Cerro Castillo - the best hike in Patagonia you've never heard of
In some ways we can understand why Cerro Castillo gets relatively few visitors. Just a little further south, a few more bumps along the Carretera Austral and a ferry ride across Lago General Carrera, are the deserts landscapes of Jeinimeni, the wet forests of Parque Patagonia and the crystal-clear waters of the Cochrane River – all wonderful places in which to hike. Torres del Paine has the name to grab attention and the hiking trails to hold it. So it’s easy to miss it.
And yet there is so much to recommend it. We have hiked countless trails along the length and breadth of the Carretera, but our time here still sticks in the memory. The views are truly spectacular, among the best in Aysén. There are ancient cave paintings, Antarctic beech forests and it’s always worth keeping an eye out for the resident wildlife which roam here. Like many places on the Carretera, you won’t see many other tourists either.
Pura guide Camilo Silva in front of the Cerro Castillo Lagoon
Hiking in Cerro Castillo
The crowning glory of the national park is of course the jagged-edged, castle-impersonating, 2,320m high Cerro Castillo peak. Its distinctive form gives the park its name and takes centre stage in one of the most glorious vistas you can uncover on your road trip; a natural theatre of chiselled peaks rising out of the rock, dusted in snow and with the glacial turquoise waters of Laguna Verde at its feet. It’s a steep and long hike to get here, so you’ll enjoy it even more.
Morning light on Cerro Castillo National Park
Having said that, the national park has several trail options to suit your energy levels. Our favourite is without doubt the route up towards Laguna Duff, north of the mountain. Not only will it reveal some spectacular views over the dramatic mountain peaks, it'll lead you to a lesser-visited glacial lagoon and through beautiful Southern beech forests.
Fed by heavy rainfall, these forests grow lush and beautiful, with native lenga, ñirre and coihue trees setting the scene. This is certainly somewhere to keep your eyes peeled for native bird life, such as the Magellanic woodpecker. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the endangered huemel deer. The walk is 20km in total but, although there are some tricky parts, it is surprisingly comfortable given just how rough the terrain is here.
If you prefer, there are also several routes which can be followed on horse-back.
Magellanic woodpecker in the beech forests of Cerro Castillo
What else to see in Cerro Castillo
Typically, our travellers enjoy a more relaxed morning after a day’s walking. Jutting out into the Lago General Carrera just shy of the Argentine border, the scarcely populated Levicán Peninsula is a great place to stroll or cycle the backroads to get the best views out across the water and back towards the peaks. En route here you could also stop off at the impressive Ibañez Waterfall.
Salto Ibañez near Cerro Castillo
Another alternative addendum to your time here is to pay a visit to the Tehuelche Cave of the Hands. It is thought to date back thousands of years, with some primitive painted scenes depicting their hunting lifestyle of the day.
Ancient Tehuelche Cave Paintings
How & When to Visit Cerro Castillo
A two night stay here forms part of our three week Carretera Uncovered. Prior to arriving you’ll spend a couple days admiring the precious Valdivian temperate forests, the serene fjord and the dramatic hanging glacier of Queulat National Park. Heading further south brings you to Coyhaique, again nothing special in itself, but the ideal base from which to explore the Bosque Encantado and then see condors up close on the estancia of some good friends of ours.
Condors at their rookery close to Coyhaique
Your journey might continue across Lago General Carrera to the windswept frontier town of Chilo Chico. Much like the Cerro Castillo village, it’s perhaps the sort of place you’d rather be in and looking out of (across the lake for example), rather than be on the outside looking into it. What it lacks in intrinsic charm, it makes up for in its proximity to the Jeinimeni Natural Reserve, where Chilean Patagonia takes on an altogether very different guise.
After Jeinimeni, Parque Patagonia and Tamango, the trip embraces the glaciers and sparkling rivers of the southern Carretera.
You can depart a tailor-made Carretera Austral itinerary between October and April, coinciding with Chile’s spring, summer and autumn and its longer days. February and March are typically the driest months.
If you’re considering your own self-drive adventure in Aysén then we’d love to hear from you.