Cerro Castillo: My First Solo Hike in Patagonia on a New Year’s Eve

Cerro Castillo Circuit is one of my favorite trekking routes in Chile. It is not as well-known as Torres del Paine, so you will have a chance to truly be alone with the magnificent mountains of Patagonia. In fact, it was my very first solo hike and I couldn’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year.

Where is Cerro Castillo?

Cerro Castillo is a mountain in the Aysén region of Chile. It is situated within the Cerro Castillo National Park, and it is part of the Andes mountain range. It is located about 1000 km south of Santiago de Chile, and 64 km from Coyhaique. Hiking trail starts at nearby town Villa Cerro Castillo.

Practical Information For Planning Your Cerro Castillo Hike [2023]

How to get there

Firstly, you need to get to Villa Cerro Castillo in the Aysen region in Chile.

  • By plane: The nearest airport to Villa Cerro Castillo is Balmaceda Airport, located about 120 km away. From there, you can take a bus to Coyhaique, and then to Villa Cerro Castillo. There is no bus from the airport directly to Villa Cerro Castillo. 
  • By bus: The bus to Villa Cerro Castillo runs along the Carretera Austral (the only highway in Patagonia). It leaves from Cochrane or Coyhaique. 

Secondly, you have to get to the trailhead.

  • 3-day short trek. From Villa Cerro Castillo, it is just a 30-minute walk to the park entrance. Just head down from the Puerto Huemul restaurant in the direction of Coyhaique. After crossing the bridge, you will see a little white building. There you have to pay an entrance fee. Then go to the gate on the right.
  • 4-day long trek. Trailhead at the Las Horquetas is located between Villa Cerro Castillo and Coyhaique. There is no official bus stop, so you will need to warn the driver about stopping at the entrance to the park.

Where to stay before and after the hike

There are few accommodations in Villa Cerro Castillo. Check the full list of tourist services here. The most popular are:

However, it is possible to hike the Cerro Castillo circuit without staying in Villa Cerro Castillo. The trailhead is easy to reach in the morning by bus from Coyhaique or Cochrane.

How much does it cost to hike the Cerro Castillo circuit

When I hiked this route, there was no fee for camping in the park. However, this has changed recently. You can check the current prices on the CONAF website. Remember, that you can only pay in cash at the gates!

💵 The entrance fee to the park is 8200 CLP (for a day hike).

💵 You will pay 18 000 CLP at the trailhead at Villa Cerro Castillo (if visiting the park overnight). The entance fee to the park is included in this price.

💵 You will pay 29 000 CLP at the trailhead at Las Horquetas (overnight). Entrance fee to the national park is included.

Life hack that I used in 2018 (might not be the case now): from 13:30 to 15:30, as everywhere in Patagonia, the guards leave for lunch. You can sneak in, and you will have just enough time to get to the campsite by the lake before sunset.

Best time to go

🌼 The summer months of December to March are the best time for hiking in Patagonia, as the weather is warm and pleasant during the day. Although it does rain frequently in this region. 

🍁 The shoulder season of March, October, and November can be cold. However, the temperature usually stays above freezing, even at night, and there is less rain. April and September tend to be the rainiest months, so they may not be the best time for hiking. 

❄ In the winter months of June to August, temperatures can drop below freezing at night, and days are cold and short. Most likely you will encounter snow on the trek. 

Regardless of the time of year, it is important to be prepared for unpredictable weather when hiking in Patagonia.

What to pack for the hike

  • Hiking boots with Gore-Tex, good traction and ankle support.
  • Crocs or sports sandals to cross the rivers and wear at the campsite.
  • Warm clothing. Even during the summer months, temperatures in Patagonia can drop quickly, so it is important to wear a fleece and a down jacket.
  • Rain gear
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect yourself from the intense UV rays in Patagonia.
  • Water bottle to refill on the way. 
  • First-aid kit, including any personal medications you may need.
  • Jet Boil stove is protected from the wind, unlike a regular camping stove.
  • Trekking poles or a good wooden stick will be helpful on the stream crossing and walking on the loose rocks.

