El Chalten vs Torres del Paine
Los Glaciares National Park
El Chaltén is a tourist village in Los Glaciares National Park, Santa Cruz, Argentina.
Torres del Paine National Park
Just across the ice cap from Los Glaciares is Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia.
While El Chalten has many spectacular short treks rivalling the Torres del Paine W Trek, none of them beats the Torres del Paine Circuit, with its the jaw-dropping views of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field from the John Gardner Pass. This vast system of glaciers can't be seen like this from any other trek in Patagonia, so there really is nothing else quite like it.
In fact trekkers who say that El Chalten's scenery is better than Torres del Paine probably haven't trekked the Torres del Paine Circuit. The Torres del Paine W is far more popular - mainly because it's quicker and easier.
Notable day hikes from El Chalten include the trek to Laguna de Los Tres, an emerald laguna beneath the iconic Mount Fitzroy (5 hours), and Laguna Torre Trek (3.5 hours), which takes you to Cerro Torre base camp and beyond.
Los Glaciares National Park
El Chalten - a fast-growing tourist village - has the best choice of accommodation, including a host of town-center hostels as well as plenty of Estancias. Estancia La Quinta is a highly regarded out-of-town ranch with an interesting history and an excellent restaurant, while Los Cerros, is a luxury hotel up on the hill behind El Chalten with great views of the Fitzroy Massif.
Views are no match for hotels in Torres del Paine though. Hotel Explora (Hotel Salto Chico), has perhaps the best view on earth. On one side the jagged Paine Massif rises from Pehoe Lake's blue shores and on the other the Salto Chico Waterfall roars away.
Other spectacular views are on offer at Hosteria Pehoe and Hosteria Grey, while out-of-park Estancias, such as Tercera Barranca and El Pionero offer old-fashioned comfort.
Treks in Torres del Paine tend to be more challenging than those in El Chalten and the Fitzroy Sector. Although the weather can be challenging in both regions, which as the crow flies, are only about 100 miles apart. Even the Paine W has some steep climbs, notably to The Towers and to the French Valley.
The Paine Circuit is hard rather than difficult. The trails aren't particularly steep, but you'll almost certainly be trekking them carrying a tent as there are no refugios or hotels up on the John Gardner Pass. Up there, the weather is windier, colder and snowier than not only the rest of Torres del Paine but also the Fitzroy Sector and El Chalten. In addition, the trek can take up to 10 days.
El Chalten and the surrounding Fitzroy Massif is more accessible than Torres del Paine, making it the best choice for short trips, and treks leave from El Chalten village itself.
Torres del Paine is two hours at least from the nearest town, Puerto Natales, which is itself another three hours from Punta Arenas, and five hours from El Calafate in Argentina. In 2010 the situation has improved with Sky Airlines operating flights to Puerto Natales from cities in Chile and from Buenos Aires in Argentina.