A crescent moon over the Cerro Castillo range Carretera Austral

WIT: A Guide to Trekking Cerro Castillo

Trekking in Cerro Castillo is no longer a secret. That being said, it’s no Torres del Paine or Mt Fitz Roy. As incredible as those destinations are, Cerro Castillo holds its own – and with just a fraction of the crowds. It’s easy to see why.

While you can enjoy artisan gin and single-origin coffee in Puerto Natales, the only coffee you’ll find in Villa Cerro Castillo comes from a tin. Where there are wine-bar-happy-hours in the sunshine of El Chalten, there’s barely a park bench in Villa Cerro Castillo.

It’s a humble place with little to do except hike. Thankfully, everybody visits for the same reason: the trekking in Cerro Castillo is absolutely unforgettable.

A sign reads 'Mirador Laguna Cerro Castillo' in front of blue water and below the peak
Welcome traveller

How to Get to Villa Cerro Castillo

So you’ve already guessed that there isn’t a huge tourism infrastructure in Villa Cerro Castillo.

As with most places in desolate Patagonia, Villa Cerro Castillo is remote. If you’re in the Lago General Carrera area visiting the Marble Caves (link coming soon) or chilling in Puerto Guadal (link coming soon), then you’re not far away. There are decent connections from Cochrane that pass through Puerto Río Tranquilo.

Coming from the north, there are even better connections (for Patagonia) from the region’s capital – Coyhaique.

AIR

Both Sky Airlines and LATAM Airlines fly from between the closest airport – Balmaceda – and Santiago. Rates are very reasonable. Incredibly, this is the only real air-based option in the land where even roads are sometimes hard to come by.

BUS

We said there are good connections with bus timetables. That means that there’s usually one bus a day, but even these bus timetables aren’t 100% reliable. Double-check at the station when you’re in either Coyhaique or Cochrane.

A quiet road early in the Villa Cerro Castillo morning

You can catch the bus from Coyhaique to Cerro Castillo with a few different companies. Buses Sao Paulo and Acuario 13 have buses leaving at either 8am or 9am every day. It takes around an hour and a half to get to Villa Cerro Castillo. Check out Buses Don Carlos, and Aguilas Patagonicas too – they all make the journey to Cochrane, stopping at Villa Cerro Castillo along the way. Expect to pay at least CH$5,000.

The bus heading in the other direction (starting from Cochrane), leaves Cochrane earlier. Buses Sao Paolo leave at around 06:30, and take around 5-6 hours.

OTHER OPTIONS

As you can see, the bus isn’t reliable, cheap, or quick. The best way to travel around Patagonia is with your own vehicle, though it isn’t particularly budget-friendly.

Another option is the micro-bus. You’ll have to ask around, but there will be micro-buses going every day. They’ll charge the same rate but they’ll be quicker, and they’ll leave when full. If you’re in a big group, catching a micro-bus is your best bet.

Or, if you’re on a very tight budget like we were, then Villa Cerro Castillo isn’t too bad a place to hitchhike (like we did from Puerto Río Tranquilo). There’s only one road in and out of town – but you’ll have to be patient. Many Chilenos and gringos alike will be in Cerro Castillo for the trekking as well.

Sunset over Cerro Castillo with purple skies
A gorgeous sunset from Okau

WEE TIP: hitchhiking in Patagonia is a little different to other places. First of all, it’s probably the first time you’ll ever have seen a hitchhiking queue – you’re not the only one on a budget. Play by the rules, be friendly, and wait your turn.

About Villa Cerro Castillo

The majority of settlements in Patagonia are tiny, dusty, trapped-in-time settlements that time seems to have forgotten. They’re surprisingly simple and charming little places.

That being said, when there’s a major tourist attraction nearby, you can normally see the influence it has had on the town. Not in Villa Cerro Castillo. Despite the trekking in the area, the town isn’t catered to tourists at all.

That being said, some more campsites, hostals, and restaurants seem to have appeared since we visited. Whatever the situation, you’re here to see the beautiful mountain on your doorstep, and you’ll be comfortable while you’re in town.

A run-down building provisiones Janito
Believe it or not they accept card payment

There are no ATMs in Villa Cerro Castillo. Please carry enough cash for your time there, and don’t make the mistake that we did.

Restaurant Janito has a small store inside where they accept card. That aside, you’ll need cash.

