Even though El Chalten is the hiking capitol of Argentina (deservedly so), there are other activities you can do in the area. When I was doing my research, I saw that there were opportunities for guided kayak tours down the Rio de las Vueltas. There are all day kayaking trips, but also half day kayaking trips. I enjoy kayaking, and even though this was on a river, this wasn’t a white-water kayak, but rather the larger sea kayaks I was used to. My travel agent booked a guided half day kayak trip for my final day in El Chalten (though if I did it all over again, I would probably put the kayaking between my two long hikes, just to give my body a slight break).
I ended up with an afternoon kayak tour, though I had the guides to myself, because a group that had booked for this trip had canceled. So, it was me and two guides out on the river. The nice thing about that, is that I didn’t feel like I was holding the group back, even though I was slow. The start of the kayaking trip is not that far from where I started the Laguna de los Tres hike. The van took a long, slow, bumpy drive up to where we put in the kayaks. The entire kayak trip was supposed to be around 10 kilometers. The nice thing about this river is that it is pretty flat without strong rapids, at least where we kayaked. The bad thing is that due to geography, the vicious Patagonian winds can come barreling through the valley, as I was soon to discover.
Since I was the only tourist, I got to share one of the two person kayaks with a guide, thankfully. After suiting up in a wetsuit (the river water is chilly) and getting a quick tutorial in kayak paddling (again, I have kayaked before, so I was not out of my depth), we put into a lagoon and paddled out toward the river. The paddling was pretty smooth and calm, and my guide was giving directions on which way to paddle. The scenery was really nice, as I was blessed with three reasonably sunny and clear days in a row (which can be somewhat of a rarity in El Chalten).
The hardest part of the whole trip was the roughly 200-meter portage we had to do from the lagoon to put in at the river. The water is just too shallow to kayak, so we had to walk. What made it difficult is that the lagoon bottom was very soft mud, and I kept sinking and falling, to the point, where one of the guides basically had to hold me up as I stumbled and tripped until we got to the point where the kayaks would put in again.
The river was smooth, but fast in places, and a pleasantly milky gray blue, since the river water is fed from the nearby glaciers (the reason the water is so clear and clean to drink). For the most part, the paddling wasn’t too difficult. But there were places where the wind kicked up so much, I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to paddle down the river, because it kept pushing us toward the riverbed. But we were able to negotiate that, and for the most part, there were just nice peaceful views as we floated along. After the 10 kilometers, we got out at the camp where they run a lodge. Stripping out of the wet and cold wetsuit was certainly challenging, but soon enough I was back in my warm and dry clothes.
All told, it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. The weather wasn’t hot, but I don’t think it gets really hot in Patagonia. Dress warmly, prepare for wind (and possible rain, though we didn’t have that), and try not to stumble and fall too much in the soft mud. After days of hiking, it was nice to get a different view of the area. Definitely worth your time.