The small modern town of El Chaltén is set in a wonderful position at the foot of Cerro Fitz Roy and at the mouth of the valley of the Río de las Vueltas. The village was founded very recently, in 1985, in order to settle the area and pre-empt Chilean territorial claims. However, it has grown very rapidly, along with its popularity as a
centre for trekking and climbing in summer,
and for cross-country skiing in winter. It can be expensive and not particularly attractive
place, especially when the harsh wind blows.
But its visitors create a cheerful atmosphere,
there are some great bars and from its concrete and tin you can walk directly into breathtaking landscapes.
There is a small chapel, the
, named after an Austrian climber killed on Fitz Roy and built entirely from materials brought from Austria. The main attraction here is clearly the trekking around Fitz Roy or Torre cordons. But there is also stunning virgin landscape to explore around the
, 37 km north of El Chaltén. The long skinny lake is fjord-like, surrounded by forests, and a short walk to a mirador at the end of the road gives fine views. It's reached by unpaved Route 23, which leads along the Río de las Vueltas via
, where flamingos can be seen. A path runs along the east side of the lake to its northern tip, from where a trail leads west along the valley of the Río Diablo to Laguna Diablo. There is also the possibility to walk to Chile (border control at the Gendarmería, only open November to April) in two hours. From the border, it's another 15 km to
Puesto Candelario Mancilla
on Lago O'Higgins, where boats cross to Bahía Bahamóndez (three hours), about 7 km from Villa O'Higgins, on the Chilean Carretera Austral. There is a campsite at the southern end of Lago del Desierto, and
at its northern end and at Laguna Diablo. The
is the best place to stay on the way to the lake, it's in a stunning position and has views of Fitz Roy. Visit for tea
and use it as an excellent base for trekking up Río Blanco or Río Eléctrico, with a multi-activity
adventure circuit. Highly recommended. Contact
for trekking circuits that connect Lago Viedma and Lago San Martín. Lago Viedma to the south of El Chaltén can also be explored by boat. The trips usually pass Glaciar Viedma, with the possibility of ice trekking too.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF