Argentina’s Hiking Capital: El Chaltén & Monte Fitz Roy

Last revised on September 18, 2018.

Previous Post: Southern Patagonia- Hiking Adventure At The End Of The World!

the beginning of the Rio Electrico Trail on the north side of Monte Fitz Roy

Hoping to escape the predicted one week of mostly rain on the Chilean side that would mean a very wet Torres del Paine Circuit, I was encouraged by the very positive weather forecast for Fitz Roy – an eight-hour bus ride away on the Argentinian side.  I left Puerto Natales at about 5:00 p.m. and by 9:30 the next morning, after overnighting in El Calafate,  was approaching El Chaltén, the village that sits at the foot of Monte Fitz Roy at the north end of Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina’s single-biggest wilderness preserve).

Argentina's Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in southern Patagonia

Argentina’s Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in southern Patagonia – see here for a more detailed map

As the second image below indicates, the sky was showing lots of blue as I arrived in El Chalten!  Unfortunately, the Fitz Roy whose weather I had checked out was that of a town near the Atlantic coast about 500 km. ENE from El Chaltén. My own Homer Simpson Doh moment! See here for the visuals!

In the end, of the four days I would spend there, it rained off and on for two of them. Expect grey skies in what follows! (Click on the link at the top of the page if you want to read the first post of this series on Patagonia before proceeding!)


the road into El Chaltén with Cerro Poincenot (3002m)  and Monte Fitz Roy (3405m) behind

One of the benefits of taking the 7:00 a.m. bus to El Chaltén from El Calafate is that you are one of the first to arrive in the village that day; finding a room was very easy. I ended up at a place called Guanaca which had two or three rooms on the second floor of the building you see below. There was a restaurant on the first floor but it was not open during the time I was there.

my room in El Chaltén- on the second floor of the building which also included a restaurant

The village has a number of restaurants and grocery stores where you can find stuff for your hikes.  Given the nature of the trails, you can quite easily use the village as your base and return to it at the end of each day’s hiking.  I dumped my things in my $50. a night room and by 11:00 a.m. was on my way for my first hike – 60 hours after having left Toronto.   I decided that a walk up to Laguna Torre would make an excellent first walk.  The map below sets out the trails of the little hiking world of Monte Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.

The walk up took about 2 1/2 hours; “overcast” was the operative word for the weather.

El Chaltén from the hiking trail to Laguna Torre and Cerro Torre

Fitz Roy map with hiking trails

approaching Cerro Torre on the trail from El Chaltén- landscape orientation

approaching Cerro Torre – portrait orientation

you take what you get – Laguna Torre in the mist on an overcast day 

Walking back down to the left of the Rio Fitz Roy to the village took a couple of hours.  Along the way, I met a retired postman from Toronto and we chatted most of the way.  We’d later share a table at the local pizzeria, where I was able to find vegetarian fuel after a busy day.

Resto Patagonicus- my “postie” fellow-hiker scanning the menu! Great pizzas!

The next day – rain almost without stop. I was happy to have the room and not being stuck in my very small ultralight tent at the de Agostini campsite by Laguna Torre – which had been the original plan.

I also came up with Plan B to deal with the rain; I would book a room for the next night at the Hosteria El Pilar about seventeen kilometers north of  El Chaltén and use it as my base camp for a day’s exploration of the Rio Electrico area. The following morning I would leave El Pilar, walk up to Laguna de Los Tres, and then back to El Chaltén to pick up the stuff I had left behind at Guanaca- and catch the evening bus back to El Calafate.

In the meanwhile, I had a day to spend in El Chaltén. To no great surprise, there is really not much to do. Do not go there for the party vibe!  I did get to walk around a rather ramshackle village that could use some by-law enforcement when it comes to buildings and building placement.

side street in the boomtown of El Chalten

Free wifi was available at one of the restaurants so I went there to make a reservation for a room at Hosteria El Pilar.  Yes, they did have a room. Yes, they could offer a special price! $100. U.S. Ouch!  But what are you going to do?  Morning came and the weather looked promising –

what I looked at while waiting for the mini-van to El Pilar

The road to Hosteria El Pilar is the one that goes up to Lago del Desierto; it follows the west side of the Rio de Las Vueltas.  Just before we reached the bridge to cross the Rio Blanco we turned off onto a side road which took us to the hosteria parking lot.  It’s 17 km. from El Chalten to the cozy and isolated former estancia. While a room there is not cheap, in the grand scheme of things it was worth it.  I dropped my bag off in my room and set off on my walk of the day up the Piedra del Fraile/Rio Electrico trail almost all the way to the west end of the Lago Electrico.

