Rancagua: Birthplace of huaso traditions

Historic and modern, the capital of the Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins region is the gateway to getting to know Chilean rural culture.

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To arrive in Rancagua is to realize that this modern city 87 km south of Santiago is the beginning of a different sort of urban development. Rural culture emerges in the midst of the 21st century, expressed in such popular forms as the rodeo, a traditional national festivity that puts the skills of cowboys to test in trying to trap a bullock. The main event of this huaso sport is the Champion of Chile, in which the entire city participates.

The mark of history can also be felt. It was here that the 1814 battle was waged that went down in history books as the Disaster of Rancagua because of the independence fighter Bernardo O’Higgins’s defeat at the hands of the Spaniards.

Near Rancagua are a number of traditional areas and towns full of history and cultural heritage. Sewell, a World Heritage Site; Santa Cruz, the departure point for the most famous wine route; the Cauquenes Hot Springs, a hot springs spa in of the foothills of the mountains. A trip to Doñihue would not be remiss, as it preserves the finest tradition in the weaving of cloaks or ponchos for huasos and offers delicious elixirs like Chacoli, a kind of white wine of Basque origin.

Main Attractions

La Merced Church

A living part of Rancagua identity. It was here that patriot forces took shelter during the Rancagua Disaster and it was declared a Historic Monument in 1954. Built in 1771, it is located one block north of the Plaza de Armas, built in an austere colonial style that has been preserved in the latest restoration processes. Estado street on the corner of Cuevas.

Pilar de la Esquina House

Located opposite the regional museum, this is one of the few references to traditional colonial architecture. Declared a Historic Monument in 1980, the current structure is built on quarried stone foundations with brick and adobe walls above. The roof is oak and above it has bamboo rods tied together with leather to receive the mud with hay for the handmade clay roof tiles. Around it are several heritage buildings like the Patria Vieja Museum, the Plazuela Santa Cruz de Tirana, and the square of the old San Francisco Church, which together form the city’s Traditional District. Paseo Estado 685, corner of Ibieta.

Casa de la Cultura

This is the oldest building in Rancagua. Built in the early 18th century, it was part of the Manor House that was used as a general headquarters by the Central Staff of royalist Colonel Osorio during the Siege of Rancagua. The most interesting characteristic of this property is its rural colonial appearance with its adobe wall and oak pillars. It was declared a Historic Monument in 1984. Avenida Cachapoal, corner of Millán.

Medialuna Monumental
A sports facility built especially for the practice of rodeo, with a capacity for 12,000 spectators. It is the seat of the largest huaso celebration in Chile every April.

Attractions near Rancagua

Doñihue

A town founded in 1577, its rural streets preserve one of the greatest heritage treasures in the Sixth Region: its poncho weavers. This is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation of women who weave colorful cloaks. Each cloak takes a year of handcrafted work. You need a lot less than a year to get to know another tradition from the area: Chacoli, a drink that is similar to white wine and made of green grapes. Every June a festival is held in its honor and everybody is invited. The area also has varied options for engaging in rural tourism and to learn the secrets of the Chilean countryside.

Cauquenes Hot Springs

Set in the foothills of the Andes Mountains and 31 km east of Rancagua, these hot springs date back to pre-Hispanic times. The temperature of the waters ranges between 42o C and 48o C. There is a hotel with thermal bath swimming pools and tubs, along with a good restaurant. The best thing is the natural surroundings and the peace that one can breathe in the atmosphere.

Chapa Verde

Located 57 km from Rancagua, this is the only ski center in the region with 20 slopes and 4 lifts. It is a small village with two restaurants and equipment rental for visitors.

Rio Cipreses National Reserve

One of the less well-known areas. Perhaps its distance from urban centers had meant that only a privileged few reach the Rio Cipreses Valley. The 36,882 protected hectares contain a glacier, centuries-old cypress forests and mountain olive trees. There is also 5,000-year-old rock art.

This post is also available in Spanish