The Argentina side of Patagonia – one of our favorite places in the world.
Los Glaciares National Park is less visited than Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, likely because it doesn’t have the same infrastructure of the “W,” but don’t let that keep you away. This park possesses both the most beautiful mountain we have ever seen and a glacier of grand proportions that drops house-sized pieces of ice into the beckoning waters below.
At a high level there are 2 main adventures to be had here. (1) Hike in the park which requires getting to El Chalten and (2) Perito Moreno Glacier which you get to out of El Calafate. Both are essential so do not skip one or the other. El Calafate is the “big” town here – you would fly into the El Calafate airport for Buenos Aires for example, but really it is quite small and El Chalten is no more than a village. Enjoy both, but know that neither are important to your visit besides the fact that they give you a place to stay in order to explore Los Glaciares National Park.
The Hiking Plan:
This can (should?) be a nice 3 day/2 night trip – this was our plan. However, the combination of some bad food planning and our 3, instead of 4, season sleeping bags, was not the recipe for success. Do it better than we did and bring enough food plus warm enough gear. It is a loop from El Chalten to Camp Poincenot/Laguna de Los Tres to Laguna Torre and back to El Chalten. Here we will talk about how we did this…
We were told El Chalten would have no food options and that we needed to buy everything in El Calafate. This isn’t quite true. El Chalten has some small markets where you can get most of what you need. We bought some produce in El Calafate which was the right choice, but you will be fine if you wait. One thing to know is that El Calafate has not discovered the camping food industry of gross dry meals. This is good because you don’t have to/get to eat that garbage, but when you are going for something really light, know that these will not be an option. If you’re coming from the US, bring lots of Clif bars – we found that they are the answer to most meal emergencies. Our typical camping lunch was salami, tuna, crackers, and avocado.
For camping gear, you can rent it all in El Chalten. We had our own sleeping bags but got a tent, stove, gas, pots, etc from a small camping store. They do run out of tents, so we were lucky to be in the off season when we could show up and get lucky from the 3rd shop we tried. If you are going in peak season, be cognizant of this and look for options in El Calafate or bring your own.
Prep Day: Bus from El Calafate to El Chalten. Get all your supplies in order. We spent that night in Hem Herhu Hostal which was neither good nor bad. It had a cute hut for us, but it is definitely not fancy. We were booking last minute and this was our option – worked well for us and they took care of our stuff we didn’t take on our backpack while we were gone.
Day 1: Leave El Chalten early morning and hike out to the campground by the river – Poincenot. Leave whatever you don’t need for your hiking trip with your accommodations. Hem Herhu is one of, if not the, closest place to the trail head, so that was a plus for us. Definitely take little side stops along the way as you are hiking to the campsite – at this lake for example (Laguna Capri).
At Camp Poincenot, set up your tent, drop your gear, and pack a day pack to explore. We really want to recommend this hike out to Lago Sucia – the map says “guide recommended” and it probably should say “guide necessary.” A mile or two in, there was snow everywhere and no trail to be found. We kept following the river though, knowing that it must end at the lake. We were right, eventually… Every corner we turned felt like the lake should be right there, but it took many turns to bring this to pass. It was so beautiful though, that if you are ready for a challenge and have enough sunlight to allow for some delays due to getting a bit lost, then take this on.
Lago Sucia is an out and back, and when you are back near the campsite, you can head the opposite direction from Lake Sucia and hike out to the glacier. This is pretty, but not a must-see if you do not have the time.
Day 2: A big day of hiking ahead. Get up before the sun and put on that headlamp. Hike up to Fitz Roy to Laguna de Los Tres for the sunrise where you can see the epic 3: Cerro Fitz Roy, Cerro Poincenot and Cerro Torre. It was insanely cold for us up top even in gloves, down coats, and beanies – so prepare for that. Watch the sun do its magic from the rim overlooking the lake where Fitz Roy will gift you its reflection.
Head back to your tent to pack it all up and trek on to Laguna Torre.
Take it all in before really aggressively moving back to El Chalten.
We caught the 6pm bus back to El Calafate which was nice because there are not a lot of accommodation options in El Chalten and El Calafate is the gateway to Perito Moreno Glacier. We stayed in El Calafate at Los Canelos Hotel which had good food, very small rooms, and not worth the money, but it was nice. For accommodations in El Calafate, if you’re the backpacker type, definitely try to stay in America del Sur Hostel – it is gorgeous and one of the best hostels we have ever stayed in. They have private rooms, a great kitchen, and super helpful staff.
Perito Moreno Glacier is a must see. We haven’t met someone yet who didn’t enjoy the “Big Ice” trip where you trek on the Glacier. Unfortunately, this trip only happens a few times a week and didn’t line up with our schedule. There are some other “walk on the glacier “options, but none of them seemed like a good value play. If you can’t do the Big Ice, just go on the bus or drive your rental car out to see it. We thought the bus would be not that great, but we were very wrong. You can watch this glacier for hours – it is so alive and impressive. It seemed impossible to imagine wanting to watch a glacier for hours, but this place is magic. Do not skip it.
Overall, this place is captivating. Go see for yourself.
Interested in posts on the great outdoors? Check out a few of our other posts: