Looking for a guide on how to get the most out of your 3 days in El Chalten? When we visited, we learned a lot about this small hiking town and we’ve crafted the best El Chalten itinerary for you!
No matter where you do your research, if you look up the town of El Chalten, you’ll likely see that it is often called the Trekking or Hiking Capital of Argentina. We couldn’t think of a better way to describe this place because of the vast number of hiking trails available from this super small town.
And when we say super small town, we mean it….it’s estimated that there are only about 400 people who live here year-round! The official El Chaltén website refers to it as a “Tourist Village”.
Short on Time? Here are the key takeaways:
- El Chalten is very small and walking around town is super easy – you don’t need a car and can get there via bus
- There are over 25 trailheads from town, but the most popular ones are Mt Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre
- Bring a lot of cash with you as the ATMs can run out of money and not all places take cards
- You can RENT hiking equipment (i.e. trekking poles, camping gear, etc.) in town
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Best Time to visit El Chalten
The ideal time to visit El Chalten is from late September to early April, which is during their Spring and Summer months.
While the peak season falls between December and February, which is peak summer, it’s important to note that Patagonia’s weather remains highly unpredictable throughout the year.
We visited in March and we got VERY lucky with the weather for 2 of the 3 days we were visiting.
How El Chaltén Got Its Name
When you’re in El Chaltén, one of the things that you’ll notice is the fact that the peak of Mount Fitz Roy is almost always visible from town (even out your living room window).
Another thing you’ll notice is that the peak of Mount Fitz Roy is almost always covered by clouds (unless you’re SUPER lucky like us! We had several hours with no clouds).
Well, as it turns out, long before the tourists and backpackers arrived in El Chaltén, the Tehuelche Indians confused those clouds for smoke and thought Mount Fitz Roy was actually a volcano.
Hence, they named the peak Chaltén, which literally means “smoking mountain”. It wasn’t until the late 1870s that Mount Fitz Roy got its current name.
Getting to El Chalten
If your schedule requires it, you can even get here from Chile too. The bus ride should cost you around $30 each way per person.
Make sure you stay awake during the ride too, as you’ll get a glimpse of Mount Fitz Roy off in the distance. We caught a mid-afternoon bus and were riding up there at sunset. The views were unbelievable, even if it was from a bus window!
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for wildlife on the ride in too. You’ll also see all sorts of animals along the way, including the guanacos, a close relative of the llama.
The bus station in El Chalten is literally at the very beginning of town. Depending on how much gear you have, you can probably walk to just about anywhere that you are staying because of how small the town is.
We arrived just after sunset and the town was safe and quiet as we walked about 15 minutes to our lodging.
Where to stay for 3 days in El Chalten
Booking.com probably has the widest selection of budget (and luxury) accommodations in the world. In our experience, they consistently have the cheapest rooms.
We also like their easy-to-use interface and no money down policy. When we book our travel stays, we personally use booking.com.
Hotels in El Chalten
As previously mentioned, El Chalten is SMALL (less than 1 mile / 1.5 km from end to end) and you can walk from one side of town to the other in about 15 minutes. We stayed in an Airbnb, but scoped out some hotels we’d like to stay at when we return.
1. High-End: Los Cerros del Chalten Boutique Hotel
>>>Check Prices or Book your stay at Los Cerros del Chalten Boutique Hotel
You can easily see this hotel as it’s perched on a hill and looks super new from the outside. As the higher-end luxury option, you can expect a private bathroom with tub, free wifi and a mini-bar in your room. On-site amenities include a restaurant, bar and a tour desk. Given it’s hilltop location, you can opt for a mountain view or city view room which are going to be incredible either way.
2. Mid-Range: Hotel Poincenot
>>>Check Prices or Book your stay at Hotel Poincenot
If you want to be close to all the action, Hotel Poincenot is located on the “bustling” San Martin street which is where the majority of restaurants and bars are located. In addition to its prime location, the rooms have a modern design and include free breakfast, wifi and private bathroom.
