El Chaltén: the invented town in the heart of Patagonia

el chalten in argentina

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One of the most complex borders in the world due to the orographic and historical conditions that converge there is the one that divides the countries of Argentina and Chile.

It is a historical conflict that dates back to the end of the 19th century. Since its beginnings it has concentrated its greatest dispute in the northernmost and most coveted area for its natural and tourist value: the Argentine Patagonia. What could not be solved and appeased in 1881 by the famous ‘Treaty of Limits’, within the Beagle Conflict, several military interventions, nor the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1978 signed in the Vatican itself, was forced in 1985 by the creation of a small town invented a little more than a century after the first attempt.

We are talking about El Chaltén, erroneously proclaimed as the youngest town in Argentina. This title is actually held by Casa de Piedra, in La Pampa.

It sits on the slopes of Mount Chaltén or Fitz Roy in the province of Santa Cruz, in the heart of Patagonia, being an access point to the minitrekking Perito Moreno Glacier.

road with views of snow-capped Mount Fitz Roy

Creation of El Chaltén, Argentina

The rocky history of the creation of El Chaltén, Argentina, dates back to October 12, 1985. The province of Santa Cruz was celebrating the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the vast majority of its inhabitants were at mass. Then, the governor of Santa Cruz, Arturo Purcelli, took advantage of the situation to decree the creation of El Chaltén.

A geopolitical decision with which he managed to populate the entire area of the mountain range. This would cause that in 1994, an international jury ruled in favor of Argentina to grant it the sovereignty of Lago del Desierto. This lake is located between Lake O’Higgins-San Martín and Mount Fitz Roy, and is one of the essential visits on your trip to Argentina.

lake in chalten with fitz roy in the background

Four years later, a treaty between the two countries managed to relax tensions in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, although some shared areas remained undemarcated. Specifically, it was agreed to redefine the demarcation between Mount Fitz Roy and Mount Daudet. However, the latter only redefined the area between Murallón Hill and Daudet Hill, a part of the boundary between Fitz Roy and the mountain range to the west of it.

The first ice children of El Chaltén

The first ice children of the region were settlers from central and northern European countries. Fred Otten was the first settler, and was followed by the Ramstrom, Madsen, Bjerg or Henriksen families. All of them were bearers of the dream of progress around tourism and sheep breeding.

people in el chalten argentina

The 1991 census indicated that it was populated by only 41 permanent inhabitants. This figure increased to 371 in the 2001 census, and to 950 inhabitants in the 2010 census. Currently, the permanent population is estimated to be close to 1,200 people.

Tourist attractions of the National Capital of Trekking

views monte fitz roy snow argentina

El Chaltén is also recognized worldwide for being the National Capital of Trekking.

This town is the gateway to the magical landscapes of southern Patagonia. At present, the Lake of the Desert and the trekking routes near Mount Fitz Roy are the most traveled trails around El Chaltén. The vast majority of them lead to the Cerro Torre Glacier and Laguna Capri. From both sites you can enjoy the most spectacular views of Fitz Roy.

Another of the most attractive tours and activities to enjoy from El Chaltén is just over 200 kilometers south (3 hours by bus), in the town of El Calafate. From here you can enjoy the trekking of the Perito Moreno Glacier, an ice monster 5 kilometers long and whose bluish color makes it an unusual natural spectacle and the great attraction of the Parque Nacional de Los Glaciares.

road with views of snow-capped Mount Fitz Roy

These are the main tourist attractions of this town that every year is visited by thousands of climbers, hikers and tourists in general, who tour the peaks of the Patagonian mountain range from this invented town.


Lily is happy with a backpack on her back. Every year she travels through one country in Latin America and has repeated several times, especially Peru where she says she feels at home (although she says the same about Argentina, Chile and Bolivia).

She loves ceviche, hiking and Sunday picnics with her friends, although whenever you ask her, she's always planning her next destination.

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