Outdoor adventures

Ecotourism in Santiago, Chile: from glaciers to hot springs

Eco-friendly tour company, AndoAndes brings the volcanoes, glaciers, and hot springs on the doorstep of the capital to nature loving travelers - in style. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013  
Baños Colina natural thermal pools. Photo: Michael Dash Baños Colina natural thermal pools. Photo: Michael Dash


Visitors to Santiago will be surprised to discover that just beyond the sleek high rises and historic monuments of Chile’s capital lies a world of outdoor adventures: from skiing, to condor spotting, glaciers to hot springs.


There are many groups that can help you explore this Andean playground, including the free hikes offered by trekking.cl, or the bike tours run by companies like Santiago Adventures or La Bicicleta Verde.


But if you are looking for a way to experience this wilderness in style, then AndoAndes is the company for you.


The tour operator offers five different options ranging from US$98 (CLP$45.000) to US$140 (CLP$65.000). Each tour includes transportation, bilingual guide (English and Spanish), lunch, water, park entrance, and insurance.


All about convenience for its customers, AndoAndes picks you up at your hotel or apartment, brings you to the site, sets up a nice lunch spread, and walks you through what you need to do in order to have an enjoyable day of trekking.


They also offer a combination of two of their tours to make one perfect day of outdoor adventure: a hike to the Glaciar San Francisco followed by a dip in the Baños Colina natural hot springs in Cajón del Maipo. Pick up is at 6:30 a.m. and the day lasts until approximately 10:00 p.m.


On the day we entered Monumento Natural El Morado, we stopped in an area called Baños Morales and read the signs on display explaining what to do in case the nearby volcano decided to awake from its slumber.


Here the two guides prepared a table for our lunch. Our meal included, avocado, tomatoes, salami, turkey, cheese, three different types of bread, freshly squeezed strawberry and raspberry juice, bananas, and muffins.


After the delicious meal we made our way into Monumento Natural El Morado, the base of which sits at 6,233 feet (1,900 mt). The first hour of the trek is on a steep incline. At that high of an altitude, the ascent provides a nice physical challenge. After that the trail flattens giving trekkers ample air to breathe and sights to take in.


Overhead the Andean Condor catches the rising warm air off the mountain walls and eagles stalk their prey.


Before reaching the glacier, the group stopped for a drink of the pure waters of Panimávida, an underwater mineral spring near the Morales Glacier Pond.


During this break two different species of very confident birds came to see if we had any food to share. One is named Cometocino (Bacon Eater) and the other Dormilona (Sleepy). If you hold still enough with some bread they will actually eat from your hand.


As we continued to follow the Estero Morales river to the glacier we ascended 2,000 feet above sea level reaching 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). By this time everyone had acclimated to the altitude and was enjoying the landscapes of the valley.


At the base of the San Francisco Glacier we marveled at its beautiful blue ice and the berth of its rivers from the melting snow.


After the 10 mile (16 km) hike to the glacier we got back in the van to head to a much deserved rendezvous with the Baños Colina hot springs. This is a hidden gem at the foot of the Cordillera de los Andes with natural pools arranged as outdoor terraces.


With its limestone deposits of thermal water you can move from bath to bath to find the perfect temperature to soothe your aching muscles. The views from the baths are surreal. In every direction you are surrounded by the majestic snow capped peaks of the Andes.


As the sun set behind the mountain peaks, it was time for us to return to the city.


Written by Michael Dash