Climbing Cerro Provincia, a day-trip from Chile’s capital

The high-rise skyline of Santiago is dominated by the Andes, with unparalleled opportunities for quiet getaways, world-class skiing and weekend adventures.

The first thing that strikes you as you arrive in the Chilean capital is not Santiago’s modern skyscrapers, nor its imposing colonial buildings, but the mountain range that dwarfs all the city’s man-made structures – the Andes.

The Sierra de Ramón mountain range – the “foothills” of the Andes – literally forms the city’s western boundary, and the proximity to these natural wonders make for a world of weekend getaways: relaxing drives through the Cajón del Maipo valley, some of the continent’s best ski resorts, and outdoor adventures like rock-climbing, camping and hiking.

At an altitude 9,022 ft (2750 mt), Cerro Provincia, the northernmost peak of the Sierra de Ramón range, is one of the most popular weekend hikes.

It is at once strenuous enough to keep the hordes at bay, but easy enough that anyone with a moderate level of fitness and a little preparation can make the summit. And it’s close enough that fit hikers can make the summit in a day and be back in time to dine on seafood and relax with a glass of Chilean red in Santiago by evening.

And for those willing to make the extra effort, few outdoor experiences can match the feeling of standing on the peak of a mountain which, on clear days, offers a sweeping view over Santiago all the way to the Pacific Ocean in one direction, while in the other displays the majesty of the eternally snow-capped peaks of the higher regions of the Andes.

In addition to the panorama, hikers to Cerro Provincia have an exceptionally good chances of a rare, close-up sighting of the largest flying land bird in the western hemisphere, the Andean Condor, which soars on the updrafts of the mountain’s spiked peak.

Spring is the ideal season to make the climb but Cerro Provincia is equally accessible in summer, although it can be hot going. The climb can be tackled at any point in the year, but snow and extreme cold mean that winter and autumn ascents should be left only to experienced hikers who are familiar with the conditions.

A hiker of average fitness is expected to make the ascent to the summit in 5 hours and should require 3 hours for the descent, meaning that those attempting to make the peak should leave early in the day.

Hikers should go be well prepared for the conditions. Cerro Provincia is an arid landscape and it is essential that you carry enough water to make it up the steep slopes.

Summer climbers should expect hot temperates, and take sunscreen and a hat. At all seasons a jacket is advisable, as temperatures at the summit can remain cold throughout the year and can experience sudden drops. Sturdy boots are also essential on the rocky trails.

The trail has two separate entrances, which converge at the halfway point of the trail.

The most well-used entrance is from the Ñilhue bridge on the Camino a Farellones, the road to the Farellones ski resort. The bridge can be reached by car or public transport. For the latter, take the C01 bus from Manquehue metro station until the Terpel gas station that marks the beginning of the road to Farellones. From there it is possible to walk the three miles (five kilometers) to the trail-head, though a taxi or colectivo (shared taxi) is recommended, given the narrowness of the winding road. The beginning of the trail has a short, steep section in which climbers use an iron chain installed into the rock.

The other entrance is near the San Carlos Apoquindo stadium, which can be reached by public transport, either by taking the 421, C02 or C02c bus from the Los Dominicos metro station. Park in the car park next to the small football fields and the entrance to the trail will be visible.

Park managers charge a small entrance fee of US$3 (CLP1500) for adults and US$1 (CLP500) for children for the mantainance of the area.