Laguna and glacier Cerro Castillo, Patagonia
HIKING Patagonia

Cerro Castillo Circuit – a 4-day trek in Patagonia

Cerro Castillo Circuit is a 50km trek through Cerro Castillo Nature Reserve near Coyhaique, Southern Patagonia, Chile. The scenery on the trek is stunning; indigenous forest, hanging glaciers, mountain rivers, snow peaks, turquoise blue lakes, bizarrely shaped mountains – untouched nature combined with unpredictable Patagonian weather. There are different routes in Cerro Castillo you can explore it in one to four days. Compared to some other hikes in Patagonia e.g. around El Chalten or the famous Torres del Paine, Cerro Castillo is an off the beaten path trek but it is not as wild as the O’Higgins Glacier hike.

Cerro Castillo trek overview

  • Total distance – 53km/32,5 miles
  • Days required – 3 to 4, we’d recommend 4 in order to have more time to enjoy the scenery but if you’re short on time you can definitely push it to 3 days.
  • Starting point – Valle de la Lima.
  • Finishing point – Cerro Castillo village.
  • Average altitude – 1000m.
  • Highest points – Cerro Castillo pass – 1600m and Portezuelo Peñon pass – 1435m.
  • Permits – no special permits or guide required, entrance fee – CLP 5000/US$8 is paid at the gate.

Suggested tours and activities in Patagonia

Best time for hiking

Summer (December to March) – is the best time for hiking in Patagonia in general; nice and warm during the day (here it rarely gets hot), days are long (you have daylight till 9pm) though it rains a lot in Patagonia any season be prepared to experience some rainfalls. We hiked in February and in general, were very lucky with the weather on this hike, not a single drop in 4 days.

In winter (June to August); night temperatures go down to -2°C and below, days are cold and short, it’s very likely you’ll encounter snow on the trek. April and September are the months with the most rain probably the worst time for hiking. March, October, and November are quite cold though temperature even at night stays above 0°C and it doesn’t rain too much

Average monthly temperatures in Coyhaique
Average monthly temperatures in Coyhaique, Patagonia
Graph with average monthly rainfalls in Coyhaique
Average monthly rainfalls in Coyhaique, Patagonia

Practical information for the hike

There are no shops or restaurants inside Cerro Castillo National park you must be self-sufficient, bring all the equipment and food with.

Some travelers consider the Cerro Castillo trek as a good (less crowded) alternative to the W trek in Torres del Paine.

There are 5 designated campsites with basic facilities in the reserve where you’re allowed to camp, wild camping is not allowed.

Drinking water can be found everywhere (taps, rivers, lakes, falls), it’s good quality and drinkable. We didn’t use any purification tablets or a UV filter here. 

Patagonian weather is unpredictable; strong winds and heavy rains are quite frequent make sure your gear is right.

The route is marked quite well all the way, the only time we were unsure about it was at the beginning of the second day.

If you hike in summer, especially months of December and January bring insect repellent there might be many tabanos (horseflies) in Patagonia this time of the year, they are extremely annoying.

Not many people in Patagonia speak English some basic Spanish knowledge will be handy.

In peak season; January-February there are many people traveling the Carretera Austral – a road through Patagonia, sometimes it’s difficult to get on a bus often they are full. Hitchhiking in the area is very popular and safe, locals and tourists stop a lot to pick up travelers. We hitched to Cerro Castillo from Pumalin Park and it worked out great.

How we rank Cerro Castillo trek

  • Difficulty level – 3 out of 5, there are two steep ascends and descends on the way.
  • Scenery – 4 out of 5, pine forest, lakes, glaciers, rivers – quite impressive landscape. 
  • Touristy – 2 out of 5, we hiked in February which is still high season but there were not many people, mostly Chileans, and very few foreigners – nothing compared to some trails in Torres del Paine.
Stunning view of the area from the pass, Cerro Castillo circuit, Chile
Beautiful scenery on the Cerro Castillo circuit, Patagonia, Chile

Don’t forget about travel insurance

Cerro Castillo is not a high altitude or dangerous hike but some parts of the route go through remote and difficult to access areas of the Natural reserve. Hiking like any outdoor activity involves risks of getting an injury, losing or breaking gear, and other unexpected situations. It’s always advisable to have insurance when traveling. Be properly covered for injury, evacuation, gear loss, trip cancellations, or delays.

