Have you ever been on a solo hike? For me, it was one of the most liberating and fulfilling experiences of my South America trip. Never really having done any hiking at all, I was surprised to see how much I fell in love with it. Luckily, there are plenty of beautiful spots in Chile and Argentina that you can choose for your hike, but few offer quite as many advantages as Argentina’s El Chalten in Patagonia – there’s a reason they call it the national trekking capital, after all.
Most importantly, El Chalten is a great place for all sorts of hikers: groups or solo adventurers, experienced hikers and those completely new to that activity. Thanks to the many different walks with varying lengths and difficulty levels, everyone can find something here.
In El Chalten, it’s easy to go solo
Walking all alone through breath-taking surroundings and enjoying the peace and quiet of nature is something surely every introvert can appreciate. While El Chalten is popular with tourists, it has enough trails to offer that you will have plenty of time to yourself.
At the same time, there are still enough other people around that I never worried about safety. Moreover, at some of the most strenuous parts of the hikes, hikers often encouraged each other when they passed with motivating words and assurances that you could make it to the top of whatever mountain you were currently climbing. As nice as it is to hike solo, a few words of encouragement from your fellow hikers can never hurt.
Or, you know, just someone to take your victorious picture when you finally did climb that mountain. Just remember to return the favour when you’re on your way down and pass fellow hikers still climbing up.
The organisation of the hikes is easy
In a lot of places I visited in Patagonia, there were beautiful hiking trails, but you always needed to take a bus or organise a car to reach them from your accommodation (not counting the multi-day hike camping trip in Torres del Paine, of course, where I slept in tents right in the NP).
The tiny town of El Chalten, on the other hand, is set in the middle of the mountains. It was only founded in 1985 because Argentina was arguing with Chile about the exact position of the border. El Chalten was meant to underline their claim to these regions. Today, it mostly functions as a home base for hiking enthusiasts.
All trails start directly in town, so all you have to do is tie your shoes, grab your backpack and go. No waiting for public buses, driving around in a rental or spend money for a cab. And when you come back, you can literally drop right into bed. (Though you may want to take a shower first. Just saying). It’s almost too good to be true.
There’s plenty of walks to choose from
No matter what kind of hike you’re after, El Chalten has it: short, easy walks that only lead two or three kilometres out of town. Half-day and full-day hikes of different difficulties. Even some multiple-day trips.
I mostly concentrated on the full-day walks, as I wasn’t motivated to organize a tent for a multi-day hike (though I know some people who did, and it can also just be a great way to save money).
There are three main ones. Two lead to beautiful glacial lakes, the Laguna Torre and the Laguna de los Tres. The latter one offers the best views of the famous Mt Fitz Roy. Each hike is around 25km return and you should schedule in a full day to do either. The third one is to Loma del Pligue Tumbado, a summit with spectacular views over the surrounding mountains.
Some of these walks are of higher difficulty, especially the last kilometres are often very steep. However, you already get some great views on the way, so there’s always the possibility to turn around earlier if you don’t feel like pushing yourself for the last bit. All of the hikes are the same way there and back and well signed, so getting lost shouldn’t be an issue.
Getting to El Chalten:
Because of its small size, El Chalten doesn’t have an airport. If you’re coming by plane, the nearest one is in El Calafate. From there you can take the bus, which takes about three hours. You can board it both from the bus terminal in El Calafate or from the airport directly. By the way, El Calafate itself is the gateway to the famous Perito Moreno Glacier, which is part of the same NP as the one you hike through in El Chalten. If you have a day more to spare, it’s worth looking at before moving on to El Chalten.
There are plenty of hostels in El Chalten to house the many backpackers and hikers. Most of them are quite basic, but there are also more luxurious (and therefore more expensive) hotel options. Alternatively, if you have a tent, you can camp in one of the many campsites along the trails.
Getting around in El Chalten:
The town is small enough that you can easily walk from one end to the next. It’s basically just one main street and a few side roads.
There are plenty of restaurants in El Chalten, however, because of its remote locations, they tend to be pricey. Same goes for the few small supermarkets. If you have a chance to bring some groceries from El Calafate, it will save money. Either way, doing your own cooking will be much cheaper than eating out. If you do want a treat after a long hike, I can highly recommend the ice cream place. It’s delicious!
Make sure to bring enough money with you, because there is only one ATM in El Chalten and it’s not always working. Also, it’s a remote place and while most accommodations have wifi, don’t expect it to always work.
Have you been to El Chalten? Or have you done solo hikes anywhere else that you can recommend? Share in the comments.