El Chaltén (population about 500) is 220 kilometers northwest of El Calafate via eastbound Ruta Provincial 11 to the Río Bote junction, northbound Ruta Nacional 40, and westbound Ruta Provincial 23 along Lago Viedma’s north shore.
Billing itself as “Capital Nacional del Trekking,” Argentina’s national trekking capital, El Chaltén has become popular for easy access to Fitz Roy range trailheads. While many of the trails are suitable for overnight backpacks, access is so good that day hikers can cover nearly as much ground.
Exposed to fierce westerly winds and to potential floods from the Río de las Vueltas, El Chaltén has still managed to achieve a sense of permanence in what, just a few years ago, seemed a bleak assortment of government offices aimed to uphold Argentina’s presence in a then disputed border zone (the last territorial quarrel with Chile, over Lago del Desierto to the north, was settled a few years ago).
With the highway from the Ruta Nacional 40 junction recently paved, it’s growing so rapidly that some worry it will become the next El Calafate, where real estate development (and speculation) are rampant. When the rest of the Ruta Nacional 40 link is paved, travel time from El Calafate will fall from about five hours to less than four.
Local events include October 12’s Aniversario de El Chaltén, marking the town’s 1985 founding; November 10’s Día de la Tradición, celebrating the gaucho heritage; and early February’s weeklong Fiesta Nacional del Trekking.
Several companies connect El Chaltén with El Calafate (US$14, 4.5 hours): Cal Tur (San Martín s/n, tel. 02962/493062), Chaltén Travel (San Martín s/n, tel. 02962/493005), and Taqsa (Halvorsen and Río de las Vueltas, tel. 02962/493211). Departures are usually in late afternoon, between 5 and 6 p.m. There are several buses daily in summer, but only about one daily in winter.
With Chaltén Travel or Taqsa, it’s possible to travel north on Ruta Nacional 40 to the towns of Perito Moreno and Los Antiguos (the border crossing for Chile Chico, US$55 pp, 13 hours). Chaltén Travel leaves El Calafate on alternate days in summer. The rest of the year, there may be only one bus weekly. Taqsa goes daily, but also has fewer frequencies the rest of the year.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition