Off the Grid in El Chalten
El Chalten was barely on my radar going into our Patagonia trip, and probably isn’t on most of the world’s radar. This tiny, remote town makes a huge impact, and quickly became one of my favorite places in Patagonia.
Nestled at the foot of the Andes, El Chalten serves as a base for outdoor enthusiasts adventuring out into Los Glaciares National Park. Its even been declared Argentina’s Capital of Trekking. We found ourselves amongst backpackers from all over the world, heading out on the trails to walk amongst glaciers.
The town is centered around one paved street with no stop lights. We walked the length of the town in just 15 minutes. Along the road a few small shops, trekking outfitters, and cafes offer basic necessities. Behind the main road, a tiny grid of dirt roads, hostels, campers and houses made up the village at the base of the mountains. Trails spring off the edges of town into the hills.
There are only two ATMs in town and they often run out of money. Few places accept credit or debit cards, so bring enough cash for your entire time in El Chalten. Despite the free wifi offered at hostels and cafes, getting online was almost impossible. While this could be frustrating for some, I relished in the opportunity to let go and truly disconnect.
No dings from text messages. No checking Facebook. Not even a signal. The chatter of technology silenced and now removed from my mind, I was able to hear my thoughts and absorb this vast, amazing place. By disconnecting from technology, I reconnected with myself.
The lack of wifi and technology also makes you more apt to turn to the person next to you and make friends. That’s exactly what happened at a small brewery where we met Meagan, our first friend in Patagonia. As we ordered our cervezas, Meagan heard the familiarity of English speaking Americans and struck up conversation with us. We learned she was visiting from New York and on a similar journey through Patagonia and Argentina as we were. Over a few more cervezas, we shared travel notes, tips for the Fitz Roy trek and exchanged our contact info so that we could try to connect in Ushuaia or Buenos Aires. One of the best souvenirs of travel are the friendships you make along the way.
Top things to do in El Chalten
A few of the area’s most popular draws are hikes to Laguna de los Tres at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy and to Cerro Torre and Laguna Torre. We only had one complete day in El Chalten, which we spent hiking to Laguna de los Tres. An epic and challenging day hike that left a lasting impression well after the soreness of our aching knees and feet wore off.
We had intended on hiking the Cerro Torre trail the next day before our bus left back to El Calafate, but my feet were so sore from hiking to Laguna de los Tres that I couldn’t even put my hiking boots back on. It was three days before I could wear my boots again. Since hiking to Cerro Torre was no longer an option, we opted for an easier, flatter 1.5 km walk to Chorrillo del Salto, a small waterfall just outside of town.
The path to Chorrillo del Salto followed the Rio de las Vueltas. I’m still not completely sure what it was about the walk through that valley along the winding turquoise waters of the river, but it was one of my quintessential Patagonia moments. The valley was so quiet with only the sounds of buzzing bees, the river flowing and the light breeze. I got caught up in the wonder of it all. It was in these moments that I promised myself we would return to Patagonia. This would not be my only visit to this magical place.
Still tired from our previous day’s trek to Fitz Roy, we relaxed on sunny boulders and refreshed our aching feet in the cool waters of Chorrillo del Salto. After a few hours at the waterfall, we headed back to town for a late lunch before catching our bus back to El Calafate.
As we drove out of El Chalten, the weather turned to clouds and rain as it does so frequently in Patagonia. The stormy weather was threatening and gorgeous all at once making the drive along Ruta 23 and Ruta 40 completely different than the sunny day we arrived. We arrived back in El Calafate late in the evening, with the last of daylight still lingering on the horizon.