After spending 3 weeks on the Carretera Austral we were hankering after some civilization or at least a good supermarket. However this was not to be. After driving through Los Antiguos we drove down a good paved road until around 30km before Bajo Caracoles and then we were forced to drive down a bumpy gravel road alongside a perfectly new paved road.
Bajo Caracoles is something of a wasteland – a hostel and some gas pumps and that’s it. We were done for the day and managed to find the one wind sheltered spot in the whole place to spend the night.
In the morning we got underway again and discovered that there was paved road where the map showed none so made great progress. However after 100km the road became a very good gravel surface (deep dry furrows at the edges showed how bad it could be in the wet though). This held up until the last 30km or so which was much rougher but then we hit pavement again all the way to El Chalten.
The drive down the spur road to the town is spectacular as you drive towards the mountains that are are just behind the town. Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy are particularly prominent.
The town itself is very much a tourist town with lots of restaurants and bars. We wasted no time at all in sampling some locally brewed beer and a freshly made pizza to go with it.
Patagonia has a reputation for wind and unpredictable weather but we were lucky enough to experience hot sunny days while in El Chalten which gave us continual amazing views of the mountain peaks.
Our first morning we woke early in order to get a start on a 20km hike to Laguna Torre which lies right under the jagged peaks of Cerro Torre. The trailheads for hikes in this area start right in the middle of town.
The hike starts off with a climb up and over a ridge but after the first 4km the climbing is over and the rest is pretty flat with stunning views straight through to the mountains.
We reached the end of the hike which is a glacial lake with more stunning views after around 3.5 hrs and on our way back passed loads of people who were late starters coming up the trail. Our early start had certainly paid off.
Our second day in El Chalten we had pretty tired legs so spent some time hanging out in town after a late start. We did make a short 5km hike to some viewpoints above the excellent visitor centre. We also visited a waterfall and were rewarded by seeing a Pygmy Owl.
El Chalten is billed as the hiking capital of Argentina and it definitely does not disappoint.