Some hike to see the immensity of otherworldly mountains around the world. While others hike to experience a more personal, emotional, and physical challenge. In Patagonia, you can combine these wishes and much more! The southernmost region in South America (and in the world!) is a world-class trekking destination, and it is easy to get why. With vast areas of pristine landscapes and impressive rugged mountains, nature lovers will be in paradise.
Not long ago, I discover a secret destination in Northern Patagonia. Its name is "Reserva Cerro Castillo," a beautiful reserve lost in Chile's wilderness. While it is becoming more and more popular, Cerro Castillo is still far less crowded than other popular destinations like Torres del Paine National Park (Chile) and El Chaltén (Argentina). That is precisely the reason why hiking the full "Cerro Castillo" circuit (48km/30mi) is an experience that is out of this world. I loved it, and I am sure you will too.
1. It is far but worth the trip
To get to Cerro Castillo, you need to land in Balmaceda, a small airport an hour and a half away from the village of Cerro Castillo. However, the hike starts before you reach the locality, right in the woods. Some people reach the reserve while driving from Puerto Montt, a 2-day drive (yes, that's far) but by far one of the most scenic drives in the world. Cerro Castillo is located in the heart of the "Carretera Austral," Patagonia's mystic road that stretches for more than 1500 kilometers through the wilderness. Whichever way you choose to get there it will impress you.
2. The forests are dense and majestic
While some areas of Patagonia are incredibly dry (80% of that huge region is considered a desert) there is a huge region that mixes lush green forests and ice fields. There world's third freshwater reserve is right there. In the Cerro Castillo Reserve, you will find both the woods and the glaciers. The forests here are no joke and thank God the trail is well marked otherwise it would be easy to get lost. The campsites have no infrastructure, only spots to place your tents. The campsites are in the woods, so you will find good shelter if it rains or snows (which is common in the area, especially in the Spring and Autumn).
3. The trails are not crowded
If you've hiked inaccessible places, you know how the crowds can interfere with your hiking experience in a terrible way. Well, in Cerro Castillo, it's a whole different story. You may find a lot of hikers in some specific spots in the peak season (November to February), but there are plenty of quiet trails where silence will be your best friend. Also, if you come in low season (September, October, November, March, and April), you will avoid the crowds. In Winter (May to early September) the circuit is closed so unless you are some hardcore adventurer with a special permit in your pocket, you won't want to conquer the trails during the serious snowstorms that occur.
4. The mountains are insanely beautiful
Steep granite peaks and turquoise blues lakes: welcome to Cerro Castillo. The highlight of the trek is the Cerro Castillo itself, a peak of granite towering at 2,675 m.a.s.l (about 1,800ft.). It is by far one of the most beautiful spots I have seen in South America, with an otherworldly lagoon and glaciers and waterfalls everywhere. For those who don't have four days to do the full circuit, you can reach the lagoon in a day from the village of Cerro Castillo, which is precisely the reason why it is one this is the most crowded areas of the whole trek.
These were the four main reasons why I would recommend that trek; however, I have plenty of other arguments to convince you to undertake the hike of a lifetime. You will need some previous hiking experience, hopefully, a guide (if not bring a good GPS and don't do it alone) and be prepared for all kinds of weather (that's Patagonia, my friends!).
Also, it would be a shame to hike the circuit without driving around the "Carretera Austral." If you drive three hours past Cerro Castillo, you will reach the General Carrera lake, South America's second-biggest lake. From there you can sail to the Marble Caves, Patagonia's most beautiful caves. If you keep driving towards the South, you will reach Patagonia Park. And, well …there's too much to see in this part of the planet, so you'd better get your backpack ready!