Trip Overview: 5 day/4 night trip hiking and exploring in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. We spent two nights in El Chalten and hiked to Laguna de Los Tres (13.6 miles, +/- 3,200 feet of elevation) and to Laguna Torre (12.6 miles, +/- 1,700 feet of elevation). Then, we spent two nights in El Calafate and explored around the Perito Moreno Glacier. Highlights included much of what Patagonia offers including: massive glaciers, dramatic mountain peaks, glacier fed lakes, and green forests. We completed this trip in late December 2017.
Permits and reservations: For the day hikes described in this post, no advanced permits are needed. In El Chalten, you do not even need to pay any entrance fees to hike in Los Glaciares National Park. When visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, there is a park entrance fee of 500 Argentine Pesos per person. When we visited the park in 2017, the fee needed to be paid in cash.
It is wise to book your accommodations in both El Chalten and El Calafate in advance. This can easily be done through tripadvisor, booking.com, or many other websites. While in El Chalten and El Calafate we stayed at small hosterias because we wanted a break from camping. If you wish to backpack along either of the El Chalten hikes described in the post or just want to camp to save money, there are three government run campsites in the area. The Laguna Capri and Poincenot campsites are along the Laguna de Los Trail and the D’Agostini campsite sits along the Laguna Torre Trail. These sites are free and require no reservation. More info can be found here.
Logistics: Before starting this trip, we were based in Puerto Natales, Chile. To get from Puerto Natales to El Calafate (Argentina), we took a bus. It is wise to book bus tickets in advanced during the summer months so that you have a reserved seat. This can be done online or in person at the bus station a day or two before you wish to leave. You could also drive a rental car from Puerto Natales to El Calafate (and then El Chalten), but keep in mind that you must cross the Chile-Argentina border, which can be a hassle (extra fees and forms are required). To get from El Calafate to El Chalten, we took another bus. Once in El Chalten, you should be able to walk to your accommodations because the town is quite small.
Alternatively, you can fly directly into El Calafate and then either rent a car or take the bus to El Chalten. Flights into El Calafate are typically expensive, but it simplifies your itinerary.
Supplies: We had a several hour wait between buses in El Calafate and used this time to get cash from an ATM. Various sources told us the ATMs in El Calafate are more reliable and more likely to have cash when compared to the ATM in El Chalten. Certainly your results may vary, but it is wise to grab some cash before arriving in El Chalten.
For food, there are markets in both El Chalten and El Calafate. There are are also several restaurants in both towns. Just keep in mind that not all establishments accept credit card.
We just did day hikes and thus did not need all of our backpacking gear. I did bring a daypack (Osprey Daylite Daypack) so that we could carry snacks and water. For snacks, I always like Clif Shot Bloks, which are easy to eat while hiking and provide a nice boost of energy. We also brought more typical lunch stuff like granola, fruit, and sandwiches. You also want to bring sunscreen, since there is high UV exposure in Patagonia. Given the relatively high winds, we did not need bug repellent.
For clothes, you want to bring different layers and you want a rain shell on the outside. The temperature can change quickly so having easy to take off and put on layers allows you to quickly adapt. On these hikes I wore a long sleeve hiking shirt as a base, then wore a lightweight down jacket, and used my rain shell as the final layer. You also want a beanie cap that will stay on your head in high winds and you may want some lightweight gloves. Here is a list of various layers I brought.
- Base layer hiking shirt (Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Long Sleeve Shirt)
- Lightweight down jacket (Eddie Bauer MicroTherm StormDown Jacket)
- Rain jacket (North Face Venture 2 Rain Jacket)
- Synthetic hiking pants (prAna Zion Pants)
- Wool hiking socks (People Socks merino wool crew socks)
- Thin base layer socks for blister prevention (WrightSock CoolMesh double layer socks)
- Beanie hat with ear flaps (Everest Designs Super Nova Earflap)
Day 1: Lots of time in buses… traveling from Puerto Natales, Chile to El Chalten, Argentina
On the first day, we started things out with a 7 hour bus ride from Puerto Natales to El Calafate. Our bus left the Puerto Natales bus station (located here) at 7:00 am and we arrived at the El Calafate bus station (located here) at ~2 pm. The ride was supposed to be only 5 hours long, but we had a long wait at the Chile-Argentina border and had several other unplanned short stops. If you booked your bus tickets in advance, I advise reserving the seats in the front of the top row. These seats give you a lot of leg room and have a great view out of the window at the front of the bus. It is also wise to build some flexibility into your schedule in case you have a longer anticipated bus ride like we did.
Our bus to El Chalten was not planned to leave until 6 pm, so we walked downtown to an ATM (located here) to take out enough cash for our trip and then grabbed some lunch. The downtown El Calafate area is a little over a mile west of the bus station. We walked there, but you can also grab a taxi from the bus station. The downtown is pretty touristy and there are plenty of restaurants and shops.
We then went back to the bus station and board our 6 pm bus to El Chalten. This bus ride took roughly 3.5 hours. The bus station in El Chalten is located here and is walking distance from most places in town. There is an ATM next to the bus station, but it can sometimes be out of cash or out of service (the internet is often down).
Both of these bus rides provided some great views of the varying terrain in Patagonia.