Campsites at the park

There are four designated campsites within the park that offer basic facilities such as protection from the wind, tables, and basic toilets. Wild camping is not permitted.

  1. Rio Turbio campsite is located in a lenga forest with views of a regressing glacier. 
  2. El Bosque campsite has recently been moved to a new location that requires a river crossing to access. 
  3. La Tetera campsite has been closed since 2020. It is situated in the fragile alpine ecosystem. Due to the exposure to strong winds, it is difficult to build a responsible latrine without affecting the water.
  4. Porteadores campsite is a small, forested area before the steep ascent to the lakes.
  5. Neozelandes campsite is the most beautiful campsite on the trail. However, it is located at a high altitude and can be subject to harsh weather.

Drinking water is available throughout the park. I didn’t use the water filter. 

All Hiking Trails at The National Park Cerro Castillo 

The Cerro Castillo Circuit is a 51 km (31.5 miles) trek around the beautiful mountain of the same name. This trek features stunning landscapes including hanging glaciers, turquoise blue lakes, and bizarrely shaped mountains. The park is known for its unpredictable weather, so it’s important to be prepared for all types of conditions.

There are several routes to choose from, ranging from one to four days in length. 

Cerro Castillo from Las Horquetas

1Las Horquetas – Camping Río Turbio15 km | 9,5miles6-7 hSeveral river crossings on the way
2Río Turbio – Camping El Bosque12 km | 7,5 miles7 hIt’s possible to encounter snow on the trail even in summer. 
3El Bosque – Camping Porteadores8 km | 5 miles6 hAfter crossing the rapid river, you will begin a steep climb up to a windy pass at 1600 m overlooking the glacier. It is best to tackle this section before midday when the wind is calmer.
Camping Neozelandés3,5 km | 2 miles1,5 hThe climb to the lake is steep. You can set up your tent at the Porteadores campsite and climb to the lake on the same day without a backpack.
Laguna Duff5 km | 3 miles4 hRoundtrip to another picturesque lake.
4Back to Villa Cerro Castillo from Neo Zelandes13 km | 8 miles4-5 hDownhill.
Total 4 days/3 nights, 51 km | 31.5 miles

3-days loop around Cerro Castillo

This is a short version of the same route. You will skip the walk in the forest, and go directly to the Cerro Castillo viewpoint.

1Villa Cerro Castillo – Campsite El Bosque12 km | 7,4 miles4-5 hTo reach the lake, you will need to cross a stream. It is best to find the widest part of the stream, on the right side if you are facing the glacier, as this area is shallow and easier to cross.
2El Bosque – Porteadores campsite8 km | 5 miles6 hThe rest of the hike is describe above.
Camping Neozelandés3,5 km | 2 miles1,5 h
3Back to Villa Cerro Castillo from Neo Zelandes13 km | 8 miles4-5 h
3 days/2 nights, 30-35 km (18.5 – 22 miles)

One-day hike to the viewpoint over Cerro Castillo lake

There are two trailheads for the Cerro Castillo National Park located in Villa Cerro Castillo, one privately owned and the other operated by CONAF. Both are supposed to charge 8200 CLP for a day hike, but there have been reports online that the actual price is 18000 CLP. The situation has become more complicated in recent years, as the trail used to be free to hike.

To reach the viewpoint over Cerro Castillo lagoon, hikers will walk a 26 km trek with an altitude gain of over 1000 meters. The hike will take approximately 7-8 hours to complete.

A Solo Hike to Cerro Castillo: The Best Way to Start a New Year

My romance with the mountains began in South America. My travel buddies Pawel and Matt introduced me to a new world of challenges, personal growth, and breathtaking views that left me in tears of joy. Despite my many successful hikes with them, I had never hiked alone. So I decided to venture to the Patagonian wilderness alone to test my own abilities.

