This post is part 15 of 18 in the series Carretera Austral Travel

Villa Cerro Castillo is a small town on the Carretera Austral in southern Chile that seems tailor-made for dirtbags with access to ample outdoor adventure travel opportunities–including hundreds of rock climbing routes, one of the hardest (and most expensive) day hikes in the region, and cave art–plus a local craft beer maker.

cerro castillo aysen chile

Views like this, including the 8,776 foot (2,675 meter) jagged peak of Cerro Castillo, is what brings outdoor enthusiasts to Villa Cerro Castillo.

Though surrounded by the beauty of the steppe landscape of the Ibáñez River Valley punctuated with sparkling lakes and glaciers, Villa Cerro Castillo (not to be confused with the town of the same name near Torres del Paine National Park) is not an attractive town. The region around this ramshackle, dusty little pueblo (population 550) was inhabited by Indigenous cultures for thousands of years and the town was officially founded in 1966. It’s named for the jagged Cerro Castillo peak that looms 8,776 feet (2,675 meters) over it, still white with snow even in summer. That’s fitting since getting close to that mountain is what brings many people to Villa Cerro Castillo, though not everyone will make it.

What to do in Villa Cerro Castillo

It’s all about getting outside around Villa Cerro Castillo where natural beauty, cultural relics, and outdoor adventures await.

Hiking the Laguna Cerro Castillo Trail

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity, right? Well, when it comes to hiking, it’s not the distance, it’s the steepness.

Laguna Cerro Castillo Trail

Up, up, up on the Laguna Cerro Castillo Trail.

The Laguna Cerro Castillo Trail in Cerro Castillo National Park takes hikers to a lovely glacial lake with views of Cerro Castillo covering just shy of 9 miles (14 km) in-and-out round trip. But in that relatively short distance, hikers climb (and then descend) nearly 4,000 feet (1,219 meters).

This well-maintained trail starts out relatively gently and the first 3.2 miles (2 km) pass through a forest so the trail is shaded. However, the rest of the trail is exposed to the sun and gets increasingly steep all the way to the top with frequent extra-steep sections.

cerro castillo national park

About 3 miles (5 km) up, hikers reach a rudimentary ranger outpost, but the steepest sections of the Laguna Cerro Castillo Trail are yet to come.

We were moving quickly and made it to the checkpoint, located 3 miles (5 km) up the trail, within two hours. A few rangers are stationed here and there’s a toilet, some shade, and drinking water.

hiking cerro castillo chile

As is often the case, the final push to the lakes and vistas at the end of the Laguna Cerro Castillo Trail is the steepest.

From there, it took us another hour to cover the remaining 1 mile (1.5 km) climbing extremely steeply to the glacial lake. We kept looking for condors but didn’t see any though it seemed like prime condor country.

laguna cerro castillo

The vibrant lake tucked under Cerro Castillo is a lovely reward for hikers on the Laguna Cerro Castillo Trail.

The green/blue glacial lake below the distinctly jagged Cerro Castillo formation and its hanging glaciers were a lovely reward for the effort as were views of other peaks and the valley below.

We do a lot of hiking, including many hikes in Patagonia, and we can tell you that this is a hard hike. Do not underestimate it. Allow a minimum of six hours round trip for this hike. Wear proper hiking boots (we also recommend hiking poles), bring plenty of water, and wear high-SPF sunscreen and a hat.

heading down cerro castillo

What goes up must come down…

Oh, and bring cash. The fee for this trail is 19,000 CLP (US$22) per person for foreigners, making this one of the most expensive hikes we’ve ever done, and they want cash. After paying, it will take about 10 minutes to fill out paperwork at the ranger station where you will also find two cold showers and flushing toilets. You must be on the trail by noon or rangers will turn you away.  When we were there, you did not need prior reservation to visit Cerro Castillo National Park, but double-check as park rules change.

And speaking of change…as we write this, CONAF (the Chilean governmental organization that manages the country’s national parks) has closed the Laguna Cerro Castillo Trail and the popular Las Horquetas multi-day hike. Check the Cerro Castillo National Park site for updates and, we hope, reopenings.

Post-hike tip: Hikers are allowed to use the two cold-water showers near the ranger station, so if you want to freshen up after this hike you can.