the road north to Hosteria El Pilar from El Chalten

on my way to Hosteria El Pilar – a promise of a sunnier day?

a wing of the Hosteria El Pilar- my base camp for a night!

hiking trail from Hosteria El Pilar starts here- that is the bridge over the Rio Electrico

the trail to Piedra del Fraile and  Rio Electrico from the road

the stretch of the trail on the way to Piedra del Fraile- through lenga and hires

the North Face of Monte Fitz Roy before it disappeared completely for the day

The hike is definitely worthwhile, especially after you pass through the gate at Piedra del Fraile. There is a campground (Refugio Los Troncos) there with a small restaurant that would have been a much cheaper alternative to staying at El Pilar.  It is here that you can start a rather steep climb to the top of Cerro Electrico for some great views of the NF of Fitz Roy on a clear day.

I opted to go beyond the hut and down onto the moraine of el Glaciar Marconi. (I should mention that you have to pay a small fee- it may have been $5.- to go beyond the hut. You are entering the private property of Estancia Ricanor now.)   At this point the views from the north side of Monte Fitz Roy as you walk along the south side of the Rio Electrico are superb. Walking up the side of the river I reached almost the end of the Lago and saw a tent on the western shore at a site known as La Playita; whoever was there had gone hiking a bit further for the day.  Perhaps they had walked up to the toe of el Glaciar Marconi. (One additional point- I am not sure if camping at the site is  allowed- but a tent was there!)

Had the weather been better (or had I been a bit more adventurous!) I would have been walking up with a full pack too and setting up a two-day base camp. What a fabulous location!  It is here I felt most in the mountains and there was no one else here.  It is the biggest regret of my visit that I did not camp- but the weather had gotten to me!

looking up to the Laguna above Rio Electrico

one last look at the back side of Monte Fitz Roy from Rio Electrico

clouds move in on Rio Electrico

Back at El Pilar after a great day of walking, it was time for a nice hot shower and then an excellent meal in the dining room.  The free wifi was an unexpected bonus and allowed me to do some online research and send out some emails- including one to a hotel in El Calafate, where I would be stopping on the way back from El Chaltén late the next day.

the dining room at Hosteria El Pilar- quite the  contrast to the surroundings

the cozy sitting area next to the dining room at El Pilar

the view from my room at Hosteria El Pilar

It was raining the next morning as I slipped my fairly light pack onto my shoulders. (I had left most of my stuff down in El Chalten to be picked up on the way to the bus station.) The plan for the day was to walk to Laguna de Los Tres from El Pilar and then return to the village in time for the bus for El Calafate at 8:00 p.m. I’d be walking about 20 km. or so.

trail marker shortly after leaving El Pilar for Laguna de Los Tres

section of the trail on a rainy day

looking towards Fitz Roy from the trail on the other side of the Rio Blanco

on the trail up to Poincenot campgrounds and Laguna de Los Tres

the Poincenot camp at the foot of the final climb to Laguna Los Tres

Poincenot campsite instructions

the bridge over the beginnings of the Rio Blanco

I knew the views would not be that great if I continued to Laguna de Los Tres but having walked this far, it seemed silly to turn back so over the bridge in the above picture I went. Past the Rio Blanco mountaineers’ shelter, the trail continues for another hour or so to the small glacial lake at the foot of Monte Fitz Roy.

In the shelter (basically a wooden shed with benches and a table) was the French couple from El Pilar; they were with the guide they had hired for the walk. I exchanged “bon jours” with them and noticed the guide had the same Mountain Equipment Co-op pack I had. “Nice pack!” I said and we laughed. It turns out he had been in Calgary (there’s a MEC store there) and had done some mountain climbing with Yamnuska and Barry Blanchard. “I’ve climbed with Barry!” I said. We both had to laugh again at the unlikelihood of it all.

It was great to be up there- overcast or not!

looking south from the moraine on the way to Laguna Los Tres – visible are Laguna Madre,  Laguna Hija, and Laguna Capri-  and that is Lago Viedma way off in the distance

Laguna de Los Tres with Monte Fitz Roy somewhere in the mist behind it.  May you have better luck with the weather!

