A Pedacito of Hiking Cajon del Maipo, Chile
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
Upon deciding that my South America trip would include a few days in Santiago, Chile, I was excited to discover that there was some amazing hiking nearby. Cajón del Maipo is a gorge in central Chile, southeast of Santiago. It's home to El Morado Natural Monument, a mountain reserve with trails to the San Francisco Glacier and Laguna Morales.
The reserve’s rich birdlife includes the Andean condor. The Baños Morales thermal springs are nearby. To the north is the vast El Yeso Reservoir. The gorge is dotted with towns, including San José de Maipo with its adobe houses.
The apartment where I stayed in Santiago was a bit out of the city center so I had to take an Uber to a rendevous point around 8 A.M. on a slightly humid morning. I was then met up with a small van and our guide for the day.
The group was a mix of English and Spanish speakers. We set off toward the park with a short pit stop for coffee and breakfast at a small restaurant along the way; this place also made our lunch so we were picking that up before going to the park.
We drove a few minutes down the road until we stopped at a checkpoint where our guide had to provide information about the group as well as how long we were going to be in the park. Now, I wouldn't have thought to do this before, but it was very smart. If we got lost or injured in the park someone knew that we were out there.
Entering the grounds of the park was magical. Again, being from hella flat Florida, the landscape was breathtakingly beautiful - and we weren't even on our hike yet! We stopped for a warm-up before the hike at a hill with a chilly waterfall.
If you read my post about going to Paracas, Peru, and buying a hat after I got sunburned, you'll be happy to know that I totally used that hat on this hike. There were almost no clouds insight on this beautiful morning!
We got back into the van and made our way to the base camp where the hike would start. We were greeted with a colorful mountain landscape (colored by the many minerals in the soil), goats who enjoyed playing on the slopes, and Chilean Condors effortlessly soaring high above from the updraft of the heated valley.
The hike was not very difficult despite the loose rocks and sun. As we head toward the valley we crossed paths with hikers returning from multiday trips into the canyon. Our guide let us know that some opt to hike all the way up to the glaciers high in the mountains. Those hikes require taking along camping gear.
The hike toward the valley was very rocky and a few snow-capped mountain peaks could be seen in either direction. As a Florida boy, it is always cool to see mountains with snow on them. It is sometimes hard to comprehend how I can be sweating where I walked and see snow up on the top of a mountain.
Soon the rockiness was transformed when we reached the valley where melting snow provides a constant flow of water, keeping the vegetation a beautiful contrasting green. There were some horses grazing here and we could see some other hikers far away. Our guide told us about a controversial project that was going on in a different part of the mountains where a dam was to be built.
There were signs of that work in this valley as a tiny construction crew was doing some work in preparation for how this valley would eventually be impacted by diverting the river. It's sad to see when a project like this interrupts the natural balance that nature has worked so hard to shape and maintain.
On the one hand, it is interesting (and inspiring) to know that Chile's energy production consists of 58% geothermal, 32% hydroelectric, and 10% by other renewable energy sources. Compare that with only 17% in the United States...
We had a delicious sandwich for lunch next to a small river. There was such peace being in a place like this, hearing the sounds of the river go by, knowing that there are not many people near you, and enjoying the cloudless blue sky broken only by the peaks of the mountains all around. This was another place where you can easily have one of those "wow, I'm so lucky" moments.
Hiking Cajon del Maipo was a beautiful experience that I would recommend to anyone who is looking to get away from it all and be surrounded by quintessential Chile. There is something in the air or in the rocks that you can just feel. It's something truly magical and hard to describe in words. You have to go experience it for yourself so you know what I mean.
After our hike, the group headed back to the small town where we checked in previously for an afternoon meal and some cold drinks. Of course, I opted for a cold beer, because beer! I mean, is there really a better way to end the day?
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