Updated December 7th, 2020.
There are so many epic hikes in Patagonia. Most people have heard of the incredible Torres del Paine W-Trek in Chile but there are many lesser-known hiking trails in the area too. A lot of these trails are found along the Carretera Austral in Chile; a stretch of road through Patagonia that is off the tourist trail. One of these hidden gems is the trek to Cerro Castillo.
Where is Cerro Castillo?
Cerro Castillo a three-pronged peak mountain located just outside the town of Villa Cerro Castillo. At the base of the mountain, is an incredibly wide turquoise lake. The day hike to the Cerro Castillo Laguna is one of Patagonia’s best-kept secrets.
You’ll actually find a decent amount of information online about the multi-day Cerro Castillo Circuit which takes four days. Although the multi-day option looks mind-blowing, what if you only have a day to spare? From our research, information on the day hike option is scarce. So if you don’t want to miss out on this amazing day hike to Cerro Castillo, read on for all the logistics of organising your trip!
Cerro Castillo Day Hike Stats:
- Duration: 5-6 hours
- Distance: 15 km round trip
- Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult
- Entrance fees: $5,000CLP ($6USD) + $13,000CLP ($15USD) to the Cerro Castillo National Park
- Best time to do the hike: Patagonian summer (December to March)
The Epic Day Hike to Cerro Castillo Laguna
This day hike is an out and back return walk from the town of Villa Cerro Castillo to the base of Cerro Castillo. In total, this hike is around 15 km and takes 5-6 hours to complete. Although the trail isn’t a technically difficult hike, there is a constant steep elevation of 1.1 km over 7.5 km to reach the lagoon. As a result, the hike is quite physically demanding and exhausting so I have rated it as a moderately difficult trail. Using the Maps.me app, it was easy to locate the Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo ticket office, located at the trailhead car park. This is where the hike starts!
As you set off, the subtle but obvious incline begins. You’ll very quickly be taking off your layers as you start to overheat. For the most part, you’ll follow a well-maintained dirt trail. It initially weaves its way in and out of the farmland. Then, you’ll eventually begin to head more directly towards the mountains. This is when the angle of steepness increases. There are various short offshoots along the way. Most lead to small cascades and viewpoints of the surrounding mountains. They are worth a visit if you have time.
After two hours or so, you’ll start to realise how high you’ve climbed. As you look back, the town of Villa Cerro Castillo will look minuscule, enveloped by rolling green hills, barren farmland and mountainous surrounds. As you continue your surge to the top, you’ll be more exposed to the elements. The wind is quite brisk. Although somewhat relieving, you’ll start to feel the chill again as it strikes your sweat-soaked shirt. The layers come back on.
Soon enough though, with one final push up steep rocky terrain, you’ll arrive at Cerro Castillo Laguna. Up there, it’s freezing! Even during Patagonian summer. But the immense beauty of the lake nestled at the base of the incredible Cerro Castillo takes your mind swiftly away from the temperature.
There is a pile of rocks (also known as a cairn), symbolising the endpoint of the walk. If you want to check out the lagoon and surrounds from a different perspective, there may be some rock scrambling involved. That’s because some of the best viewpoints of the mountain and accompanying lagoon are located on elevated piles of mountainous rocks that surround you. Be careful if you decide to climb these rocks, but be ready for outrageous photo opportunities at the end!
Once you have soaked it all in, start making your way back down before you succumb to hypothermia! Thankfully, the hike back down will be much quicker than your ascent, so you’ll be back to Villa Cerro Castillo in no time!
Cerro Castillo National Park Entrance Fees
There is no hiding from the fact that this hike is very expensive! As of February 2020, you must pay an entrance fee of $5,000CLP ($6USD) to the landowners. That’s because the beginning of the hike is on private farmland. You must also pay a separate $13,000CLP ($15USD) to the Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo. So in total, you’re looking at $18,000CLP ($21USD) for just a day hike! The prices are truly extortionate and may put you off. However, we assure you that the hike and its amazing scenery makes it well worth it!
Where to Start the Cerro Castillo Day Hike
There is actually varying consensus online as to where you can start the Cerro Castillo day hike. It has been proposed by some that you can simply jump the fence at the ticket office at Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo if you arrive early enough. There’s also apparently other spots where you can jump the fence to avoid the fees. Honestly speaking though, don’t be that person! Support the local area and pay up!
How to Get to Villa Cerro Castillo
If you’re travelling Patagonia from south to north, it’s likely you would have visited Río Tranquilo for the incredible Marble Caves. They’re an amazing natural wonder best visited by boat. Río Tranquilo is the most prominent town south of Villa Cerro Castillo. So from Río Tranquilo, organise a transfer at the main bus station. In February 2020, buses depart at 8 am daily heading to Coyhaique via Villa Cerro Castillo for $10,000CLP ($12USD).
This bus should arrive at Villa Cerro Castillo around 10-11 am. The town of Villa Cerro Castillo is absolutely tiny! The main positive of this is that when the bus drops you off at the main street, it’s likely only a short distance to your accommodation.
Alternatively, if you are not departing from Río Tranquilo, buses frequently head north from Cochrane to Villa Cerro Castillo on route to Coyhaique. They should be easily booked with a day’s notice in town. Otherwise, if your Patagonia adventure is from top to bottom, a bus can be easily organised from Coyhaique to Villa Cerro Castillo.
Accommodation in Villa Cerro Castillo
Due to the tiny size of Villa Cerro Castillo, there aren’t many options for accommodation. It is worth noting that if you’re well prepared and can drop your stuff off at your accommodation fairly quickly, there’s no reason why you can’t complete the day hike that same day. That’s what we did and departed the next day!
We Facebook messaged a month or so in advance to book. Admittedly, the hostel dorm rooms ($10,000CLP/$12USD) and camping ($5,000CLP/$6USD) had mixed reviews online so bear this in mind if you want an upmarket experience. Beck and I stayed in the only private room there for $28,000CLP ($32USD) for 1 night and the room proved more than sufficient. Don’t expect much in terms of WiFi though. While disappointing, poor connectivity is fairly common along the Carretera Austral.
At Senderos Patagonia, there is a large common area with a decent kitchen. The host is a nice American woman who is accommodating and flexible. We changed our plans from 2 nights to 1 night. She was fine with this as long as we paid cash. Otherwise, there’s some sort of online payment option too.
Departing Villa Cerro Castillo
We were due north for Coyhaique. You can wait for a bus coming through from Cochrane around late morning. Just wait on the main street for the bus. Alternatively, through Senderos Patagonia, we organised a minivan to Coyhaique for $6,000CLP/person ($7USD) departing at 7:30 am. It arrived at Coyhaique 1.5 hours later.