Day 2: 13.6 miles; +/- 3,200 feet of elevation; Hosteria El Pilar –> Laguna de Los Tres and Mount Fitz Roy –> El Chalten
For our first hike in El Chalten, we chose to do the Laguna de Los Tres hike, which leads to a great view point below the base of Mount Fitz Roy in Los Glaciares National Park. There are two popular routes to get to Laguna de Los Tres. The first is to hike directly from El Chalten to Laguna de Los Tres and back to El Chalten via the same trail. This hike works out to a little over 14 miles and the trailhead is located at the North end of El Chalten (here). The alternative, which we chose to do, is to take a hired taxi or shuttle from El Chalten to the Hosteria El Pilar (located ~6 miles Northeast of Laguna de Los Tres). The drive is ~10 miles and takes between 30-45 minutes. The benefit of starting at Hosteria El Pilar and ending at El Chalten is that you do not need to hike the same trail twice. The disadvantage is that you must arrange and pay for a ride to the Hosteria.
Both trails are very well marked and a guide is not needed. This is a popular trail, so leave early if you want any solitude. The trail can be particularly crowded in the afternoon, which can be frustrating when hiking the final climb up to Laguna de Los Tres. This last ~1 mile of trail is narrow and you often need to stop to let other hikers pass. If you leave early you can miss the crowd on the way up and only have to wait for people while descending. We left El Chalten in our shuttle at around 8 am and were starting the hike at 8:45 am. The hike took us around 7.5 hours including several breaks for photos and for lunch. We had great weather with clear skies and little wind. Overall this hike was really spectacular and the views of Mount Fitz Roy were great. The only downside was the crowds.
Day 3: 12.6 miles; +/- 1,700 feet of elevation; El Chalten –> Laguna Torre –> El Chalten
On our 2nd day in El Chalten, we hiked along the well-marked trail that leads to the Laguna Torre. The hike is a simple out and back and you reach the trailhead via a short walk from the center of El Chalten. Unfortunately, it was cloudy the day we hiked, so we were not able to catch a great view of Cerro Torre and the surrounding mountain. The hike was still beautiful, and we were able to see Laguna Torre and Glaciar Torre and Glaciar Grande behind it. Throughout this post I will include pictures of the hike taken by others, which show the view on clear days. On clear days, the view of the imposing Cerro Torre is quite impressive! You also can see the top of Mount Fitz Roy while on this trail.
Compared to the Laguna de Los Tres hike, the hike to Laguna Torre is much easier on your legs. The hike is a bit shorter and has much less elevation gain. We started the hike at 8 am and made it back to El Chalten around 2:30 pm.
After our hike, we headed to the La Cerveceria brew pub for some beer and appetizers (located here). The food was great and I highly recommend stopping by! After our snack, we checked out of our hotel and took a shared shuttle to El Calafate (~3 hrs). We checked into out hotel there and then grabbed a late dinner before going calling it a night.
Day 4: Perito Moreno Glaciar and boat trip through the Canal de los Tempanos and the Seno de Mayo
On our first full day in El Calafate, we decided do a boat tour of the area around the Perito Moreno Glacier. The boat traveled through the Canal de los Tempanos, stopped off at a couple viewpoints, and then drove up next to the face of the Perito Moreno Glacier. After that, we were dropped off at the visitor center and allowed to explore the observation deck at the Perito Moreno Glacier for ~1 hour. Then we had to get back on the boat to be driven back to the port where our shuttle was waiting.
Overall the experience was nice and it was great to see several different glaciers. Our main gripe was that we only had ~1 hour to explore the observation deck at the Perito Moreno Glacier. This was hardly enough time to walk along the face of the glacier and take pictures. In hindsight, we would have liked ~3 hours at the glacier. The observation deck is quite long, and you could easily walk a few miles if you covered it all. It is also very cool to just sit and watch the ice calve off the glacier and fall into the water! Either way, the Perito Moreno Glacier is a great sight and totally worth the a visit.
The drive from El Calafate to the Puerto Bandera (where the boat left from) was ~45 minutes long. There seemed to be several shuttles that picked everyone who was on the boat tour up from their hotel. If you are just going straight to the Perito Moreno Glacier observation deck from El Calafate, the drive is ~1 hour and 15 minutes. You park in a lower parking lot and then take a short shuttle ride up to the observation deck. There are food courts and bathrooms next to both the lower parking lot and the observation deck.
We then scrambled back to our boat and sped to port. We hopped in our shuttle and were brought back to El Calafate. Overall we really enjoyed the excursion!
Day 5: Travel back from El Calafate to Puerto Natales and then to Punta Arenas
On our last day, we had to take another long bus ride from El Calafateto Puerto Natales. Again, our bus took 7 hours instead of the planned 5 hours. Much of the wait took place at the Chile-Argentina border. When crossing into Chile, everyone on the bus was required to bring all their bags into the customs office and declare all food items. The customs agents were even x-raying bags to ensure everyone was properly declaring items.
Eventually we reach Puerto Natales. We had an hour wait and then hopped on another bus taking us to Punta Arenas (~3.5 hours), where we spent one night before heading home!
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Backpacking in Los Glaciares National Park:
You will also find the Huemul Circuit in El Chalten. This trek is a ~40 mile backpacking loop that provides some amazing views of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field. Some people say the scenery rivals that of the Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park. For a great description of the Huemul Circuit check out this post.