Then came the easy walk back to the village to catch the bus.  I could have stayed another day but having already spent a rainy day in the village, there was really nothing more to see. As you come to the end of the trail to El Chaltén you pass this sign meant for folks going the other way. My day’s walk south along the Rio Blanco from El Pilar and then up to Fitz Roy is easy to see on the map.

the beginning of the trail to Laguna de Los Tres from El Chaltén

my best shot of Monte Fitz Roy- the El Chalten bus station mural!

Once in El Calafate at around 10:30 I found my way to my hotel, thinking my stay would be a very short one, as I hoped to catch the bus at 8:00 the next morning back to Puerto Natales.

However, when I showed up at 7:00 a.m. the next morning at the ticket counter I was told that all the seats on the one bus going that day were sold.  I did wait until the bus left, hoping that someone would not show up to claim their seat.  No such luck!

6:45 a.m. and I am leaving the hotel for the bus station- I would be returning!

riders picking up their tickets for the Puerto Natales bus- that’s my red duffel waiting!

So – and this was actually not a bad thing – I had a day to look around El Calafate, which sits on the southern shores of Lago Argentina and serves as a tourist hub for people going to see the Moreno Glacier (80 km. west) and up north to Monte Fitz Roy.

Near the town is the region’s only airport that handles flights from Buenos Aires and elsewhere. The main street makes for a nice stroll and I did visit a regional museum with interesting recreations of Argentine history as it relates to Patagonia – as the following pix show.

Perito Moreno statue at the entrance of the Parque Nacional Glaciares on San Martin

Moreno pointing to a map with mini-Argentine flags on it

Perhaps he’s pointing at the islands off the coast! Ah – the Falklands! 

There is really not a lot to do in El Calafate.  One thing I would recommend is walking over to the Laguna Nimez Nature Reserve on the edge of town.  It is a wetland area with abundant bird life and walking its trails at dusk was a nice way to spend an hour or so. Given nearby road construction and development, I am guessing that in ten years it will no longer exist.  On the walk back to the main street I passed this ramshackle property from Patagonia’s past, from the time it became the weekend retreat of wealthy politicos from Buenos Aires.

a ramshackle reminder of the old El Calafate on the edge of the new tourist town

Just an observation- nowhere in El Chalten (founded in 1985) or El Calafate (founded in 1926) did I see dominant church architecture.  Instead, the main buildings in these towns, built as they were after the great age of religion, tend to be civic structures.  This contrasted with the two towns I visited on the Chilean side, Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, with their impressive churches right on the central squares.

wetlands- and bird sanctuary not far from the shores of Lago Argentina

the foundations of a new highway being built over the wetlands near the lakeshore

entrance to a restaurant serving fine vegetarian food – always nice to find in the land of gauchos!

I caught a bus back to Chile and Puerto Natales the next morning.  The on-and-off-again rain during my five days in Argentina meant that things did not unfold quite the way I had wanted.  I did no camping at all, reluctant to put up my very small tent in the rain. Instead, I had used a room in El Chalten and then at El Pilar from which to start and end my walks.

Is Fitz Roy Worth The Time To Get There?

To be honest, I came back somewhat soured on Fitz Roy as a destination and would initially roll my eyes whenever someone used the words “spectacular” or “jaw-dropping” to describe what Fitz Roy has to offer.  I have mellowed in time and looking at these images reminds me of some of the stunning scenery I got to experience, even if it was overcast and a bit foggy.

In the end, I would still not put Fitz Roy on the same level as anything the area around Huaraz in Peru has to offer.  What you will find in Peru are treks and climbs in the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Huayhuash.  Next to the Himalayas, this section of the Andes has the most impressive collection of 5500+ meter peaks. Compared to the two-trick pony that is Fitz Roy, these places are epic and require, not two or three days, but weeks to fully experience.

One way of adding to my Fitz Roy experience might have been this option- a trek over the Marconi Pass onto the glaciers.  Unfortunately, I was a solo traveller and unless you are in a group of three or four the cost is prohibitive.   Maybe you can check it out if you’re looking for something more than the basic hiking trails to Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. I will also add that something that never even entered my mind was climbing Fitz Roy or Cerro Torre or one of the other granite spires! In that sense, these towers represent stupendous climbing objectives for anyone.

Next post: The Torres del Paine Circuit – Patagonia’s #1 Hike.  

