Reserva Nacional (RN) Cerro Castillo is said to be the next Torres del Paine. Although Conaf and the surrounding communities are measuredly moving towards this realization, savvy travelers have already discovered the beauty of this largely undiscovered park, home to Cerro Castillo (2675 m / 8776 ft), cragged mastiffs, glaciers and chill-blue lagoons.
Founded in 1970, RN Cerro Castillo preserves 179,550 hectares of glacier-caked mountains, lagoons and woodlands. To the east, RN Cerro Castillo stretches as far as the Argentine border. Lagos Elizalde, Paloma and Monreal are on the park's north edge. Laguna Chigay is at the park entrance along the Carretera Austral.
RN Cerro Castillo has typical Andean Patagonia forests composed of lenga (lenga beech, Nothofagus pumilio), Ã±ire (Antarctic beech, Nothofagus antarctica) and notro or ciruelillo (Chilean fire bush, Embothrium coccineum), with calafate (Magellan barberry, Berberis buxifolia) and chaura (prickly heath, Pernettya mucronata). Frutilla del diablo (devilâ€™s strawberry, Gunnera magellanica) and some capachitos (Calceolaria glandulosa) grow in damp areas. Orchids thrive in dryer areas, and introduced species of pine tree are common.
The reserve has a great diversity of fauna, from Chileâ€™s largest animals to its smallest. The huemul (South Andean deer, Hippocamelus bisulcus) is common along the Carretera Austral and herds of guanaco (Lama guanicoe) live near the Argentine border. Puma (Puma concolor), zorro colorado (Patagonian fox, Lycalopex culpaeus), chingue de la Patagonia (Patagonian skunk, Conepatus humboldti), piche (Dwarf armadillo, Euphractus pichy), gato de Geofroy (Geoffroy's Cat, Oncifelis geoffroyi) and ratÃ³n colilargo (long-tailed pygmy rice rat, Oligoryzomis longicaudatus) are also found within the park. Condor (Vultur gryphus), Ã¡guila (Black-chested Buzzard-eagle, Geranoetus melanoleucus), cachaÃ±a (Austral Parakeet, Enicognathus ferrugineus) and zorzal (Austral Thrush, Turdua falklandii) are among the many bird species here.
RN Cerro Castillo is divided into five sectors: Laguna Chiguay, where the administrative office is; Las Horquetas, Cerro Castillo, Lago la Paloma and Lago Elizalde. Entry for foreigners is $2 for adults, $1 for children; for Chileans: $1.60 for adults, $0.60 for children. For those wishing to do the four-day trail, admittance is $6. The park is open all year. In winter (May-September), the trails may be skied, though you must have a GPS and radio or cellular phone, and be an expert in snow and ice trekking. Strong snowfalls occur, often with over two meters (7.5 ft) dropping. In spring and fall, conditions are also challenging; heavy rainfall makes the streams run swift and strong, strong winds wrap around the peaks, and snow is possible.
It is essential to have high-quality camping gear at any time of the year. Take precautions against Hantavirus. Some trails have loose scree, which becomes very slick and unstable in rain and ice. Also, markers and trails may be difficult to see if hiking at the beginning of the summer.
Trails within RN Cerro Castillo were originally used by settlers in the region. Sendero Laguna Chiguay, near the campground in that sector, is a simple path requiring only a few hours to complete. Most hikers come to this national reserve to do the Valle de la Lima-Villa Cerro Castillo trek from Chiguay to Campamento NeozelandÃ©s at the far side of the great Cerro Castillo mountain (Distance: 45 km / 28 mi, Duration: 3-4 days). This sendero goes through Sector Las Horquetas, Valle del RÃo Turbio, RÃo La Lima, Portezuelo El PeÃ±Ã³n, Estero el Bosque, Laguna Cerro Castillo and Estreo Parada. The beginning and end of the trail are of moderate difficulty; the parts of it deeper into the reserve, however, are more challenging. The trail commences at the Laguna Chiguay ranger station, goes eastward along a road to Sector Las Horquetas (7.5 km / 4.7 mi) and the park boundary (13 km / 8.1 mi). Here there are campsites and another three-tent site 2.3 kilometers (1.5 mi) on. From this campground, the land begins to rise and trail conditions become more difficult. The sendero arrives at Cerro Castillo. If weather conditions allow, you can then do the 6.7 kilometer (4.2 mi) loop around the backside of the massif to Campomento NeozelandÃ©s. Then a 16 kilometer (10 mi) trail, part of the Sendero de Chile system, heads to Villa Cerro Castillo. Sendero de MontaÃ±a to Lago Monreal is in Sector Las Horquetas (Distance: 6 km / 3.6 mi, Difficulty: medium-high, Duration: 2 days, round trip).
Conaf has a topographical map with GPS coordinates and shows the official campsites. Businesses in Coyhaique and Villa Cerro Castillo also sell trekking maps. More information can also be obtained from the Sendero de Chile website (www.senderodechile.cl).
There are tour-authorized campsites along the Valle de la Lima-Villa Cerro Castillo route. No wood fires are allowed and you must have a campstove. The ranger station in Sector Laguna Chiguay has a six-tent campground with bathhouse, hot showers and potable water ($7 per tent).
From Coyhaique, take any bus heading south and get off at Laguna Chiguay or Las Horquetas ($7). Coming from Puerto IbÃ¡Ã±ez or other southern points, take a bus toward Coyhaique and get off at Laguna Chiguay or Las Horquetas.