Cerro Castillo Day Hike
Have you ever wanted to hike to a castle somewhere in Europe, and just feel that awesome feeling of being in a one of a kind place? Well, what if I told you didn’t have to go to Europe to experience something like that. What if you could have a one of a kind experience in Patagonia? What if you could climb to a castle that rises above a small village in the middle of nowhere? You can. Forget about entering some ancient 13th century medieval fortress. This castle is even older. Millions of years old in fact. Enter Cerro Castillo, (Mount Castle) a breathtaking mountain with jagged basalt peaks which indeed make it look like a mountain fortress. And it comes complete with a pristine lagoon, and a intimidating hanging glacier. A castle with a whole different level of beauty. Read on to find out how to do the day hike, so that you too can take in the mesmerizing nature.
Start it off!
You start the hike at the end of the town of Villa Cerro Castillo coming from the direction of Cohaique. Cohaique is about 90km from Villa Cerro Castillo. Buses leave daily to this town from Cohaique. (read this post for detailed info on how to get there: Patagonian Backpacker Itinerary: Me, My Pack, and Chile) There’s a dirt road to the right, and near to the beginning of this road you’ll see a sign that indicates you’re in the right direction.
From there, you continue down the dirt road until you cross a bridge that goes over a lovely river. You should see a sign that says: “Puente Arroyo del Bosque.” Then you turn left and shortly you’ll see a park ranger booth. This is were you have to pay to actually do the hike. Yep, you read right. (rolls eyes) You might ask: Pay to do a hike that should be free? Well, the trail goes through private property, and the owner of said property thinks he can charge anyone to get to a mountain that he doesn’t even own just because the trail happens to pass through some of his precious land. Sounds like a medieval landlord thinking he can charge anyone what he wants so that they can enter “his castle.” So, when I arrived there, there wasn’t a single person in the booth. What did I do? I waited… And then waited some more.
Time was passing bye, so I decided to jump the fence when some French hikers, and then two Israeli guys and one Chilean dude showed up out of nowhere. Then the park ranger shows up, saying that we had to pay $10.000 chilean pesos to do the hike. I had read about this online, but I thought I could somehow avoid it. The park ranger wasn’t going to let any of us go until we paid the last cent. One French guy was furious, and started a battle with the landlord when he showed up. Understanding the frustration of the French guy, but determined to complete my goal of finishing the hike, I reluctantly paid the money along with the Israelis and off we went. Now as the hike progresses, make sure to follow the marked yellow and sometimes red sticks along the way.
Once you’re up there and on the way back down
As I hiked up with the guys, one conversational topic lead to another until we were sharing a pineapple at the lagoon. Yeah, eating a pineapple right next to a hanging glacier added to the surreal experience.
On the way up to the lagoon you get amazing views and you really get to see how vast, wild, and untamed Patagonia actually is. Very few, or no words can describe the sheer beauty of the region.
After lunch, and after spending some good time at the lagoon, right below the hanging glacier and the stunning basalt peaks, I headed back down. By this time, I had lost my hiking buddies, but I ran into another Israeli guy who I had met earlier at the campground. As we talked away, we led ourselves off the trail and eventually got lost as the daylight was coming to its end. Trying not to panic, we found the trail after what seemed like an eternity. So make sure to follow the aforementioned sticks, and not take any paths you don’t remember taking. Getting lost can be quite easy.
When I finished the hike, I immediately put it on my “top ten best hikes I ever did list.” The beauty of this mountain just blew me away. I got to meet some really interesting people, and that’s also part of what makes traveling around the world so much fun. So fellow travelers, I hope you get to do this wonderful hike, because believe me, it’s worth the effort.
What to bring:
•Good lunch, snacks, and enough water
• Trekking poles (they really come in handy!)
• Some bug-spray if you don’t want to get eaten alive by the horseflies.
•A windbreaker/jacket (An essential piece of clothing for Patagonia)
•camera (a must bring)
•Don’t bring too much water since you can refill at the lagoon.
•Don’t overfill your pack. This is a day trek, and you want to take advantage of all the time you have.
•Remember the trail, and guide yourself with the markers/sticks. It can be easy to get lost during some parts of the hike, so try to remember additional references if you need the extra help to guide your way.
•Make sure to start the hike early in order to take good advantage of the whole experience. I’d suggest starting as soon as daylight begins.