Today was the day I’ve been looking forward to all year: getting to hike into the Andes!! You cannot go to Chile (or South America for that matter) and NOT explore this amazing mountain range. Though Torres de Paine is the most popular tourist destination in Chile and originally on our itinerary, time and $ were too tight and we had to shave it off this trip. Still, Santiago is only 2 hours away from the part of the Andes that runs through Central Chile, so not all hope was lost! C and K aren’t big hikers, but they mercifully allowed me one day to plan where to hike (many thousand thanks for this <3). In case you don’t know me/didn’t get a chance to read my about page, I love hiking and mountains 🙂 So you can imagine my excitement for this day!
Around Santiago, there are multiple options to get back to nature, including vineyard tours and hiking ‘hills’ (which are the equivalent of mountains on the east coast, haha) on the outskirts of the city. When researching hikes, recommendations from 2backpackers.com and matador network to Aguas de San Ramón Park, and Santiago Tourist to the hills around Santiago were tempting prospects because of their proximity, but overshadowing all of them were the innumerable recommendations to check out the Maipo Valley/Canyon (Cajon de Maipo), particularly El Morado National Park and the San Francisco Glacier.
Since we didn’t know Spanish and are a group of Asian tourists (aka stick out. a LOT), we decided to play it safe and go with a guided tour for hiking. I found a company called Fueguinos online via TripAdvisor, and based off great reviews and a friendly email correspondence with Pedro (the main tour guide), felt comfortable choosing to book with him. For $120, we got Pedro as a guide, hotel pickup and transportation (plus photo stops along the way), tickets to the park, breakfast, a bag lunch with water, and empanadas/beer at the end of the day at San José de Maipo (a city right outside the mountains). Not a bad deal (other tours were going for $160-210, for the same service or less), and Pedro turned out to be an AWESOME, super friendly and super helpful guide!
PS: if you ever want to check out Cajon de Maipo by yourself, here are some resources I came across: Frommers and ilovechile.cl. From those sites, you could probably get on this same hike for much cheaper, but Spanish is probably necessary, and not getting lost is not guaranteed 😛 I have no regrets going with Pedro and would absolutely recommend him!
The day started with Pedro picking us up from our hotel right as promised, at 7am. Also in our group was a duo of backpackers from Belgium, who had also just arrived in Santiago. Through their conversation with Pedro, I was delighted to find out that Pedro also spoke French, along with English and Spanish (he lived in France for 10 years!). So I got a chance to practice some of my French during the course of the day! But I digress. It was through Pedro I found out the ‘mountains’ I saw on our first day into Chile were actually considered ‘hills’ by the Chileans–nothing compared to what we were in store later that day 😛
On the way there, I might have been a bit too snap-happy with my camera…
Pedro got a kick out of me going crazy over these ‘hills’. Do you blame me?!?? About an hour in, our first stop was in a tiny town (with a population of like, 10) at the start of the Andes. I think the town was called El Volcán? Named because it was within the shadow of the San Jose Volcano. We stretched out legs and had breakfast here, consisting of cheese sandwiches, coffee, tea and biscuits. P:
After breakfast, we came across the towns namesake just down the road:
Not too long afterwards, we reached the entrance to the El Morado National Park.
To get to the start of the trail, we went over a river and through some…partial woods 😛
According to Pedro, the first hour and a half of hiking was the hardest part, all uphill.
Then, the next hour/hour and half-ish was a brief break, with hiking that was ‘flatter’:
Part of the ‘flatter’ part of the trail was a small area called ‘Aguas Panimavidas’. This was a small wetland area with rich soil deposits, creating naturally iron-carbonated mineral water. The colors were stunning:
And then we continued on…
We stopped here for lunch, which was still about 2 miles off from the actual glacier itself. We learned that El Morado Mountain is the summit in the middle, and on either side is the San Francisco glacier, which looks like mountain because of the snow covering it, but is actually, in true glacier form, a block of ice. If you zoom closely into the photo enough, you can see to the left of El Morado some grey spots of ice peaking out–thats the glacier! At this point, C & K were about done with hiking, so while the Belgians forged ahead, I stayed with C & K and used the time to relax. How can you NOT relax in a place like this? Pure bliss ❤
We rested for about an hour, then heading back to the entrance. Though it was the same route, the sun was no longer blinding the mountains in their own shadow, and to our delight, it turns out the mountains we had seen around the start of our journey were MULTICOLORED.
We finished off the day by driving to San Jose Cajon de Maipo, another but more populous mountain town:
and finished off the day with beer and empanadas P:
We got back to Santiago around 9pm, and needless to say, went straight to bed. An AWESOME Day 2 of Santiago complete, my inner nature lover completely satisfied for the rest of the year 🙂
For those who missed it: Chile Day 1