EL CHALTÉN, 90km west of the RN-40 and 220km north of El Calafate, has undergone a convulsive expansion since it was established in 1985 in a (successful) attempt to claim the area from Chile. Today, it’s a thriving tourist centre showing regrettable signs of uncontrolled development: whereas some hotels have been built in a style sympathetic to their surroundings, others would look more at ease in the beach resort of Mar del Plata. That said, the atmosphere in the town is extremely pleasant and relaxed, with a friendly mix of Argentines and foreign visitors of all ages.
Rearing up on the opposite bank of the Río de las Vueltas is the curiously stepped, dark-grey cliff face of Cerro Pirámide, while you can glimpse the tips of the park’s most daunting peaks, Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, from the southern and eastern fringes of the village. In terms of specific sights, there is only the classically uncluttered alpine chapel on the western edge of the village. Built by Austrian craftsmen with Austrian materials, it’s a fitting memorial to the climbing purist Toni Egger, as well as to others who have lost their lives in the park.