The weather was better!  😊

See also my report on a recent 2017 trip to the Bariloche area –   Basecamp Bariloche & Hiking In Northern Patagonia.  It has basic info and maps on the hiking possibilities at the other end of Patagonia.  In terms of trails and stunning mountainscape, I was surprised to find that the area surpasses El Chaltén and Fitz Roy! Who knew!

For a look at Fitz Roy when the sun is out, check out this post from a couple who did the trip in late December of 2017.  Lots of excellent photos, maps, and useful info –

Trip Report: Los Glaciares National Park

This entry was posted in Argentina, hiking/trekking and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Argentina’s Hiking Capital: El Chaltén & Monte Fitz Roy

  1. Kevin says:

    true_north – really enjoyed reading your travel-log about Fitz Roy and TdP (you referred me to your blog from my LP TT posting about CampinGaz). I’m headed to the region to do essentially the same trip, but have a little more time on hand (4 weeks total), and it’s great reading your blogs as they’re giving me great ideas – thank you.

    Anyways, you mentioned that there’s a refugio near Piedra del Fraile where you can camp, and that you pay about $5 to go past that point up towards Lago Electrico and the glacier. On the map that I have, it shows that entire region past the refugio as “ONLY WITH GUIDE”. Did you by chance ask around to see if that was really the case? I’m assuming there isn’t anyone there to check, but figured I’d ask…

    • true_north says:

      Kevin, I’m happy to hear you enjoyed the posts. Knowing that fellow travellers find my posts useful in planning their own adventures is one reason to keep doing this!

      Four weeks sounds like a nice length of time- it will allow you two or three more days in Torres del Paine (I spent seven) and maybe a couple of extra days in the Monte Fitz Roy area. It will all depend on the weather. (Good luck with that!)

      Re: the Refugio Los Troncos and beyond. I was on my own when at about noon I paid my $5. and went beyond the refugio/restaurant/camping area and walked up the Rio Electrico. There was no one there to say I couldn’t go on because I was by myself; the guy who took my money certainly didn’t. What I don’t recall is if I had to sign my name on a list and provide I.D. or anything like that. As I mentioned in my post I got to the point where I could see a tent at the camping area at the top of the Lake (it is labelled Playita on my map). That is where I turned back. I did not see anyone else during the time I spent walking beyond the refugio. Had the weather been better, putting up the tent at Playita and walking up to the toe of the Marconi Glacier and maybe up to the pass would have been fantastic. Perhaps you could team up with a fellow hiker if the thought of going up on your own strikes you as a bit risky. (It may be!) In brief- there was no one there to check! It may be that they are okay with day hikers but would ask more questions if you show up with a full pack (and ropes and ice axe, etc.)

      Do find the time (again, weather permitting!) to walk up to the top of Cerro Electrico. I did not but just looking at the map you can see that the views on a clear day must be stupendous! You’d be as close as you can get to Monte Fitz Roy and frame some shots that most people never even get to shoot.

      If you post any pix when you come back, send me the link and I can see how it went. I can also add your url to my post to provide future travellers with access to even more info and motivation!

      Have a great trip.

      • Kevin says:

        true_north – thanks for your response. I figured that they didn’t have anyone checking on the mandatory guide, but wanted to be sure (of course, things could have changed, but I’m guessing it’s not a popular enough trail to warrant a full-time ranger). I’m actually very comfortable scrambling around on my own, so will definitely try to get up to C. Electrico unless someone tries to prevent me! I can see from your pictures and scanning the topo map that exploring that region is exactly the type of thing I like to do, so I’m planning on at least a couple days up there.

        BTW, what website did you find to have the most accurate weather for the Patagonia region? I’m assuming it’s all pretty inaccurate, but I’m hoping that you may have found a source that might be a little more local – I find it hard to imagine that Accuweather, for example, would have any clue what’s going on in Patagonia.

        Speaking of weather, that’s exactly why my trip is 4 weeks long. If the weather actually turns out to be good, I’ll end up with a solid week or so to kill at the end of the trip (or maybe I’ll make a trip out to the Atlantic coast), but that would actually be a good thing! I anticipate that I’ll realistically lose at least 5-7 days to bad weather. My current plan is to spend a couple days in Punta Arenas to get over the long flight and see the penguins, 12 days for TdP Circuito (accounting for weather delays), a couple days in El Chalten to see Glaciar Perito Moreno, and a week or so in Fitz Roy (again, allowing for weather delays). Add in transit days, and the next thing you know the 4 weeks is up…

        So I’m filling my Nexus with all the books and games I can find so I have something to pass the time while waiting out the storms! I’m also packing an extra large tent (2 person), so I have some room to stretch out on rain-in days!