Preparing for Trekking in Cerro Castillo

There are generally two different options for trekking in Cerro Castillo: the 1-day hike (Estero Parada) and the 4-day hike (Las Horquetas). We’ll go into more detail about both hikes later.

Think of the 1-day hike as a straightforward, reasonably safe walk. It’s 15km. The 4-day hike is a serious hike and should only be undertaken by able, fit, and experienced hikers since it’s 53km.

The Entry Fee

There’s an entry fee for both. For the 1-day hike, you must pay CH$18,000. It’s an eye-watering CH$29,000 for the 4-day hike. Incredibly, this has gone up in price since we visited.

A sign reads 'bienvenido reserva nacional Cerro Castillo'
Privatised land is expensive land

So you have a moral dilemma when you visit. There’s no way to avoid the entry fee (there are rangers in the parque) and you’re supporting privatised land by paying the entry fee. We think it was worth it, but it’s completely understandable if you don’t.

The Rules

And, since this is private land, there are all sorts of rules and restrictions on both hikes. You can only camp in specific areas, so you need to carefully plan your multi-day hike. Check out the official website to check trail conditions, campsite closures, and other updates before you set off.

The Weather

You’re in Patagonia. This is extreme territory, even in summer. We cannot stress this enough: be prepared. We met friends who lost their jackets and tent carps halfway through their 4-day hike in strong winds. They had to escape back to civilisation as quickly as possible. Don’t treat any of the trekking in Cerro Castillo lightly.

On some passes, you’re subject to some serious Patagonian weather. Whiteouts, blizzards, and super-high winds are not uncommon. Be prepared for every situation and know all your exits. Check windguru for updates on cloud cover and whether or not you’ll have a clear peak for the 1-day hike too.

The sharp peaks of Cordillera Cerro Castillo with blue sky in the background

The Access Points

Finally, there are also specific access points for both hikes. For the 1-day hike, you’ll access the park close to Villa Cerro Castillo here. Entry is only permitted from 07:00-16:00, so that you can reach the peak in daylight.

For the 4-day hike, your journey begins at Las Horquetas, here. Access is permitted from 07:00-13:00.

There are registration booths at both access points. They’ll need your name and nationality, and they’ll ask details about your hike. They’ll go so far as to check your footwear and how much water you have.

A day-bag with water, sun cream, and food does the job for the 1-day hike. For the 4-day hike, you’ll need some serious kit.

1-Day Cerro Castillo Trek (Estero Parada)

Ok, now that’s out the way you can begin to look forward to hiking a Patagonia highlight!

We were told that our hike would take 7-8 hours. It took us 6, and we spent plenty of time taking photos at the Mirador.

Yellow markers lead the way up a mountain trail
If you can’t see a yellow marker then you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be

The path is super-clear the whole way, and there’s very little chance you’ll get lost – even in poor visibility. There are great yellow markers guiding you the whole way.

A registration booth sits tiny below the peak of Cerro Castillo
Cerro Castillo dwarfing the forest and registration booth
The Route

Start by signing in at the registration booth and pay your fee. Once you’re all set, begin the first section. Follow the path from the information booth NE and head through the forests. There will be access to waterfalls on your right-hand side, but grab that on the way down.

Keep heading through beautiful forests, underneath the morning sunshine (we hope). Eventually, your path will bear north and (very gradually) start leading uphill. This first section will take around 45 minutes.

A path leads through a forest and then uphill
Take a walk through the woods

Soon enough, you’ll reach a stream (with delicious, fresh drinking water) and a toilet. There’s another viewpoint (Mirador Vista Cerro Peñon) and even a waterfall. Catch your breath here and take a break. It’s about to get a little tougher.

A sign 'agua water' leads to a fresh water source on Cerro Castillo

The second section takes another 20-30 minutes from here with some spectacular views behind you. Eventually, you’ll reach the toughest part of the hike.

A girl walks up Cerro Castillo with gorgeous views of Aysen behind her
Don’t forget to look behind – there are spectacular views there as well

The third section of the trek is the zig-zag section, taking around 30-40 minutes. It’s a steep climb all the way to edge of the crater. Again, take your time. It’s a winding path and it’s steep the whole way.

The good news is that once you reach the top, you’re on the final and fourth section. This section is a simple, flat, 15-minute walk from the Mirador.

A yellow marker shows the way to Mirador Laguna Cerro Castillo
Your relief is just over the approach

You’ll see the distinct ‘castle’ outline of the peak ahead, and the unbelievable blue water below. How can the earth have created water so blue? It’s hard to believe it’s natural.