3. Budget-Friendly: Hotel Lago del Desierto
Hotel Lago del Desierto is an adults-only accommodation with a shared lounge and a restaurant. A bit on the “outskirts” of town (remember it’s not that big), each room has a private bathroom with a shower, free toiletries, free WiFi and free continental breakfast.
If none of those tickle your fancy for your 3 days in El Chalten, check out all the accommodations here.
El Chaltén definitely has more tourists than it does residents, so accommodations are aplenty on AirBnb.
If you’re coming during the busy summer months, make sure you book well in advance or you might end up paying more than you wanted. Hostels were everywhere too if you end up looking for a last minute stay.
We booked a place on AirBnb called Aires del Fitz, which was right off of main street #2 from above, José Antonio Rojo, and was very close to the trailhead for Cerro Torre.
Again, with the size of this town, and how close all of the trailheads are to town, you can’t really go wrong in terms of location. Do your research, read some reviews, pick a place, and go with the flow. For what it’s worth, we highly recommend the place we stayed. Super friendly host (she spoke English, too) and a great location!
Things to know before you go
There was a lot of mis-information we found when we were researching and wanted to make sure you knew these things before you go:
We’ve already mentioned a couple of times about how small this town is, so naturally, walking is going to be your main mode of transportation. It really is the best way to get around and make sure you can hit all of the spots along the streets.
But, if you’re too tired from a day of hiking, or if it’s 6AM and raining sideways because of the 50 mph (80 km/h) winds and you have to get to the bus station that is a 15-minute walk away with all your bags (*true story*), you can find a taxi.
Given our early morning situation, we looked up taxis in El Chaltén and used WhatsApp to contact the first one on the list, Remis Keoken. Thankfully, we had a strong enough WiFi connection (before everyone was awake and online) to send a message for them to come and save the day for us!
Hailing a taxi at a more normal hour and in less intense weather conditions would likely be a little less harrowing!
There is definitely a language barrier here if you don’t know any Spanish. We were able to get by with some very basic terminology and hand gestures (and some friendly locals who spoke English), but we’d definitely recommend knowing at least some of the basics and/or having a translating app that works offline (read about the wifi below).
Something we read about El Chalten is the fact that nobody takes credit cards and that you must have enough cash to last you before arriving in town because of the inconsistent ATMs. A few things:
- If you run out of cash while here, you won’t go hungry. We saw some restaurants, bars, and markets that were taking credit cards, while some only took cash. Just make sure you ask before you sit down and order.
- We only know of two ATMs in town, one at the bus terminal and one at the bank. We had enough cash to last us through our time in town, but we have heard that they can run out of cash on the weekends, especially during busy season. There is also an ATM at the bus station in El Calafate, so plan accordingly.
- If you have US dollars or Euros, we did see various places that advertised money exchange services (hotels/ hostels/ bars/ restaurants) at pretty attractive rates! So even if the ATM is out of cash (or if you don’t want to pay the ATM fees), you should be able to get some pesos.
You can find everything you need in town
Although you may read elsewhere that amenities are sparse here due to El Chalten’s isolation from everything, we were able to find anything we really needed, and at reasonable prices too.
When we were out hopping around town, we saw cleaners/laundry services, a couple of supermarkets, spas, souvenir shops, at least 6 rental shops, corner stores, breweries, tons of restaurants, and on and on.
Our point being, El Chalten didn’t feel as isolated as it was geographically.
WiFi / Connectivity
However, one thing that did make the town feel isolated was the WiFi connection. Our AirBnb host explained that the signal is fully reliant on satellite (no hard-wiring), so speeds are drastically reduced compared to what you are used to.
Uploading to social media was a joke, refreshing your IG was frustrating, and Facebook worked mildly at best…..and to think we survived the dial-up era!
Our recommendation: use this time to unplug and enjoy the fact that you can’t be reached for your 3 days in El Chalten!
Ok, let’s get on to what to do in El Chalten for 3 days!
If you’ve made it to El Chalten, chances are you’ll be hiking, climbing, and/or camping.