        – Kevin

  2. true_north says:

    Kevin, I don’t think the park includes Rio Electrico or the trail you have to walk to get up to the Laguna Electrico. That’s why there is a $5. charge; I think the name of the private estancia is Rincor. Take a look at this map of the park and you’ll notice Rio Electrico is outside the boundary, as is Hosteria El Pilar –

    Parque nacional Los Glaciares - north end

    I did find this route description of a hike up Rio Electrico in a Casa des Giuias trip description-

    By the way, I’ve been thinking about the gatekeeper, who is basically an employee of the landowner of this non-park land, all day and am pretty sure I had to leave a passport number and my name on a list. I vaguely remember thinking at the time that this was a good thing because if I didn’t come back by that evening at least someone would know that I was up there! I am not sure what would happen if you went up there with your tent. Let me know!

    Re: accurate weather forecasts. As I mentioned in my posts, I was completely off on accessing forecasts, not having made a distinction between Fitz Roy and Monte Fitz Roy, both in Argentina but with very different weather. The park office at the entrance of El Chalten may be your best bet for weather.

    Re: your tent. That is truly plush! I’m wishing I embraced the extra few ounces and got the BA Fly Creek 2 instead of my 1-person. It does make a difference on those rainy days. It can also get very windy so hope you find a sheltered location, make use of all your guy lines, and bring a few substantial rocks into place to keep it all down! My tent imploded one night (those poles are pretty flimsy!) and I had to get out and move it around so that the wind wasn’t slamming into the widest part of the tent.

    Your trip sounds nicely laid out and you’ve given yourself a nice cushion of time so that you can absorb a few rainy days (which of course will never happen!). I am packing my duffel bag right now for a three-week bike tour of South Island in New Zealand. I still haven’t decided yet whether or not to bicycle right up to Mount Cook Village at the foot of the mountain. If I do I’ll have to forego doing something else I also really want to cycle to. Choices, choices!

    • Kevin says:

      Thanks true_north. I’m sure I’ll be bitching about the extra two pounds for the 2 person tent if I actually get good weather, but then again, with 10 days of food in my pack, I’m not sure I’ll even be able to tell. Enjoy your trip to NZ! I spent 6 weeks there back in the 90’s, and enjoyed some really fine treks. Not sure if you’re focusing primarily on cycling, or if you’ll get to squeeze in some walks too, but I’m sure it’ll be great either way. BTW, I looked at your blog history, and noticed that you did the 3-passes trek in Nepal I did the same trek two years ago, and I remember sitting at the top of Renjo-La, thinking about views from the tops of the various peaks and passes over the prior 2 weeks, and thinking that I wasn’t going to find a finer trek anywhere else in the world. I’m hoping Patagonia can topple Nepal in my book!

      • Kevin says:

        Hey true_north, hope you enjoyed your trip down to NZ. I got back from my Patagonia trip about a week ago. Got really lucky on the weather (although I did make use of some of my weather days – I can’t imagine going there w/o at least a few weather days planned into the schedule). Anyways, I never did make it up to Rio Electrico…I met three separate groups of trekkers who stayed there and got back pretty negative feedback from all – both on the valley and the campground. So instead of climbing Cerro Electrico, I climbed Cerro Madsen (or at least tried to). Didn’t quite make it to the top, but got to pretty much the same vantage point.

        Although I didn’t get to Rio Electrico, I did want to let you (and your readers) know that the fee to enter the Rio Electrico area is now up to $20USD, and that Cerro Madsen is definitely a good alternative for someone looking to get higher and closer to Fitz Roy. Combines perfectly with a sunrise climb up to Lago de Los Tres.

        Also, everyone in the Chalten area swears by windguru for weather forecasts. During my 8 days there, it was spot on, so I would recommend anyone visiting the area to bookmark it (google “windguru el chalten”).

        Here’s my facebook album for the trip if you’re bored and want to look at some pics (your readers are also welcome to view). This should be the publicly accessible link:

        Thanks again for your help during trip planning, and good luck with your future travels!