First day

The trip began on a rainy morning, a tradition for all my hikes. My friend made me breakfast and wished me a safe journey. I put on my heavy backpack and stepped out into the gloomy, gray landscape. The hike was supposed to take four days, but I packed food for two weeks 😅 just in case.

I arrived in Villa Cerro Castillo at noon, instead of the expected 10 am, because the bus kept stopping at every bush along the way. I knew it was too late to start the 8-hour hike at Las Horquetas, so I decided to spend the night in the village and begin my hike the next day.

As I sipped on coffee at the only restaurant in town, I ran into a Spanish guy. We had met a few days earlier at a rodeo in Cochrane. Abel had just returned from a hike and offered me some valuable advice. He suggested that I change my route to avoid the dangerous river crossings due to the recent rain. He also told me how to sneak into the park for free by waiting until the guards went on lunch break at 1:30 pm.

I took his advice and set off on my hike during the lunch break. There was an elevation gain of 1000 meters and 10 km of the road ahead of me — not an easy walk, but definitely doable.

I reached the lake just in time to see a stunning red sunset. It is the most beautiful time of the day, but it also means that the day light is almost over. I searched for a campsite marked on the map, but couldn’t find anything. I quickly rolled down the loose rocks into the bushes near the lake. When I tried to set up my tent, the strong gust of wind almost blew it into the water. At the same time, a big chunk of the glacier crashed into the lake. It was an epic show, but I began to doubt whether it was a sane idea to go hiking alone in such harsh nature.

I calmed down quickly and started looking for a safe place to spend the night. There was a forested area across the river, but the raging stream blocked my path. Not long ago I had to swim across the river on the Cabo Froward hike (it was an accident) and I didn’t want to repeat this experience. Especially alone.

Just as I was about to turn back, I saw a couple walking towards me. We helped each other to cross the stream. On the other side we found a crowded campsite. I took the only spot left in the forest, although it was angled and had tree roots poking into my ribs all night. As I tried to cook dinner, the wind kept blowing out my fire. I had to soak the instant soup in warm water. Suddenly, a flashlight approached me, and a girl offered me ginger tea. It was a small gesture, but it really helped warm me up — physically and mentally. I was grateful to be with other people.

Second day

I was one of the first to leave the campsite. I slowly made my way up the mountain, taking in the beautiful scenery, and I had no idea what was awaiting me at the top.

When I reached the ridge, I realized that the markers were gone. But what I found was a 100km/h Patagonian hurricane that almost threw me off the mountain. It was so unexpected that I sat down on the ground. I had to crawl along a narrow ridge, with the risk of slipping off into the lake. I clung to a large stone, waiting for the gusts of wind to subside so I could make a run for the next heavy rock. It was nearly impossible to breathe because of the wind, and I had no idea what direction to go.

Suddenly, I saw a guy crawling towards me on his hands and knees. So, I wasn’t just imagining the strength of the wind like I thought. He offered to help. So, we stumbled and fell together, and it was way more fun than suffering alone.

After being tossed around by the wind for what felt like en eternity, we finally spotted the trail marker and started our descent. But little did we know, the wind on the other side of the hill was even more ferocious! I tumbled and stumbled down the boulders, and ended up covered with bruises by the time we made it to the campsite.

Fortunately, Ben was loaded up with cookies! He generously offered it to the other wind warriors, and boy, were they well deserved!

We rang in the New Year in style at the campsite, with a bottle of wine that miraculously survived the hike unscathed. Ben opened a Vegemite, a thick, black paste made with yeast from beer wort, and generously spread it on the crackers.

The idea of spending the New Year alone no longer seemed so appealing. I had wanted to be alone to think about the eternal. But, as it turns out, having friends to share the journey with can be just as enlightening. This adventure has shown me that people can be great support and not an obstacle. It’s always better to struggle together and share your victory cookies.

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