This small mountain village is the perfect basecamp for both of these hikes, as well as dozens of other trails, and the first thing we did was grab some gear in town.
Renting Hiking / Camping Equipment
Prior to arriving, we had trouble finding any information on equipment rental shops in El Chaltén. However, rest assured, there are at least 6 rental shops in town.
We went to Patagonia Hikes for trekking poles. We found it to be cheaper to rent in town than travel with trekking poles from the U.S. For us, it made sense so just check with them for their prices before you buy / fly with them.
Now that you’ve got your gear, it’s time to explore downtown so you can make the most of your 3 days in El Chalten by getting to know the lay of the land.
For being such a tiny town/village, El Chalten sure does have a lot going on. There are really only three main streets in town where all of the action happens (bars, restaurants, markets). Everything else is just houses, hostels, hotels, Airbnb’s, etc.
Leaving the bus station, you’ll walk up Miguel Martín de Güemes (main street #1) where there is a variety of shops and restaurants.
Once you reach the end of this short 4-block street, you can go left or right. Go left and the first street will be José Antonio Rojo (main street #2) where you can find restaurants, a brewery, a rental shop, and even a massage parlor.
Go right and you’ll find the busiest road in town, San Martín (main street #3).
This is where you will find the bulk of the restaurants and bars and where we did most of our bar-hopping!
Lunch at La Nieve (Tacos And Beer)
In the midst of bar-hopping / exploring the downtown area, we stopped at La Nieve, right next to the Chaltén Suites hotel.
We purchased some made-to-order tacos and an Argentinian beer, a red ale from Cervecería Andes.
We can’t find much about La Nieve online, but damn if those weren’t some good tacos and beer! Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was the tacos, but we dare say they are in the top 10 of our “Most Epicly Delicious Tacos Ever Eaten” category!!
Also, they do box lunches….more expensive and offered a little less than the bakery we went to (see below), but the sandwiches looked hardier.
Mate at Mathilda
While in town, or at least while you’re in Argentina, make sure you try the national drink of Argentina, mate (pronounced “mah-tay”). We tried our mate at Mathilda, a small coffee and tea house along San Martín, but you can likely find this drink just about anywhere.
Mate is a caffeine-rich drink (sorry, it’s not alcoholic) that is just like hot tea, although it is consumed quite differently than you might imagine. First, pour a little bit of hot water over the container of yerba mate leaves and drink from the metal straw, called a bombilla.
You do this little by little until you are done (Warning: be careful not to burn the top of your mouth like Samantha did!). It’s a huge cultural thing in Argentina, so if you see people carrying around large metal thermoses, you can bet it’s their hot water for their mate. Read more about mate here.
Pick up lunch for hiking tomorrow
If you are going to be hiking, you are going to need a lunch of some sort to get you through the long day. Well, lucky for you, many of the bakeries around town do boxed lunches.
We stopped at “Lo de Haydee” Panaderia y Cafeteria, which is right next to the Patagonia Hikes rental shop, where they were selling boxed lunches for $280 ARS (about $7 USD).
The lunch came with a large ham and cheese sandwich, a spinach empanada, an apple, a cereal bar, a bottle of water, a juice box, and an alfajor for dessert. A pretty great deal for all that food and more than enough for our hike!
Dinner at Maffia Trattoria
At the suggestion of our Airbnb host, and right down the road from our place, we tried La Tapera on our first night at about 9PM. Much to our dismay (but a very good sign of the food), it was slam-packed busy and there was a long wait for a table. If you feel like waiting, you can order a bottle of wine or drinks from the bar and sit outside while you wait.
After a long day and not wanting to wait, we ended up at another highly popular place called Maffia Trattoria. Luckily, we were seated almost right away at a shared table (with other people) and got to work on deciding on dinner.
Pick your pasta and then pick your sauce, or pick one of their suggested combinations.
Samantha had the mushroom ravioli and Chris had the spinach fettuccine with carbonara. Both delicious and the perfect carb-loaded meal for our hike the next day!
A pretty extensive wine list here too, but we just stuck with their red table wine, a Malbec of course.