        – Kevin

      • Michelle says:

        Absolutely awesome photos. May I ask waht type of camera you were using? Also, after seeing your sunrise photos, I think I will try to camp out in the Poincenot site. I will also visit the Laguna Sucia after Luguna de los Tres. Now if only I could decide when the best time to go would be. I am guessing you were there in February.

        Any advice on planning our trip from the East Coast would be great. 2 back to back overnight flights is hard at any age. I have been looking into flights from Montreal via Toronto to Chile since we live just south of Montreal.

        One more question, How did you set up your slide show? What software did you use? I am not on Facebook yet I could view it.

        Thanks again Kevin and thanks to Rambling boy for setting up this conversation.

      • true_north says:

        Kevin, WOW! Great shots- nice composition- makes me want to go back again! Thanks for the update on Rio Electrico and the tip on Cerro Madsen. Other readers of this post will benefit from the information. I wonder what is going on at the campground? $20. US to go beyond the campground is crazy – I know that the Argentinian economy is experiencing high inflation but upping the US cost is not inflation but in the rip-off category!

        The windguru tip is a good one – I only found out about it after my time down there! It wouldn’t have changed the weather but it would have given me a more accurate idea of what was coming up.

        My NZ bike ride was fantastic. The scenery was as advertised – stunning. I met maybe 100 other bike tourers on the roads of South Island that I travelled and it rained one morning of the 24 days i was there. The farmers were not happy and you gotta feel for them. It is a drought to them – but the tourists weren’t complaining.

        Maybe you should check out and set up a blog that would give next year’s potential Patagonia hikers a run-down of what to do and all that – you certainly have great pictures to tell the story.

        Happy trails in the future; it’s been nice having corresponded with you. I’m going to make a cup of coffee and look at your pix again!

  3. Michelle says:

    Thanks for your postings. Your insight will help me plan a trip for my husband and I, who are also in our 60’s. We do not plan to tent it; however, reading about your dayhikes at Fitz Roy has been very helpful—as well as you circuit hike in TNP. I am concerned now that 2 weeks is not enough time to avoid major rain. Your misty photos looked great even if you did not feel great hiking in the rain, FYI We had lots of rain in New Zealand in our 4 weeks in November. Afterall, it is a rainforest. Have a great trip cycling.

    • true_north says:

      Michelle, thanks for your positive review of my posts! I hope the weather gods are super kind to you. The plan to do day hikes out of El Chalten is a good one; at least you’ll know that no matter how wet you get there will be somewhere dry and warm and out of the wind at the end of the day! If you make use of the refugios in TDP then you can definitely see many of the highlights of the front half of the trail without worrying about tenting. Send me the link to your pix if you post them. BTW – NZ was fantastic – and only a half day of rain in over three weeks! I got to see some beautiful scenery from the vantage point of my bike saddle.

  4. timecheck00 says:

    Excellent information. I’ll be revisiting later. Have been to Torres del Paine a couple of times, but didn’t get much time in the Fitz Roy area, and plan to go back.

    • true_north says:

      Having just looked at Kevin’s pix at his facebook address, I want to go back too! It is incredible what a little sunshine will do to make for dramatic landscape pix! Check out Kevin’s pix and you’ll be planning to go back sooner!

  5. Kevin says:

    Hi Michelle, thanks for the compliment on the pics – I just use a basic Canon point and shoot (model 110 HS). I love photography, and I’d love a lens that can give me a little more depth and a sensor that can give me better dynamic range, but find that I just can’t reliably carry around anything that doesn’t fit in my pocket.

    I don’t actually have much in the way of advice for flights – I had a hellish transit only because I was trying to save money. I think, from where you are located, you should have no problems flying into either El Calafate or Punta Arenas with no more than 18-22 or so hours in transit. Based on the recent development on reciprocity fees, you should end up paying less in entry fees if you fly into El Calafate since you’ll only have to pay Argentina’s reciprocity fee if you cross into Chile by land. In my case, I wanted to fly into El Calafate as it was easier logistically, but it was going to cost an extra $500 to fly into El Calafate vs. Punta Arenas. Plus my wife really wanted me to go see the penguins, so that was that!

    If you do go to Poincenot, make sure to try to find a spot in the nicer part of Poincenot – as you approach Poincenot from Chalten, you’ll enter the main campground in a forest. If you keep walking on the main trail towards Lago de los Tres, you’ll walk down the hill from the campground. As soon as the trail levels out again, look right and you’ll see another campground sign for Poincenot. The sites at this part of Poincenot are leaps and bounds better than on the main campground. You have clears views of Fitz Roy and Cerro Poincenot from most of the sites, and you’re both closer to water while being drier.

