El Cerro Castillo (literally The Castle Hill) is located in Patagonia on the Chilean side. It is a 3 to 4 day trek that will bring you in the heart of what Patagonia has best to offer: forests, rivers, blue lagoons and incredible peaks scraping the sky.
– Hike type: Point to Point
– Packing: (2 / 3) Regular Backpack (~50L)
– Hike length: (4 / 5) – 38km / 24miles roundtrip. Doable in 3 days
– Hike elevation: (3.5 / 5) 1371m / 4,500ft – 3.6% overall steepness
– Accessibility: (1.5 / 5) – Use of bus or taxi recommended
– Overall difficulty: (3 / 5) – Some very windy exposed parts, but nothing technical
El Cerro Castillo trek can get very windy. And by very windy I mean VERY. Never prior in my life had I seen a stream flying back up because the wind was so strong. Some parts are so exposed they actually had to create an emergency exit during the trek, which people now use as a day hike up.
So if you don’t feel like it, you can cut your trip short after day 2.
That aside, just be prepared like any other short multiple days hike in a mountain area.
Also, bring $5,000CLP with you in case you have to pay a fee in (sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t – price might have changed since I did it).
Doubting about what you should wear? Read this article about Appropriate Hiking Gear.
GPS coordinates : -45.980847, -71.954735
El Cerro Castillo trail start is located 20km North-East of the Villa Cerro Castillo town, on route 7, just out of a sharp corner locally know as Las Horquetas.
Forget about driving there and leaving your car. Since it’s a point to point hike, you won’t end up at the same spot. But most importantly, there’s no parking space.
The best solution is to either hitchhike to the starting spot or take a bus and asked to be dropped there.
You can do so either by leaving Coyhaique going south towards Villa Cerro Castillo, or the other way around from Cerro Castillo going North towards Coyhaique (if you drive, go for the 2nd option and park at Villa Cerro Castillo).
The Cerro Castillo Trek
El Cerro Castillo trek is usually done from East to West, from Las Horquetas to Villa Cerro Castillo. It is easier to reach Las Horquetas sharp curve than leaving it, but also because the view gradually gets better and better that way. Though you do whatever you want.
When leaving the curve, walk slightly down and follow the river. You’ll see a little wooden cabin away. That’s the ranger station, and depending on the season, the day or the hour, you might have to pay your way in.
Once that’s done, you will immediately get welcomed on the Cerro Castillo trail by having to cross a river using a very artisanal home-made wooden bridge.
Just follow the obvious trail (on which 4×4 can go) after that. It will follow the river for a just a while before turning left.
You will go through some prairie on which cows might be chilling, followed by a non-inviting forest (the ones with creepy arms and scary faces just like they draw them in children’s books). Don’t break a sweat though, that forest will eventually turn into a very welcoming one. Stay on the tracks and expect to cross a few more streams. Not that powerful, not that deep, but still wide enough that you’ll have to take your shoes off each time.
You’ll go deeper in the forest and after roughly 13km (8miles) since you started, you’ll end up reaching an intersection quickly followed by a ranger’s cabin and camping spot. At the intersection, disregard the trail going right (West-NorthWest) and keep walking South towards the ranger’s hut. The entire thing seems to have been abandoned. That aside, this is not where you want to camp (no rivers, no views, too shady).
So keep walking for only another 2km (1.3miles) and you’ll reach the “Segundo Camping” located right next to a river bed with great valley views, which is a way nicer spot to put your tent.
Just 2km (1.3miles) after that camping spot, you’ll reach a hard to see intersection, with a trail going right towards a rocky moraine.
This is a go-and-back trail of 3.4km total (1.7km each way) – (2miles, 1miles each way), leading to a glacier lake with some pretty sweet peaks in the background. Totally worth the detour. Just be careful as the path can be hard to find on the way back. Make visual notes when walking in.
Once you’re back on the intersection, follow the main trail again going up in the forest. The path will get slightly steeper as you get out of the forest and start walking through rocks instead of ground. You will reach a flat pass with, depending on the season, some snow patches here and there.
A treacherous and dangerous way down is expecting you right after that pass. Be very careful as the trail is narrow, steep and extremely exposed to wind. Deaths by falling have been reported.
No need to panic. Just pay attention on where you put your feet.
Once done with that hike down, keep walking until you reach the forest. From there and for the next 1.5km (1mile) the hike is mostly down with a small way up at the end, where you’ll reach the “El Bosque” campground.
You can either stay there (which I don’t recommend because the view sucks and it’s very shaded) or keep walking 2.7km and 300m up (1.5 miles & 1,000ft up) through the forest to reach the much much better “La Tetera” campground. Do it!
Once you get to La Tetera campground (which is very spread around, don’t limit yourself to the first spot you see), you’re just 5min away from the Laguna Castillo, a turquoise glacier lagoon which will be one of the highlights of your trip.
Don’t hesitate to wander around and even go up the Morro Rojo (the red mountain right next to you, can’t miss it).
Once you’re done with the area you can either give up and take the emergency exit to go back down to Villa Cerro Castillo or keep going for more astonishing landscapes. Either way you’ll have to go up the rocky section located south of the lagoon. The path is hard to find, so just go up however you want.
You’ll then reach an intersection with a trail going back down on your left, or going straight up for another 300m (1,000ft) of elevation.
Go straight and get blown away by the view. Stop been mesmerised every 2 minutes and keep moving.
After reaching the highest point, a 780m hike down over 3km (2,600ft & 1.8miles) -which equals to an impressive 26% steepness!- is expecting you.
Halfway down, should the weather allow it, and even though you shouldn’t -but who knows, maybe you hurt yourself and need an overnight rest?- locate a flat spot near the boulder and put your tent. Otherwise, keep going down through the forest and as soon as you reach the intersection, go right to reach the “Los Porteadores” campground. Or, option 3, keep walking through the not so flat “Los Porteadores” campground and walk all the way to the “Neo-Zelandes” campground, located 3.6km and 280m up (2.2miles & 850ft up) after that. You will however have to walk that same path back again since it’s a go-and-back trail to the Neo-Zelandes campground from the intersection. But there’s a few more lagoons to see from there.
Once you’re back on the intersection, just keep walking down for another 4.3km and 560m of negative elevation (2.8miles & 800ft down).
The end is a bit confusing as you’re going right between private properties with 4×4 tracks going a bit everywhere and an endless fence along the road.
If like me you couldn’t find the way out of the fence, maybe you got lost, but just find a pole to help you jump it.
This is not over yet, as you still have 6.5km (4miles) to walk on a flat dirt road until you reach the Villa Cerro Castillo Town.
How beautiful was that?!