Cerro Castillo Circuit, 4-day trek in the National park

Cerro Castillo Circuit, incredible scenery, unreal beauty, impressive glaciers, crystal clear rivers, ice cold lakes, bizarre shaped mountains, pine forest, untouched nature, and unpredictable Patagonian weather – all these you can see on the trek.

What is Cerro Castillo?

Cerro Castillo is a National Reserve, quite a big reserve – 180 000 hectares and one of the most famous hiking places in Chile. Why? If you look at the photos it’ll be quite clear; because here you can see and almost touch hanging glaciers, swim in freezing rivers, walk through beech forest and go over some passes that remain covered in snow even in summer! There are different routes to explore the park; 1/3/4-day hikes, we did 4-day and it was definitely worth of time and effort!

Stunning view on the way down from the pass. Cerro Castillo circuit.
Stunning view on the way down from the pass. Cerro Castillo circuit.

How to get to Cerro Castillo?

Reserve’s about 80km from Coyhaique (the capital of the region) and to get there you can catch a daily bus at 9.30 for 5000pesos/7$ or hitchhike (we did), here everything depends on your luck, you can wait for a long time or be lucky and get a ride in 15 minutes, we were lucky.

Cerro Castillo trek
During all 4 days of the hike you have a great chance to enjoy beautiful Patagonian nature.

4-day trekking in Cerro Castillo

Valle de la Lima – Villa (village) Cerro Castillo. Valle de la Lima is 30km before (if you drive from Coyhaique) Villa Cerro Castillo. If you go by bus just ask a bus driver to stop there, if you hitch ask the same. We had some extra luggage and didn’t want to walk for 4 days with two backpacks each so we had to go first to Villa Cerro Castillo and ask to store our extra bags in one of the campings (for free), promising to stay there when we’re back. Because of this we decided not to waste more time and started the hike from Villa Cerro Castillo, did it backwards (we write the itinerary for standard way). It wouldn’t really matter if not the fact that we had to walk mostly up all four days.

Cerro Castillo circuit
Campbell with glaciar Castillo on the background. 4 day trek in Cerro Castillo National park

The trek is about 45km long with some ups and downs, the path is very clear and easy to follow, there are free camp sites in the park, drinking water can be found everywhere (rivers, lakes, waterfalls). What we specially liked about the park there weren’t many tourists (compare to Torres del Paine or el Chalten) and we were there right on the high season.

Cerro Castillo map
Cerro Castillo map; 1 – Las Horquetas; 2 – Campamento Portazuelo; 3 – Campamento El Bosque; 4 – Campamento Neozelandes; 5 – Villa Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo Circuit, 4-day trek

1st day. Las Horquetas – Campamento Portezuelo, 15km.

Trek starts at Las Horquetas a turn from Carretera Austral to gravel road, between Coyhaique (80km) and Villa Cerro Castillo (30km). Form the turn to the park entrance about 13km, easy walk, mostly flat, on the gravel road through fields and forest. In my opinion it’s the most boring part of the trekking.

At the entrance you register and pay 5000pesos/7$ fee, get a map and actually you can camp right there, in Camping #1 but none does it probably because there is no water source nearby. Sometimes there is none at the entrance you just walk in without paying, they can charge you at the exit.

Next camping (Campamento Portezuelo) is about 2km away, near the river, most hikers stay there. It has a primitive toilet, tables, benches and beautiful view at the mountains and valley. All campings inside the park are free.

Cerro Castillo trek
Scenery on the first day, in the beginning of the hike. Cerro Castillo circuit

2nd day. Campamento Portazuelo – campamento El Bosque, 10km.

In the beginning nice easy walk through the forest along the river, about 4km. Then only one long steep up on the hike to El Penon pass, on the top of it you’ll get a chance to walk on the snow/ice, felt a bit strange in the middle of summer, it never melts!

Of course after the up always comes down, quite steep and rocky, be careful, don’t rush and watch your step. Walk to and over the pass takes about 5 hours, once you’re down it’s 1,5 hours more to El Bosque camping. Most hikers camp there but some prefer to keep walking till the next camping, at Laguna Castillo, 1 more hour. We camped at El Bosque (forest), due to its location it’s better protected from the wind.