    As for Laguna Sucia, it’s an amazing spot, but you do need some comfort with scrambling over talus and general class 2 terrain. There’s no signage, but it’s really easy to find – from the campground, head towards Lago de los Tres. As soon as you walk over the small footbridge near the campground (not the bigger bridge over Rio Blanco), turn left onto an obvious but unsigned trail. The trail will connect with Rio Blanco shortly, but stay on the trail until it connects with Rio Blanco a second time. At this point, you will need to find a place to cross the river so you’re on the true left bank of the river (the right bank if you’re facing up valley). You then meander along the river bank until you get to a medium sized rock outcrop that chokes the river. If you look at the rock, you’ll see a fairly safe way up and over. After negotiating the rock, continue again along the river until you get to the laguna. It should only take 45-60mins depending on your comfort with the rocks and talus.

    If you decide to go up to Lago de los Tres, make sure you pay attention to when the sun actually rises. The locals, for some reason, love to tell trekkers that the sun rises a good hour earlier than it actually does. For example, when I was there, I already knew that the sun rose around 7:38a. However, the locals were telling people that the sun rose at 6:45a! You do not want to be waiting around for an hour in freezing temperatures waiting for the sun to rise! The climb up to the Lago from the campground seems to take most people 50-75mins, so plan accordingly.

    My stay in TdP was late Feb/early Mar, while my stay in the Fitz Roy area was mid Mar. It was still plenty warm during the day (as long as the weather was good), but evenings and early mornings were below freezing – but barely, maybe -2 or -3 celcius. You may have noticed that I included a photo of some of the leaves changing color – that was just about mid-March. I think hiking in late March might actually be worthwhile for the fall colors, and supposedly there’s less wind the later in the summer you go. Basically I think you can’t lose anytime in Feb or March.

    Finally, the slide show is just an album in facebook. Facebook has a feature where you can share an album with anyone, even if they’re not on facebook, so that’s the link I posted here.

    Let me know if you have any other questions,

    – Kevin

    • Michelle says:

      Thank you for the details, especially on the hiking on the unmarked trail. I don’t know if we can wait almost a full year to go now that I have seen your pictures. Thanks for the answering all my questions. This was very helpful.

  6. Susan Alcorn says:

    This is a wonderful blog and should be a great help to Patagonia-bound hikers. As my husband Ralph wrote earlier, we have been to Patagonia twice, but we are determined to return and spend more time in FitzRoy area. I have a Facebook page, Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine, and I am going to put a link to your excellent blog up today!

    • true_north says:

      Susan, on getting your comment I clicked on your blog url to see what you’ve been up to. After I stopped chuckling at the title for one of your books – “we’re up in the mountains, not over the hill” I ended up reading some of your recent posts. Great stuff – and I am reminded that California has the Muir Trail that I researched when I got back from Patagonia. I also recently downloaded a digital copy of Lonely Planet’s Grand Canyon guide. It’s sad to say that even though I have been all over the world the only two US destinations I have visited are Alaska (a summer of canoeing and hiking in the 1970’s) and NYC a couple of times. I really must visit some time. In the meanwhile, happy trails! Or as The Grateful Dead, one of San Fran’s great cultural exports, sang – “You pick a place to go and just Keep on truckin’ on.”

      • Susan Alcorn says:

        It looks like you live in New Zealand–a place tons of people have told us we should visit! Yes, there’s lots of great hiking in the U.S. You need to consider hiking the John Muir Trail next time you have a few weeks to spare (220-miles). If you have even more time to spare (like 4-6 months), consider the Pacific Crest Trail. Good thing for us about hiking in Patagonia or New Zealand is that the seasons are opposite ours. So when we can’t go to the mountains here, we can go there!

      • true_north says:

        I don’t even have New Zealand as an excuse for not getting to the USA more often – I live in Toronto, Canada! Bad, eh! You’re right about N.Z.though – I bicycled but you would love “tramping” (Kiwi for hiking) the well-maintained tracks they have on South Island. So many choices – so little time!

      • Susan Alcorn says:

        You are right–no excuse 🙂 . Good thing you have many, many tramping years remaining in which to hike south of the border. We have hiked in Canada–I think it’s about a dozen miles that the Pacific Crest Trail extends into BC.
        I definitely agree about the so many choices–so little time–but I guess as long as I can crawl up the mountains, I’ll continue!

