On the last full day in El Calafete we were deciding between 2 possible hiking trips.

  1. Torres del Paine, Chile
  2. El Chalten, Argentina

After checking out some tour operators We decided on El Chalten as:

  1. Shorter bus ride
  2. No immigration hassle of crossing into Chile
  3. Cheaper trip
  4. Comparable scenery (unless you actually hike the prime multi-day trek)

We only had a day to spare and my friend wasn’t too keen on the more rigorous hikes (Torres del Paine takes 5 days for the basic circuit). I was just looking for a hike in the woods with some fresh mountain air.

The scenery of both areas seem reasonably comparable on 1st glance:

Torres Del Paine, Chile

Fritz Roy El Chalten, Argentina

Getting there

We bought a return-bus ticket to El Chalten for the following morning at 6am. We’d reach the town by about 11am. As we were due to fly out to Salta the next day I booked the the return bus for the same day.

The bus departed in the pitch black darkness of the early morning from the main bus terminal at El Calafete. A handful of backpackers boarded the coach before it departed.

The rest-stop looked like a watering hole out of the Wild West with a wood stove and posters paying homage to Butch Cassidy & the Sundance kid, American outlaws who fled to Patagonia in the late 1890s. Although the actual site of the duo was elsewhere.

The terrain we passed was mostly flat with vegetation no higher than a bush (most of Patagonia resembles this). But we did eventually see some of Andean mountains peak out in the distance.

El Chalten town

The town was even smaller than El Calafete without much activity, save for some hikers heading out on their trails.

We were briefed by the park rangers on the available trails and estimated difficulty. Some of the bus passengers planned to camp overnight on their trails but we opted for the shorter and reasonably scenic Laguna de Capri trail which was rated of beginner difficulty and estimated at 4 hours return. The bus would leave at 6pm so this offered a reasonable buffer for this hike.

The trail started at other end of town so we walked along the road for about 20 minutes till we reached the park entrance.

The hike

The ground was still a bit frosty as the morning sun hadn’t quite warmed the earth, but the trail was relatively well maintained which goes to show that El Chalten truely must be the hikers mecca of Patagonia.

The forest was mostly silent save for a handful of birds one of which was a woodpecker (well appeared to be so from the distance), which was drilling into a tree bark high above us.

Río De las Vueltas

A thin string of silvery streams cut through the plains below.

This was the Río De las Vueltas (River of the Bends), the 1st viewpoint on the trail.

We left the shaded tree cover of the forest into the exposed hill trail with bright sun above us. The cold morning air gradually warmed up under the harsh sun.

The granite peaks of fritz roy which peeked over the hillside served as an incentive to spurn us onwards over the inclined hillside.

A few trekkers passed by on the narrow trail carved along the steep hillside.

There were a few trail markers along to the route to chart our progress.

After we crossed over the hill ridge we returned to the shade of the forest and a fork in the trail. Some of the hardier trekkers continued to the longer fritz roy hike but we proceeded along on more pragmatic route.

Laguna Capri

After about 4 hours of trekking we finally reached our destination: Laguna Capri

After settling down on some nearby logs (avoiding the areas demarkeded as restricted) for a quick lunch of sandwiches my co-traveller encountered a small Patagonian mouse which stood on two feet.

It looked very similar to this</a> one

We then proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes exploring the area for the best photo spots.

The rush for the bus

We then hastily made our way back to the El Chalten by retracing the route we took in. A more exciting route would have been available had it not been for our same-day return to El Calafete. But We’d taken a bit longer on this route than predicted so we made haste on the walk back passing the same scenery we’d seen in the morning trek-in.

Upon entering the El Chalten town you’re greeted by large wooden scupltures celebrating the town’s hiking culture.

By the time we arrived in El Chalten, the sun and the exersion of the hike had warmed me to a sweaty state and in need of a shower. (The uniqlo heattech thermal innerwear was too effective at the end of a hike). We arrived about 40 minutes early and loitered about the bus terminal cafe which was very warm by this time.

A metal condor greets travellers at the bus terminal.

A Bus ride into the dusk

The bus departed on schedule and into the looming dusk. I quite hot and sweaty after the hike and was looking forward to nice shower at hotel.


This was a hike that required a very moderate level of fitness and though there were more impressive hikes available in the El Chalten area you need to consider:

  1. Length of Hike
  2. Need for overnight camping

The most scenic hikes require that you camp overnight or you return late enough that you need to spend a night in El Chalten (plenty of accommodation around) so you need to be well prepared for the expedition. Our choice of hike was restricted by our schedule (return bus in particular), but I think we took in the most of the landscape and fresh air for the limited time available. If you have a few days to spare and like hiking I recommend staying in El Chalten and exploring the major trails available. I doubt you’d be disappointed.