Alya on the top of El Penon pass, Cerro Castillo circuit
Alya on the top of El Penon pass, Cerro Castillo circuit

3rd day. Campamento El Bosque – campamento Neozelandes, 11,5km.

In the beginning of the day after 1 hour walk you arrive at the lake, Laguna Castillo, one of the most impressive scenery on the hike, turquoise color lake, hanging glacier and mountains around, very beautiful.

From the lake you’ll start up, along the lake and over the pass, don’t forget to turn around and check the view from time to time, from the pass it’s even more impressive!

From the top you start long walking down, here you have to be very careful it’s very steep, rocky and windy, sometimes feels like the wind can blow you away.

After about 1,5 hours down you’ll find yourself at the river (camping Los Porteadores), you have two options to camp here and walk to Circo Glaciar without your backpack or keep walking (1,5 hours) till camping Neozelandes, which is near the glacier and camp there. We camped at Neozelandes, less crowded, there were 6 people including us, and with some beautiful views.

Cerro Castillo trek
Amazing view from camping Neozelandes.

4th day. Campamento Neozelandes – Villa Cerro Castillo, 13km.

Last bit and only down, all the way to the road, about 3,5 hours and from there 1,5 hours to the village and campings.

At the exit you can be asked to show your ticket, keep it till the end. The trekking is not very difficult but can be if the weather is bad, the path is well marked, no dangerous animals or poison snakes, you walk between 6-7 hours daily.

Cerro Castillo circuit
View over the valley on the way down to Cerro Castillo village

What animals can you see in Cerro Castillo?

Huemules (deer), guanacos, foxes, hares, condors, eagles and some smaller animals and birds. We saw many hares, condors and eagles.

Villa Cerro Castillo

Near the park exit there is a village with the same name, nothing special, typical local village. There are a couple of campings, small shops, one or two restaurants and many hitch-hikers on the road. We stayed at Baqueanos de la Patagonia camping, 10 minutes away from the exit for 5000pesos/7$ per person. It has how shower, kitchen, electricity, outlets and wi-fi (wasn’t working).

To get away from Cerro Castillo you either hitch-hike or take a bus. Hitch can be difficult because of high competition – dozens backpackers, we hitched and waited less than an hour. If hitch-hiking is not your cup of tea you can catch a bus just need to know that public transport is very scarce in the area. There is a bus at 11am to Puerto Tranquilo (120km to the South) for 7000 pesos/10$. It was already full when arrived, very few people could get in.

Castillo glacier, Cerro Castillo circuit
Castillo glacier, Cerro Castillo circuit

Coyhaique

80km away from Cerro Castillo, for the region is quite a big town, with huge Unimark, gear shops and secondhand shops (ropa Americana). It was quite important for me ’cause on the way I lost my big backpack with all my clothes! The town is your last chance to buy some gear or clothes, draw money, next ATM is in 400km, download movies etc.

There are many guest houses, hotels, hostels and campings, everything is expensive, to save some money in Patagonia you need a tent. The cheapest accommodation is 11000pesos/16,5$ per person, the cheapest camping 3500pesos/5$ per person. We stayed in El Camping, more expensive one (with wi-fi), for 5000pesos/7$ per person, to the left from the bus terminal, downhill, 10 minutes walk. We liked it, clean, spacious area, toilets, hot shower (from 7am to 11am, from 7pm to 11pm), outlets, wi-fi but no kitchen. There is free camping place at the river, next to Piedra del Indio.

Cerro Castillo trek
Some mountains on the trek do look like castles

Cerro Castillo was one of our first trekkings in Patagonia and had a big impact on our decision to do more trekking in the region. After we hiked O’Higgins – El Chalten, glacier El Chico and of course Torres del Paine.

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19 Comments

  • Thanks for the information. How long is a day hike from Villa Cerro Castillo up to the laguna and back? How does it compared to a day hike at Fitz Roy or Torres del Paine (day hike)?

