Free hikes and Andean adventures in Chilean capital’s backyard trips include treks to glaciers in Parque Cordillera Yerba Loca, just behind Santiago, with a great group of foreigners and locals.

Author overlooking Park Yerba Loca. Photo courtesy of Julius Koskela.
Author overlooking Park Yerba Loca. Photo courtesy of Julius Koskela.

Many travelers are often surprised that just outside of the hustle and bustle of Santiago are plentiful opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.

City dwellers and travelers may feel that exploring the surrounding natural wonders is logistically difficult – maybe you don’t have a tent, or a car, or anyone to go with. But these are all things that can be solved by signing up for a hike with

This non-profit coordinates transportation to each trekking destination by the cheapest means possible (public, private, or carpool) and also provides or coordinates the necessary equipment.

Don’t have a tent? will introduce you to another trekker that has extra space in theirs. Not in possession of poles to scale the rugged terrain? will provide you with some for free.

Trips are free with the exception of park entry fees, and guides are volunteers who work based on tips.

On December 8, the trekking organization set up a two day trip to Park Yerba Loca, the home to La Paloma (The Pigeon), a glacier that stands at 16,109 feet (4,910 meters). Our group consisted of 14 trekkers with three guides, the goal being to reach the base of the glacier at 12,795 feet (3,900 meters).

This week’s group met at 7:00 a.m. in the parking lot of a convenience store where we greeted one another in typical Chilean fashion with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Then, backpacks and people were distributed into the cars that had extra space.

Approximately an hour later, when we arrived at the administration building of the park, our target was in sight. The shiny white peak of Glaciar La Paloma sat at the end of the valley approximately 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) away.

The next stop was Villa Paulina, a nice camping ground at the beginning of the park complete with picnic areas, bathrooms, and running water.

Here we prepared to make our first trek of the weekend, a four hour march through the valley to La Lata, where the traces of rock buildings from ancient inhabitants can be seen.  La Lata, the Tin in English, is also an area that was used for mining copper and silver and is still a nesting place for condors.

For us La Lata made for a good campsite as it was one of the few grassy plains we encountered. On our way there, the enormous Andean condor could be seen soaring above while cows and horses roamed freely below.

The enormity of the glacier makes it appear closer than it actually is, providing a mental challenge along with a physical contest against the rocky terrain.

At the campsite we set up our tents and prepared a fire for a mini asado (barbecue) complete with chicken, pork chops, and sausages. The treks are BYOF (Bring Your Own Food).

In the distance, Las Cascadas (The Waterfalls) could be seen until the sun went down and the starry sky revealed itself.

During the night we mingled, drank, and were merry. We engaged each other in both English and Spanish sharing insights into our cultures and each other.

Jorge, the organizer of the trek, was not timid in waking up the group at 6:00 a.m. the next morning with some cheerful yelps and in-tune singing. The base of Glaciar La Paloma awaited us and we had another three hours of trekking to get there.

During this portion of the adventure we scaled rocks, gravel, streams, and snow to reach our destination which was well worth the effort.

Upon reaching the massive glacier we took photos with it, relaxed under the shadows of the valley, and reveled in our victorious conquest. The only problem now was that we had to go all the way back.

Visiting Glacier La Paloma

Park Yerba Loca opens at 8:30 a.m., 7 days a week and closes at 8:00 p.m. during the summer (October to March) and 6:00 p.m. during the winter (April to September).

The price for general admission is US$5.25 (CLP$2.500) and for children under 12 is US$3.15 (CLP$1.500).

Go to to see when the next trip will be.

Written by Michael Dash