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- 17 Jan 2021, 3 nights
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The Argentinian mountain town of El Chaltén is small but mighty. Since 1985 the town has been hosting those who feel the call of Patagonia's peaks – whether for a once-in-a-lifetime trek or a half-day hike to a viewpoint. You might be fooled by the well-developed infrastructure but don't forget this is an isolated pioneer town. Internet coverage is sparse, while between May and September when the sporting season ends, there's very little going on.
At hostels in El Chaltén you can drink in the high-ceilinged bar of a ranch or surrounded by cowboy heritage on a 100-year-old farm in the backcountry. There's also an El Chaltén hostel at the foot of the cliffs with its own café. Whichever you choose, you'll have the option of dorms or private rooms, some with en-suite bathrooms. Free breakfast is a bonus in many El Chaltén hostels, while others have a restaurant or communal kitchen.
Tiny El Chaltén is barely a kilometre long, so you'll soon know the whole place. Plaza Principal is at one end and here you'll find the first of a long string of bars and restaurants that run the length of Avenida San Martin. A short stroll south of Plaza Principal is the visitors' centre for Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Make a point of stopping by the centre for maps and information before heading into the mountains.
The activities around El Chaltén are all about the Patagonian mountains. Many hiking routes are accessible with reasonable fitness but for experienced hikers there are challenging multi-day trips. Conveniently, most trails start right outside town. You can hike to the base of Fitz Roy Mountain at Laguna de los Tres in a day (although many people do it over two). You could also do the easy hike to the cascading pools of Chorrillo del Salto. For post-walk refreshments, El Chaltén has microbreweries and local craft ales as well as good regional wines.
To get here, you can fly to Comandante Armando Tola International Airport (in El Calafate) from Buenos Aires or Ushuaia. From here regular buses leave for El Chaltén (a 3-hour journey), stopping at the Terminal de Ómnibus south of town. Book tickets in advance during peak season. Everywhere in El Chaltén is reachable by foot but if you're aiming for a trail further afield you can take a taxi or a shuttle bus to Lago del Desierto.