    • Hello, Owen! Sorry for the late reply we were on a hike and just came back.
      We didn’t do any day hike in Patagoina so we can’t really compare them. For Cerro Castillo if you want to go up to the laguna and back the same day you have to start early at 7-8am to have enough time to get back before dark (it gets dark very late in summer about 9-10pm). We enjoyed all three hikes the scenery on all of them was amazing; glaciars, lakes, mountains. For Torres in one day you won’t be able to see much just Las Torres and a lake or two. Fitz Roy you can do different day hikes there are several routes but to see Fotz Roy at sunrise you have to camp there it’s too far from the entrance. Hope we could help you a little bit.
      Good luck!

  • Hello!

    I’m female and travelling solo.

    1. Would you recommend doing this trail, with camping, alone or engaging a guide for safety?
    2. If I plan on going from top to bottom on my patagonia journey would this be easier accessed before or after Fitzroy and Los Glaciares?

    Thank you, loved the article and hope to read more such posts!

    • Hello, Anthea! Thank you for your comment!
      1. It depends when you’re planning to do a hike. If in summer you can easily do it on your own there are no dangerous animals and all people on the way are tourists/backpackers nobody to be scared of. The hike is quite popular among Chileans so there will be always people walking and camping nearby. If you want to do it in winter (we don’t even know if it’s possible) I wouldn’t do it at all.
      2. We traveld from top to bottom and it was quite easy to access Cerro Castillo from Coyhaique by bus or hitch-hiking. Fitz Roy and Los Glaciares are more South if you go there first you’ll have to go up again. For us Chilean Patagonia and Carretera Austral was one of the most beautiful places in South America so we’d definitely recommend to go down Chilean side and then cross to Fitz Roy.
      If you have more questions don’t hesitate asking!
      Good luck!

    • We have done it in January this year. What a stunning place. No doubt that it is safe. Nevertheless, watch for inclement weather. Enjoy!

      • Hi, Jan! We’re glat you enjoyed Patagonia and Ceroo Castillo! The place is really amazning!
        Cheers!

  • Hey there, great write up!
    I did the hike too and loved it – though a slight variation. Im trying to find out the names of the glaciers and lakes above the neozelandes campsite, do you have any idea of them? I’m trying to find out more about the moraines they left lying around up there – so incredible!
    Thanks 🙂

    • Hello, Nicholas! Thank you! The neares to the campsite lake is Laguna Duff. About the glacier we aren’t sure on our map it says Neozelandes the same name as for the campsite.
      Cheers!

      • Okay great, thanks for the name. Will have peek into it. Well. You know what I mean.
        All the best!

    • Hello, Marcella! Thank you for the comment! We’re sure you’ll enjoy the hike!
      Good luck!

  • Hi, we are going there end of December. Are there any mules / horses available and allowed INSIDE the park? Thanks. Jan Lubbe

    • Hello, Jan!
      We didn’t see any horses (there are no mules in Patagonia at all) or porters in the park all tourists carry their own stuff. And we didn’t see anywhere in the area advertising horses for rent. The only one National park in Patagonia where it is definitely possible to rent a horse is Torres del Paine but it’s quite expensive.
      Good luck!

  • Hi, thanks for your description of this trek! It’s really useful. My husband and I are planning to do it next year. Am I right in assuming that you can get the maps you posted pictures of above at one of the Park Offices, and if so which one (I’ve heard there are several)? Also, what kind of (if any) navigation equipment did you carry – will a compass and map do? Thanks 🙂

    • Hello, Bettina! Thank you!
      Yes, we got our map at the entrance at Cerro Castillo village, it’s free. You can get it at both entrances but sometimes there is nobody at the entrance from Valle de la Lima then you don’t pay the entrance fee and don’t get a map. You can as well buy your own map in one of book or gear shops (e.g. in Coyhaique). We didn’t have it but other tourists told us it was better than the free one.
      We used only the map no other navigation for Cerro Castillo the trail is quite clear and there were other tourists to follow. Often for navigation we use app Maps.me it usually has trekking trails and works offline. If you have more questions we’ll be happy to answer!
      Good luck!

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