up to Avis standards, at least not what they would be in the US. 

As I looked the car over, I noticed that the front tires were a different size than the rear tires and I was disappointed that the 7-day rental cost for this car was $500 (pre-booked online).

We had no option but to accept the car, so we signed the “existing damage” paperwork.

We were told that if we totaled the car (he made a rolling over motion with his hand), we would be charged 65,000 ARS ($4,100 USD) which isn’t that much more than what we paid for our 7-day rental. It goes to show how much money Avis makes on car rentals.

Drive from Calafate to Chalten (and vice versa)

After a quick kick to the mismatched tires, I turned the keys, and the check engine light illuminated. 

We sighed and began our three-hour drive to Chalten (Google Maps will quote two hours, but this is inaccurate).

The distance from the Calafate airport to Chalten is not long, only about 124 miles (three turns in total!), but it takes a long time because of the strong winds.

I had blown off the Avis representative’s warning of rolling the car until we passed a car that had recently rolled over. It really hit home how dangerous the winds were in this region. 

Below is a video I took while standing at one of the scenic overlooks on the eastern shore of Lago Viedma. The wind was intense, and I could barely hold the camera steady.

The map below shows the driving route from Calafate to Chalten. Calafate is on the south shore of Lago Argentino, and Chalten is on the north shore of Lago Viedma.

Incredibly, the vivid colors of these lakes can be seen from space.

Itinerary

Below was our itinerary for El Chalten.

DayDetails
1-Flew to El Calafate (FTE)
-Drove from El Calafate to El Chalten (3 hours)
2Hiked Laguna Torre
3Hiked Laguna De los Tres (Fitz Roy)
4Drove from El Chalten to El Calafate

El Chalten

Chalten is Argentina’s prime hiking destination, and with good reason. Hiking is the only thing to do in Chalten. Having almost no hiking experience, we were a little bit out of our element.

This 20-year-old town is an interesting place. It’s an international destination in the middle of nowhere. It reminded me of a ski resort to some extent but with skis and snowboards replaced with hiking poles and backpacks.

There are only about 1,000 permanent residents in Chalten, which was 950 more residents than it seemed like there would be. 

Oddly, the buildings on the main street’s architecture were Wild Wild West.

There are no traffic lights or stop signs in Chalten, and there’s only one way in and out of Chalten. You’ll find the only gas station (full service) on that road. 

Amenities are few and far between. There was a coffee shop (not that great), a wine bar (great), a couple of pubs and restaurants, and three mini-markets. 

Protip: Get your groceries (e.g., picnic lunch for the following day’s hike) before the après hike crowd returns to the town around 6pm!

B&Bs, apartment rentals, and hotels make up the bulk of the businesses in Chalten.

There is no internet service in Chalten, regardless of what you read.

Accommodation

We stayed at Los Cerros del Chaltén Boutique Hotel, and it was OK, all things considered.

Breakfast was the biggest negative of the hotel. On a trip like this, we would have liked a large breakfast to carry us through the hike to our picnic lunch, but the portions were small, and the selection was limited. A better breakfast option would have been empanadas from the hut across the road from the hotel.

Fun facts

First, the area of Patagonia that we were in was about the same latitude south as northern Europe is north. Why doesn’t snow stick around in northern Europe, and why doesn’t northern Europe experience intense winds?

It was explained to us that Patagonia is windy because the jet stream leaves Australia and gains speed and strength as it crosses the Pacific Ocean. Then it slams into South America and the Andes Mountains. 

Since there is no landmass between Australia and Chile to slow the wind, the wind hits the mountains (think of the mountain as a ski jump) with full force and pushes moisture up. The moisture freezes and falls back to the earth as snow. 

Second, Lago Viedma is approximately 50 miles long.

Third, Lago Argentino has a surface area of 546 sq miles.

What we’d do differently

First, we would do the two hikes in reverse order, hiking the longer and more difficult Laguna De los Tres (Fitz Roy), followed by Laguna Torre on our second day.

Second, we would have eaten takeaway empanadas for breakfast.

Eat and drink recommendations

Here are a few recommendations for Chalten.

Business nameTypeNotes
La VineríaWine bar
La Cervecería ChalténRestaurant
Che EmpanadaRestaurantTake-away empanadas, perfect for picnic lunches

The next post on Argentina is here.

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