Tips for hikers driving to the trailhead: The official ranger station and official start of the Laguna Cerro Castillo Trail is about 3.2 miles (5.1 km) from Villa Cerro Castillo along a gravel road that was in mostly fine condition when we drove it. You will see two signs saying that a 4X4 vehicle is required. This is because of just one steep rough section of road near the official trailhead. If you do not have a 4X4 vehicle, drive to the second 4X4 warning sign, park there, and walk about 1 mile (1.6 km) on the road to the ranger station and trailhead. Do not park and start walking at the first 4X4 warning sign. The trail from there goes through private property and access seems to currently be restricted. The parking area next to the ranger hut is dusty and exposed but safe (the rangers are right there).

Visit the Paredon de los Manos archaeological site

Paredon de los Manos archeological site

Sections of this cliff face are adorned with ancient art created by the Tehuelche culture and now protected as the Paredon de los Manos archaeological site.

For a much easier hike with a dose of culture, head to the Paredon de los Manos archaeological site (2,000 CLP/US$2.30 per person, open until 8 pm in summer) located 2 miles (3.2 km) from Villa Cerro Castillo down a short gravel road where you’ll find a parking area and a small pay station.

Paredon de los Manos archaeological site chile

Tehuelche hand art near Villa Cerro Castillo.

A short trail (allow 20 minutes each way at a moderate pace) climbs to a 50-foot (15 meter) section of rock wall which was decorated with red pigment handprints by members of the Tehuelche culture about 3,000 years ago (some say they’re even older).

Tehuelche hand prints chile

Experts say this Tehuelche rock art is at least 3,000 years old.

There’s also a hulking brick building near the pay station that was constructed in the 1960s as the Cerro Castillo school. Now this unusually large building (it’s bigger than anything currently standing in the town of Villa Cerro Castillo) is used as a museum of sorts (included with your entry to the trail to Paredon de los Manos) and is a Historical Monument. Displays inside show fairly humdrum items from daily life and the life of the school.

Explore the Ruta de Los Lagos

lago tamango chile

Lovely Lago Tamango along the Ruta de Los Lagos loop out of Villa Cerro Castillo.

The Ruta de Los Lagos Route (aka Ruta Las Ardillas) is a dirt road that connects Villa Cerro Castillo with Puerto Ibáñez. This 50-mile (80 km) loop takes you through beautiful landscapes including the Ibáñez River, the Levican peninsula, forests of endemic trees, small farms, stunning views of Cerro Castillo, and many lakes including Lago Tamango, pictured above.

Where to sleep in Villa Cerro Castillo

There are B&Bs, campgrounds, and cabins available in Villa Cerro Castillo, but not a lot of them. As this town’s popularity grows, accommodation options get booked up fast so we recommend making reservations if you can.

We stayed at Cabañas Don Niba where 40,000 CLP (US$45) got us a dirty, poorly furnished, and poorly equipped cabin–but there was little else available and the cabin had a washing machine so we could deal with our growing pile of muddy stinky hiking clothes and we were anxious to get settled and start exploring the area, so we took it.

huemul deer chile

Here’s proof that huemul,  a type of endangered endemic deer, really do exist around Villa Cerro Castillo which is the only place we’ve ever seen this species.

Where to eat in Villa Cerro Castillo

No one comes to Villa Cerro Castillo for the food. You’ll find a handful of okay places to eat in town and because Caiquen craft beer is made in Cerro Castillo, you should also be able to find a good cold beer in bottles and on tap. If you visit the ramshackle Cerveza Artesanal Caiquen craft beer facility on the outskirts of town you may be able to buy bottles directly if they have any on hand. And there are a few poorly-stocked minimarkets in Villa Cerro Castillo for self-catering travelers.

Getting to Villa Cerro Castillo

carretera austral reserva nacional lago las torres

The section of the Carretera Austral from the base of the Quelat Pass through the Reserva Nacional Lago Las Torres is particularly beautiful

We drove to Villa Cerro Castillo along the Carretera Austral (Ruta 7) from the town of Puerto Cisnes (this stretch was all paved except for a few short sections that remained gravel for some unknown reason). Honestly, this section of the Carretera Austral from the bottom of the Quelat Pass, where the junction to the Puerto Cisnes road is, to shortly before Coyhaique is one of the prettier sections of the Carretera Austral, and that’s saying something. The route climbs a bit to reach the small city of Coyhaique (59 miles/94 km north of Villa Cerro Castillo) where the landscape abruptly changes from rainforest and threats of mud to dry Patagonian steppe with few trees and lots of waving grass with big peaks all around. Yeah, a bit like Montana.

 

Here’s more about travel in Chile

Here’s more about Carretera Austral Travel

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Series Navigation:<< The Ventisquero Hanging Glacier Hike – Queulat National Park, ChileTepaluma Gin Distillery Tour & Tasting – La Junta, Chile >>

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