Out of several insurance companies, we recommend World Nomads, they work all over the world and specialize in outdoor activities like hiking. A great thing about World Nomads is that you can buy insurance policy online while traveling, it takes only a couple of minutes. Their policy is very flexible it can cover the whole period of your trip or only the hiking part of it, even if it’s only one or two days. Get a quote right now!

Note! Always make sure you carefully read the Terms and Conditions part.

Cerro Castillo trek cost, per person

  • Transport – CLP 5000/US$7 bus
  • Shopping (food, gas) – CLP 7000/US$10
  • Accommodation + entrance fee –  it used to be separate and in fact nobody charged for camping on the trail but it changed in 2019 now if you do a multi-day hike you pay CLP 23 500/US$35 it includes entrance fee and three nights of camping in the park. For more details on price check the official website.

Total: CLP 35 500/US$52

Distances on the trek

  • Las Horquetas – campsite Río Turbio – 15km/9 miles
  • Rio Turbio – campsite Estero del Bosque – 14km/8,6 miles
  • El Bosque – campsite Neozelandes – 11km/6,8 miles
  • Neozelandés – Cerro Castillo village – 13km/8 miles

Campsites on the route

Río Turbio, Day 1

Facilities

  • Toilet – yes
  • Running water – yes
  • Tables, benches – yes

Estero del Bosque, Day 2

Facilities

  • Toilet – yes
  • Running water – yes
  • Tables, benches – yes

La Tetera, Day 2

Facilities

  • Toilet – yes
  • Running water – yes
  • Tables, benches – no

Porteadores, Day 3

Facilities

  • Toilet – yes
  • Running water – yes
  • Tables, benches – no

Neozelandes, Day 3

Facilities

  • Toilet – yes
  • Running water – yes
  • Tables, benches – yes
Beautiful scenery on the way to the trek
The scenery on the way to the Cerro Castillo trek

Getting to Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo National park is about 75km from Coyhaique, the capital of the region. To get there you can catch a daily bus from the Coyhaique terminal, it leaves between 9.00-9.30am for CLP 5000/US$8. At the bus terminal confirm itinerary of buses going back to Coyhaique (if you’re going back after the hike) or to Puerto Río Tranquilo (if you’re planning to continue south).

As an option you can hitchhike, depending on your luck and how many people are on the route, you can wait for a long time or get a ride in 15 minutes.

The hike starts at Las Horquetas, about 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 campsites (for free), we promised to stay there when we’re back. You can do the same and either start walking the other way around from Villa Cerro Castillo to Las Horquetas or catch a ride from the Villa to Las Horquetas. 

Cerro Castillo route map
Cerro Castillo route map

Cerro Castillo 4-day hiking itinerary

Day 1. Las Horquetas – Campamento Río Turbio, 15km

Trek starts at Las Horquetas a turn from Carretera Austral to the gravel road, between Coyhaique (75km) 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.

At the entrance, you register, pay CLP 5000/US$7 entrance fee and get a free map. You can camp right there, at Camping #1 but none does it, it’s a nice spot to stop for lunch and rest but we’d suggest keeping walking to the next campsite Río Turbio, it’s about 1-hour walk. Sometimes there is nobody at the entrance you just walk in without paying, they might charge you at the exit or ask to show your ticket, keep it till the end.

Highlights

  • Indigenous forest
  • A beautiful valley of Río Turbio

Challenges

  • It was an easy day of walking without steep ascents or descents.
Rio Turbio, Cerro Castillo circuit
Scenery near Rio Turbio campsite, the first day of the Cerro Castillo circuit

Day 2. Río Turbio –  El Bosque/La Tetera, 14km

In the beginning nice easy walk through the forest along the river for about 4km through at some stage, we lost the trail but found it quick. Then only one long steep up on the hike to El Peñon pass, on the top of it you’ll get a chance to walk on snow/ice in the middle of summer.

After the up always comes down; steep and rocky, be careful, don’t rush and watch your step. Walk from the campsite to the pass and over it takes about 5 hours. Once down, it’s 1,5 hours more to camping El Bosque. As an option, you can keep walking for about 1 hour and camp at La Tetera campsite with a beautiful view of Cerro Castillo lake. We’d recommend to camp at El Bosque if it’s very windy, it’s located in the forest and better protected from the wind otherwise La Tetera. 

