Extending over three continents (its mainland in South America, Easter Island in Oceania and the Chilean Antarctic Territory claims in Antarctica) and with a rugged and mountainous terrain, the geography of Chile in one of the most unique in the world. Nature takes the form of huge salt deposits, thousand-year-oldglaciers, deserts, beaches, fjords, volcanoes and forests, all of incalculable ecological, archaeological and patrimonial value.
Some of the outstanding features of the Chilean geography are its natural monuments. According to the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), these are “generally circumscribed areas in which native species of flora or fauna are found, or where there are significant geological sites from a scenic, cultural, educational or scientific point of view”.
Only 15 sites throughout the territory have received this denomination. We present them in north-to-south order:
Salar de Surire (Surire Salt Deposit), Arica
Extending over 11,000 hectares and at an altitude of 4,200 meters above sea level, this area is characterized by its beautiful salt deposit and fauna, which include ñandú (Andean ostrich), flamingo, and camelids such as vicuña, alpaca and llama. Activities include trekking, bird watching and bathing in the Polloquere thermal waters close to the park, where there is a camping area. CONAF also has a shelter there with a capacity for four persons.
La Portada (The Portal), Antofagasta
This singular rock formation in the form of a portal is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the north of Chile. Located 25 kilometers away from the city of Antofagasta and covering 31 hectares, its name is the result of the erosive action of the sea on the coast, which has also given rise to abrupt and craggy cliffs. On the naked rock, the saltpeter, carried by the wind, has gradually built a deposit on top of the sandstone strata. To get to La Portada you have to walk along a path for approximately two kilometers. Because of its singular shape, the rock formation has become a symbol of the city of Antofagasta.
This is located in the IV Region, 56 km north-east of Ovalle and, more specifically, on a hill rising to the north of the Hurtado river. It is a major archaeological and paleontological zone where fossils and plant residues dating back to an ancient Inca settlement are found. The park extends over 128 hectares and has vegetation on the borders of the valley.
Cachagua Island, Cachagua, Valparaíso
Located only 100 meters off the coast, this island has a surface area of 4.5 hectares and because of its scant human intervention and good environmental conditions, is the habitat of a large population of Humboldtpenguins. This monument is not currently open to the public and can only be accessed for research activities, with prior permission from Conaf.
El Morado, Santiago
Situated 93 kilometers south-east of Santiago, in the mountainous sector of the Metropolitan Region called Cajón del Maipo (Canyon of the Maipo river), its name refers to a violet-colored 5,060-meter-high mountain swathed by an impressive glacier at its feet. With a large variety of herbaceous vegetation, brightly colored flowers and hydro-mineral springs, it is suitable for practicing different activities such as horseback riding, excursions and mountain-climbing. This site can be visited between October and March, because the park is closed the rest of the year due to its unfavorable weather conditions (freezing temperatures and snow up to 2.8 meters high).
Located in the municipality of Purén, it extends over 82 hectares. It has an exuberant vegetation, where it is possible to see native trees such as olivillo, ulmo, tepa and laurel, as well as oak.
Ñielol Hill, Temuco
This hill is close to the main plaza of the city. Its surface area is 90 hectares and its sides are covered with abundant trees, shrubs and flowers, among them the Red Copihue, the national flower of Chile. Other trees and plants to be enjoyed are oak, lingue, laurel, ulmo, olivillo, peumo, boldo and chamomile. Animals include the “chilla” or gray fox, monito del monte (“little mountain monkey”, a diminutive marsupial native only to southwestern South America) and guiña (a small wildcat), and among the birds to spot are the Chilean pigeon, hummingbird, Chimango carrion hawk and Chilean diuca finch.
Coastal Alerce, Temuco
As its name indicates, this park is located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, 137 km away from Valdivia and 49 km from La Unión. Its main attraction is its naturally-growing alerce trees (a protected species of the Cupressaceae family). There are also dead alerces –forests of standing white tree trunks– that were set on fire 40 years ago and are still exploited to this day. Among the fauna are birds such as thrush, huet-huet, woodpecker and sparrow hawk. The park can only be visited during the summer season in a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Lahuen Ñadi, Puerto Montt
In this site you can see alerces that are thousands of years old and more than 50 meters high, in addition to coigüe and canelo forests. The fauna features chucao, Darwin’s frog, monito del monte, hare and skunk, among other species.
Puñihuil Islets, Chiloé
This monument is located facing the western coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé, and is made up of three rocky islets of volcanic origin. Penguins are the stars here, because species such as Humboldt and Magellanic penguins choose this habitat to reproduce, attracting local and foreign tourists every year.
Dos Lagunas (Two Lagoons), Coyhaique
This is an area extending over 181 hectares in the XI Region that, because of its small size, makes it possible to access the lenga forests and the El Toro and Escondida lagoons. A large number of wild birds can be seen there, such as the Chiloé widgeon and the black-necked swan. It has a park ranger post, picnic grounds and interpretive nature walks.
Cinco Hermanas (Five Sisters), Puerto Aysén
This is situated at the entrance of the Aysén fjord, 50 km away from the city of Puerto Aysén, and is made up of six small islands that have an overall surface area of 228 hectares. The characteristic vegetation of the site is known as Puyuhuapi Evergreen Forest, where representative species are the Canelo (Chilean magnolia), Chiloé Coigüe (a kind of beech tree) and Tepa (Chilean monimiacea).