Day 2 in El Chalten
Mt Fitz Roy
In our humble opinions, Mount Fitz Roy is arguably one of the most heavenly and beautiful hikes in Patagonia, Argentina. The photos above aren’t edited. It’s just that beautiful.
Depending on your current level of athleticism, this is a solid day hike. We HIGHLY suggest starting as early as possible so you can take advantage of the changing colors as the sun rises.
We wrote a complete kilometer-by-kilometer guide for this hike so you can know what to expect. Click here to read our complete guide to Mt Fitz Roy.
In short, it took our out-of-shape/maybe-should-have-skipped-that-last-beer bodies almost all day to do this hike. By the time we got back to town, we showered and somehow mustered up the strength to go out to dinner.
Make sure you pick up another lunch on your way out too. We went back to the same bakery for our lunches for day 3.
Dinner at La Tapera
On night 2, and after our long hike up and down Fitz Roy, it was time to recharge and refuel. La Tapera opens for dinner at 6 PM and we arrived shortly after opening. We sat down, ordered a bottle of Malbec, and then ordered two steaks.
Having not yet had steak while in Argentina, the Lomo steak (tenderloin) and the bife de chorizo (think sirloin, not Mexican sausage) were a sight for sore eyes and were devoured!
These were full plates of food with sides and homemade bread, too! The marinated eggplant appetizer was a great starter as well.
After dinner was over, and while we were paying our bill, the waitress came by with a bottle of homemade liquor (some sort of honey flavor) and let us each try it. That, too, was delicious!
If only all restaurants did this when paying your bill….La Tapera was a little more pricey than some of the other places in town, but definitely worth the visit.
Day 3 in El Chalten
Cerro Torre Hike
Similar to Mt Fitz Roy, we highly suggest waking up early to start this hike. We would argue with you that this hike should be done AFTER you hike to Fitz Roy because it’s shorter and not as much elevation gain.
Ultimately, depending on your weather, you could flip flop the hikes and do Cerro Torre first as a “warm-up” hike.
We also have a complete guide for this hike so if you want to know more, click here to read about Cerro Torre.
Brewery Hopping in El Chalten
We managed not to spend all day on this hike so we spent a few hours (responsibly) bar hopping around town. If you are from the U.S., don’t expect the breweries we have in the states.
Most bars here brew their own small batch beers and all are unique and delicious.
Dinner – Takeaway at El Parador Comida Para Llevar
Once it was time for actual dinner, we made our way up the main drag to El Parador Comida Para Llevar. This might have been one of the smallest restaurants we’ve ever been inside – there were 6 tables, none of which were available when we were there.
Not willing to wait, we placed a to-go order to take back to our Airbnb. We didn’t know this at the time, but the name of this place literally means “The Parador Meal Takeaway”…..that small dining room makes a LOT more sense now! Yes, we know we need to brush up on our Spanish.
We ordered the tagliatelle pasta and some of the most delicious empanadas we had on our trip, and we had a lot of them! If you manage to get a table, it’s definitely worth the wait, but if not, it was an incredible meal even at our temporary home.
Overall – 3 days in El Chatlen
El Chalten is a must-visit, adorable basecamp for hikers, climbers, and campers in the Patagonia region. We wish we had more than 3 days in El Chalten as there were so many more hikes we’d have loved to do.
If you aren’t on a strict time-schedule, plan on being here 4-6 days to maximize your good weather days. The weather is unpredictable here, so you are at the mercy of Mother Nature for if you’ll be able to hike. We were very lucky with the weather being good both days we were in town and had hikes planned.
Even if you aren’t a hiker, there are various day hikes for beginners that you can do. We’ll say it again; we wish we had more time here.
The town has a great positive atmosphere and we would have liked to explore more trails during the day. Overall, everyone was very friendly and helpful. The food was good and the beer was great. We met and mingled with several hikers in the bars and everyone we met was excellent.
Psst! Looking for more Argentina guides? We have a bunch. Browse our Argentina guide here.