Mother natures castle, Cerro Castillo, towers 2,675m high across the Aysén landscape of Chile. Somewhat an aperitif before venturing into Patagonia and certainly an unexpected taste of what is to come.
How to hike Cerro Castillo in one day
We read really good things about hiking Cerro Castillo but mostly around the popular four-day hike, which sounded great but we just didn’t have time. It took a bit of effort to try and establish you could do this in one day by yourself but still we had no concrete information. “Oh well, let’s go and work it out”. Not an unfamiliar statement in camp Sling, as working out how to do things is all part of the fun!
We travelled via Coyhaique after picking up our Padron (the proof of ownership for the car we bought). From a blog we read, we knew the Cerro Castillo day hike started from Villa Cerro Castillo. We drove for about one hour and twenty minutes before we saw the mighty structure of Cerro Castillo’s towers loom over the surrounding landscape.
Finding the Cerro Castillo National Park Entrance
After doing a quick lap of this very small village, we decided to find the base of Cerro Castillo, scout out the starting point and set-up a place to camp. We had a few issues finding the turn-off. It’s not a paved road, just a muddy path that slips off the road rather than having a distinctive turn-off, so it’s really hard to see. Afterwards, we realised there are some signs but we completely missed them because it just didn’t look like a road. It’s funny how obvious it looks after the fact but at the time we drove up and down a few times before speaking to a local for directions.
We continued down the path to arrive at a small parking area for the Cerro Castillo National Park entrance. There was a little hut up a hill which provided information about access times and costs to hike Cerro Castillo for a day. Comfortable we were now where we needed to be, we looked for a camp spot. Not far from the entrance there were a few sections of grass next to a running river which had obviously been used for camping before. Here was the perfect place to wild camp for the night!
Starting the Cerro Castillo Hike
The day hike was estimated at 8 hours, so we wanted to start early. After moving ‘La Bestia’ (our car) underneath the protection of the trees, at our camp spot, we arrived at the hut at 8 am just in time to watch the ranger speed down the path from town and roll out of this car half dressed. “Bienvenidos,” he said whilst buttoning his shirt as if he had just walked out of the hut. After some polite exchange and a rundown of the safety requirements for hiking Cerro Castillo, we paid our dues and excitedly walk through the gate into the great unknown. It is worth mentioning now that Cerro Castillo has a very expensive access fee for entering (CLP 10,000 per adult) but don’t let this stop you from doing the hike because it is truly rewarding.
Starting out on an open path through paddocks and fields we were passed by some locals on an early morning run! “There are three ahead of you,” they told us as they cheerily jaunted passed. We both thought, what an epic place for trail running and yet we had only just started our journey. Then the more we ventured into Cerro Castillo, the more we realised this statement to be true.
The journey to the Cerro Castillo glacial lake
We started to ascend as we entered a thick and enchanting forest. Contrary to what we had researched, the signage within the national park was clear and probably new. We can only assume that they have realised there is an interest in doing the day visit and have started to maintain the path for hikers. The red markers are the indicators of the right track and these come in particularly handy as you enter the bushier part of the hike.
One thing I loved about this hike, which made it so much fun, was the constantly changing terrain. We have previously done the 6 day Overland Track in Tasmania. If you have done this before, you will know this is 80km of changing terrain and amazing views across valleys and mountains. Well, Cerro Castillo felt like that but in just one day – quite incredible!
Arriving at the Cerro Castillo glacial lake
After clambering across a steep snowy ridge on a sloping edge of the mountain, we started to approach the summit of the glacial lake. The lake is surrounded by the towers of the castle containing small glaciers dropping icebergs into the deep aqua lake. We had finally made it to one of the most beautiful places in the world. It was time to sit down, appreciate its glory and have some lunch.
The return to base
The journey down was as fun as the journey up. Somehow everything looked different again. There was more time to appreciate the views across the valley and play in the winding paths that had been carved out by previous adventurers. We also felt so good after witnessing something so beautiful, we definitely had a sprint in our step. There was a positive energy on Cerro Castillo that was contagious.
This is definitely not only one of my favourites hikes but also one of my most memorable summit finishes. It can take up to 8 hours return depending on the track and weather conditions but we have long legs and the weather treated us well, so it only ended up taking us 6 hours. Another reason for a big hi-five and smiles all around at the end of the hike.
Cerro Castillo is located near Villa Cerro Castillo, a small village near Coyhaique on the Carretera Austral. We travelled through here on our way to the Chile Chico border crossing into Argentina. If you find yourself near there or heading that way, I would definitely recommend you do this hike. It’s an experience you won’t forget or regret doing!