  7. Francisco says:

    Hello true_north, im Francisco, from Cordoba, Argentina. congratulations for your post. its very good, nice details and information. i was in Chalten past December. its an incredible place. I wanted to know if in the area of El Pilar you can camp.. I appreciate any information. and also wanted to know which camera you used. Excellent photos. ok, saludos from Argentina

    • true_north says:

      Francisco – hola de Toronto, Canadá! Gracias por tus amables palabras. Realmente disfruté mi tiempo en las rutas de senderismo cerca de El Chaltén. Es imposible no tomar buenas fotografías alli! Puede ser el mal tiempo en realidad hizo más interesante?

      Camping cerca de Hosteria El Pilar? Yo no lo creo, pero se puede acampar cerca de Piedra del Fraile en Refugio Los Troncos y también en el Camp Poincenoit. Ver el mapa en mi post de los lugares para acampar.

      Tuve un A700 Sony conmigo junto con una lente Zeiss 16-80 y una lente gran angular Tamron 10-24. Recuerdo con el Tamron mucho.
      También tuve une pequeña camera Canon de apuntar y disparar.

      Enjoy your next trip in the mountains!

  8. Anu says:

    Am blown away with this blog. We are going there this dec and plan to try our luck Mt. Fitz Roy. Will it be too much for 9 and 14 year old?
    We are doing TDP and from there, we are moving to El Calfate, staying a night there and then next 2 days in El Chalten. Would it easy to have a car rental here and move from place to place? Is it very expensive affair to have rental car. We are anyway having car during our stay in TDP and the quote we received was 78$ per day.
    Please advise if you think we will need a car or we can do without it.

    • true_north says:

      Anu, December is prime time in terms of weather – and fellow hikers. You will not be alone on the trails; this provides a built-in safety factor.

      Re: your young ones – you know them best! Have they been hiking before? Do they want to do this? In TDP a refugio to refugio walk – the so-called W – should be manageable. You’ve have all day to walk about 10 kilometers. At El Chalten you would have accommodation in the village and do day hikes, returning to the village each evening.

      Re: renting a vehicle. For TDP if you were to do the W hike your car would be sitting in a parking lot for five days. If you don’t mind the cost of that (i.e.$400.) then a vehicle does make sense – especially since you are moving four people and not just one or two. It also gives you more flexibility.

      One potential problem is driving the vehicle across the border to Argentina. I’d make sure that it is possible and that you have all the necessary papers and insurance before you try to do so. Also, Chile or Argentina are probably the two most expensive countries in South America – and southern Patagonia is even more expensive! So – do not expect any bargains during the prime tourist season!

      Having your own vehicle in Argentina definitely makes sense, given what you intend on seeing over a three or four day period. It would allow you to drive from El Calafate to the Moreno glacier on your own and at a time of your choosing. The drive up to El Chalten is across the desolate pampa with little traffic. Since you are only going to stay there for a couple of days your vehicle won’t be idle too long.

      P.S. I have never owned a car! (I do have three bicycles!) I made my way around Patagonia by bus. I found the bus system to be quite efficient. I did only have myself to worry about – having two kids along for the journey changes the equation completely.

      Since it is only August you have five months to do some day hikes – and maybe an overnight – with your kids just to see how it works out. Upping everyone’s fitness level a notch also makes it more likely that the trip will go smoothly!

      Enjoy your Patagonia hiking adventure when it comes. You will creating family memories that will provide stories for a long time to come!

  9. backpackersreview says:

    Great post and overall amazing website! I was hoping to pass along a link to a post I wrote that describes a recent trip my wife and I took to El Chalten and El Calafate in late Dec 2017.

    We did the Laguna Torre and Laguna de los Tres hikes, and we visited the Puerto Moreno Glacier. We were lucky to have great weather when we hiked to Laguna de los Tres (amazing views of Fitz Roy), but had cloudy conditions on the next day and were not able to see Cerro Torre.

    Here is the link to the report:

    • true_north says:

      Jon, thanks for sending the link to your excellent collection of photos and very useful info for anyone planning a visit to Parque Los Glaciares. It certainly updates what I wrote back in 2013!

      The thing that really struck me was the great weather you had for your visit to Fitz Roy – i had rain and clouds for the entire time. Still – as your pix make clear – a beautiful corner of our planet!

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.