Highlights

  • Stunning views from the top of El Peñon pass
  • Snow and ice on the top of the pass

Challenges

  • A steep ascent from the valley to El Pañon pass, +600m
  • A steep and rocky descent from the pass, -700m
Alya at the top of El Pañon pass, hiking Cerro Castillo circuit
Alya walking over El Pañon pass, the second day of the Cerro Castillo trek

Day 3. El Bosque/La Tetera – camping Neozelandes, 11km

At the beginning of the day after a 1-hour walk you arrive at the lake – Laguna Cerro Castillo (you start there if you camped at La Tetera), one of the most impressive sceneries on the hike; turquoise color lake, hanging glacier, and mountains around. From the lake, you’ll start ascending to Cerro Castillo pass, 1600m.

Don’t forget to turn around from time to time to check the view, from the top of the pass it’s even more impressive. Once at the top you start steep long descend, be very careful it’s really steep, rocky and gets very windy.

After about 1,5 hours you’ll find yourself at the river, camping Los Porteadores. Here you have several options; to camp at Los Porteadores and walk to Neozelandes without your backpack, to skip Neozelandes and go down to Cerro Castillo village or to keep walking with your backpack, about 1,5 hours, to  Neozelandes and camp there. We chose the last option and really enjoyed it, the area around the campsite is absolutely beautiful; a green valley with a river surrounded by bizarre-shaped mountains. Camping Neozelandes was the least crowded, we were 6 people camping here.

If for some reason you don’t want or can’t continue the hike you can take an emergency route. From La Tetera walk up to the Mirador Cerro Castillo where you’ll see Sendero de Emergencia, a route that will take you straight to Villa Cerro Castillo. This route is used by day hikers to get from the town to Laguna Cerro Castillo and back in one day. The descent is very steep, about 900m down.

Highlights

  • Turquoise blue lake Laguna Cerro Castillo
  • Hanging Cerro Castillo Glacier
  • Stunning views from the top of the pass
  • A beautiful valley at Neozelandes campsite

Challenges

  • A steep rocky ascent to Cerro Castillo pass, +700m
  • A very steep and rocky descent from the pass, -800m
Campbell at Laguna Cerro Castillo, Patagonia
Campbell at the Laguna Cerro Castillo, day 3 of the circuit

Day 4. 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.

Highlights

  • Walking through the forest

Challenges

  • A long descent to Villa Cerro Castillo, -800m
Campamento Neozelandes, Cerro Castillo circuit, Chile
The scenery at the Campamento Neozelandes, the last day of the trek

Gear to pack for the circuit

There is no accommodation options, restaurants or shops inside the National reserve bring with you all you need for three nights of camping.

Tent – for camping in Patagonia we’d recommend having a good quality reliable tent that is waterproof and wind-resistant. After 5 years of traveling, hiking, and camping sometimes in very bad weather conditions we made a choice for MSR tents; light, pack small, easy to pitch, waterproof, and very stable in strong wind. They might be not the cheapest tents but will serve you for years without failing.

Sleeping mattress – we are both entirely for inflatable camping mats; small and light, easy to wash, fit inside a backpack, soft and comfortable.

Sleeping bag – if you’re going to Patagonia in summer 0°C comfort sleeping back will be good enough, in other seasons we’d recommend bringing a bag with comfort to -5°C. As you know it rains a lot in Patagonia for this very reason synthetic sleeping bag will be better – dries quick and easy. Down bags are lighter, pack smaller, warm, very soft and comfortable but if they get wet it’ll be a problem.

Cooking gear (stove, pots, gas) – we recommend bringing a stove to be able to cook hot meals and boil water for tea. Modern camping stoves are very light and small and will hardly add 500 grams to your backpack weight. Buy a stove with Piezo Ignition to have a back up in case you lose a lighter or matches get wet.

As for pots we always take two pots with lids (that we use as plates); one for cooking and one for boiling water. You’ll be able to buy gas in almost any town in Patagonia. You can buy a cooking set with a stove, pots, utensils.

More details on hiking and camping gear for Patagonia you can find in our Patagonia packing list post.

Mirador Cerro Castillo – one day hike

It’s possible to do a one day hike to the Mirador Cerro Castillo from where you can see the lake and Cerro Castillo glacier.

  • Starting and finishing point – Villa Cerro Castillo
  • Distance – 12km return
  • Altitude gain/loss – 900m ascend to the Mirador (viewpoint) with subsequent 900m descend back to the valley.
  • The time required – 6-7 hours
  • Permits – no special permits required, entrance fee CLP 5000/US$8 is charged at the entrance. Remember for a day hike access to the trail is from 7am to 11am don’t attempt to start later you might not have enough time to get back before the dark.

If you enjoy day-hikes with stunning scenery and breathtaking lookout points consider including some of the beautiful day-hikes in Torres del Paine in your Patagonia itinerary.

Getting to Mirador Cerro Castillo trek

The trek starts at Villa Cerro Castillo, take a bus or hitchhike from Coyhaique. Once there find a sign “Sendero de Chile“, about 100km from the information and follow the dirt road until you reach a control point (a small house). Here you pay admission CLP 5000/US$8 and start a steep ascend all the way to the Mirador. It’s better to start the hike early before it gets too warm, all the way up you’re completely exposed to the sun. As an option, instead of going to and back in one day, you can camp for a night at La Tetera campsite, just 20min. down to the valley from the Mirador and come back to the town the next morning.

Highlights

  • Laguna Cerro Castillo
  • Cerro Castillo Glacier
  • Views from the Mirador

Challenges

  • Very steep and long ascend from Villa Cerro Castillo to the Mirador, +900m
  • Steep and long descend back to the town, -900m
Laguna Cerro Castillo, Mirador Cerro Castillo hike
Laguna and the Glacier Cerro Castillo from Mirador Cerro Castillo, the highlight of the day-hike

Mirador Cerro Castillo trek packing list

  • Drinking water – bring at least 1l bottle, on the way up there will be nowhere to get water.
  • Snacks, sandwiches – it’s a 6-hour hike you’ll get hungry.
  • Sunglasses, cap.
  • Rain jacket or rain poncho – weather in Patagonia is unpredictable.
  • Walking sticks – will be very handy on the way down, it’s steep and long.
  • Sunscreen – on a sunny day it’s a must.
  • Insect repellent – there might be sand-flies, they are very annoying.

Coyhaique accommodation and facilities

For Patagonia, Coyhaique is quite a big place the last proper town with good infrastructure on the way down south till El Chalten in Argentina or Puerto Natales in Chile. If you need to upgrade your gear, buy gas, draw cash –  it’s the place to do it. There are a couple of gear and second-hand shops (Ropa Americana) in the town, which was quite important for me because on the way to Coyhaique I lost my backpack with all my clothes, it fell out of the car while we were hitchhiking. 

You can combine Patagonia hiking experience with exploring massive San Rafael glacier, there are tours to the glacier that depart from Coyhaique daily.

Coyhaique facilities

  • Hotels – yes
  • Campsites – yes
  • Supermarket, shops – yes, big Unimark and one or two outdoor gear shops
  • Restaurants, cafes – yes
  • ATMs – yes
  • Information office – yes

Accommodation in Coyhaique

There are many guest houses, hotels, hostels and campsites in the town. If you are on a tight budget bring a tent – camping is the only budget accommodation option in this part of Patagonia. We can recommend El Camping, a bit outside of the town. It has good facilities; hot shower, wi-fi, power outlets but no kitchen you need your own cooking gear, price CLP 5000/US$8 per person. 

Villa Cerro Castillo accommodation and facilities

The hike finishes at Villa Cerro Castillo, a small town with a couple of restaurants, a shop or two and small guest houses/cabins and campsites. We can recommend Baqueanos de la Patagonia campsite, 10 minutes away from the park exit, a nice place with good facilities; hot shower, kitchen, electricity, outlets, and wi-fi. Price CLP  5000/US$8 per person. To have more accommodation and restaurant options rather than go back to Coyhaique. 

Villa Cerro Castillo facilities

  • Hotel – yes, a couple of guest houses and cabins (cabañas)
  • Campsite – yes, several through the town
  • Shop – yes, a couple of smallish shops
  • Restaurant – yes, several local restaurants
  • ATM – no
  • Information – yes

Accommodation in Villa Cerro Castillo

Camping Rustik Patagonia | Camping Araukaria | Camping El Mirador| Hostal El Rodeo | Refugio Cerro Castillo | Cabañas El Tropero |

Getting from Villa Cerro Castillo to Coyhaique

If you arrive at the village early you’ll have a chance to catch a bus back to Coyhaique the same day. There are two or three daily buses from Cochrane to Coyhaique but in the season they might be full. Go to the tourist information office just a block away from Carretera Austral. You can try to hitchhike but it can be difficult due to many people on the road – dozens of backpackers locals and foreigners hoping to get a ride. 

Getting from Villa Cerro Castillo to Puerto Río Tranquilo/Cochrane 

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 was a bus at 11am to Cochrane, price CLP 7000 pesos/US$10. In our experience the bus was already full when arrived, some people could get in. We hitched all the way to Puerto Río Tranquilo, 120km south from Villa Cerro Castillo, were very like to get a ride quick.

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