There were 15-20 people with us at the Mirador. We couldn’t believe it. It’s such a simple walk and the reward is comparatively insane. Why is nobody here?

1-day trekking in Cerro Castillo was a highlight of the whole trip for us. So long as you’re prepared and you observe the conditions, it will be for you as well. Check out our Strava log for a full view of the route:

4-Day Cerro Castillo Trek (Las Horquetas)

One of our biggest regrets in Patagonia was opting for the 1-day trek over the 4-day trek in Cerro Castillo. This wasn’t because we were stuck for time, it’s because we really didn’t have the kit to undertake a serious hike. As we write this now, we’d be in a much better position to take it on.

For that reason, we can’t describe every campsite and hike. Friends told us that the hike is a challenge, and that it requires some planning. Treat it the same way that you would treat the W-Hike, or even the O-Hike. Take all the provisions you need, be prepared for every type of weather, and plan your route carefully.

The official trekking Cerro Castillo route
© parquenacionalcerrocastillo.cl

The official Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo website shows you a pretty great breakdown of all the sections, and all the places that you’re permitted to camp.

So there you have it! Everything you need to know about trekking Cerro Castillo in 1-day, and a good basis for the 4-day hike as well. Please let us know how you get on, and stay safe on the trails.

Cerro Castillo is such an incredible place, and we’re sure you’re going to love it as much as we did.

Where to Stay in Villa Cerro Castillo

You don’t have many options in Villa Cerro Castillo, but there are cabañas, hostels, campsites, and even glampsites.

Okau Patagonia Aysen

We found Mario’s place by total coincidence. After one of our worst days by the roadside (thank you again for saving us Dario and Daní), our new hitchhiking friends dropped us at Okau.

It’s a glamping site, with most of its business done on AirBnB. However, camping was also available for CH$6,000 per night. The water only runs first thing in the morning and late at night, but it’s a very warm, very good shower.

An old vespa with Cerro Castillo in the background

It’s slightly out-of-town, with a 25-minute walk to the Estero Parada entrance. But it’s worth it. Even though we were camping, we loved the interior area and the common space. The wifi was decent (for where you are), and most important of all, the owner Mario is an absolute star.

We fucked up by not having enough cash, and he was unbelievably considerate with us. It all worked out fine in the end, all thanks to his efforts. He also helped us get a micro-bus seat on our final morning for a very good price.

It also makes for a gorgeous sunrise and sunset spot.

from CH$6,000 pp

Rustika Campsite

There are a few campsites in the area. Don’t choose this one.

We’d been told to avoid Rustika. We’re glad we did. It’s run-down, old, and everything you don’t look for in a campsite. Sure, it’s right next to the Estero Parada entrance, but you can do better.

Camping and Hostel Senderos Patagonia

On the other hand, Senderos Patagonia is a great, much-more-modern campsite and hostel. There’s good wifi, plenty of space, and a good price.

There’s also a fun hostel inside which is pretty reasonable for where you are and what you get. You’ll meet other hikers here and you can discuss all your plans together.

Camping from CH$5,000 pp. Dorm from $CH8,000 pp.

Nordic Patagonia Camping & Hostal

This one seems to have appeared pretty quickly after we left! It’s got great reviews, looks very modern, and couldn’t be in a better location. If you visit Nordic, drop a comment below to let us know all about it.

Camping from CH$6,000 pp. Dorm from $CH12,000 pp.

Trekking Cerro Castillo Budget Breakdown

Getting There:
  • hitchhike from Puerto Río Tranquillo (free)

Total: CH$0 ($0)

Accommodation:

Okau Patagonia Aysen

  • Camping
  • CH$6,000 (x2 nights)

Total: CH$24,000 ($35)

Attractions:
  • Cerro Castillo
  • x1 Day Entry
  • CH$20,000

Total: CH$40,000 ($58)

Moving On:
  • micro-bus Villa Cerro Castillo – Coyhaique
  • CH$6,000pp

Total: CH$12,000 ($17)

Total for 1D/2N: CH$76,000/$110

The above budget is for x2 people. Food and drink are not included.

This budget breakdown isn’t meant to be an exact record of what we spent but should give you a rough idea of what you’re likely to spend.
*at the time of travel US$1 = CH$693. £1 = CH$880.

*currency rates change frequently in South America.

LIKE THIS POST? PIN IT!

SHARE THIS POST

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *