Certainly one of Chile’s most incredible features is its geography. Mountains and valleys, both dry and wet, invite you to pick up your backpack and go exploring the long network of trails that traverse the country’s diverse topography.
Andean landscapes, a long and beautiful coastline, deserts to the north, temperate rainforests in the south, and the great unexplored expanses of Patagonia are all captivating options for those who want to shoulder their backpacks and disappear for a few days. You don’t need to go too far from the main urban centers to go trekking.
A notable government initiative named Sendero de Chile is designed to improve access to 50 signposted trails across the country, including a map and access to heritage areas of unique attraction and value.
Below is a small selection of trails This is Chile has picked from the almost-endless options, which themselves leave much of terrain undiscovered. Many of them are still in rural or completely isolated wilderness areas, which mean that hikers should take care of themselves and use good shoes, sun screen and carry nonperishable foods.
Laguna Miscanti: Located about 60 miles (100 km) from San Pedro de Atacama, Lejía Lake lies in the middle of the driest desert in the world. From here walkers can join a 15 mile (25 km) trail that offer views of volcanoes and hills that turn red with the sunset. This is high-altitude trekking, over 4,000 meters above sea level in the midst of the Chilean high plains. The average duration of the walk is 11 hours until reaching Miscanti Lagoon. The next day, walkers can ascend the Miscanti Volcano, over 5,600 meters high, arriving at the summit after 7 hours.
La Campana: In the Fifth Region between Santiago and the port of Valparaíso, the nearly 20,000 proctected acres (8,000 ha) were declared a National Park in 1967 and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1987. Its enormous natural wealth converges in peumo, mesquite and litre forests, and a unique haven for more than 62,000 Chilean Palms, (Jubaea chilensis). An 8 hour round trip to the summit of Cerro La Campana culminates with an impressive view of the Andes and the Pacific.
Yerba Loca Sanctuary: Located only 15 miles (25 km) from Santiago on the same road that leads out to Santiago’s ski resorts in winter, this 96,000 acre (39,000 ha) mountain landscape offers a two-day hike into the Andes to the beautiful La Paloma hanging glacier. Abundant birdlife and stunning views accompany the 9 mile (15 km) one-way trip.
Cerro Provincia: Of all the mountains in the San Ramón chain, which includes Tambor, Ramón and Punta de Damas, 9,000 ft (2,750 m) Cerro Provincia in the Santiago municipality of Lo Barnechea receives the most visits each year. For the greater part of the year the terrain remains arid, and from the summit you can see predatory and carrion birds, such as condors or hawks. A 5-6 hour walk pays off with unparalleled views of Santiago.
Altos de Lircay: Located in the foothills of the Maule Region south of Santiago, this area contains the increasingly popular Valle del Venado trail. The 11 mile (17 km) trail – a three for four day round trip – ascends volcanic slopes and culminates in sweeping views. Another 6 miles (10 km) brings you to natural hot springs.
Huerquehue National Park: On the doorstep of the southern Araucanía Region’s main tourist hub, Pucón, this park’s mountains and lush forests have made it one of Chile’s most famous. The park’s nearly 31,000 acres (12,500 ha) are traversed by paths that cut between scenic lookout points, Araucaría (Monkey Puzzle) forests, and views over stunning Lake Caburga.
Villarrica Volcano: A five hour ascent using ice axes and crampons brings climbers to the crater of one of Chile’s most active volcanoes. Spectacular views from the main summit look out over the depressions of the main lakes and the Lanín volcano. Hikers must climb with a guide and can descend sitting in the snow and sliding down where others have done the same.
Los Jesuitas Route: Discovered by 18th century priests seeking Nahuel-Huapi Lake across the Andes, this 43 mile (70 km) trek passes through a pristine valley connecting the Reloncaví Estuary with Todos Los Santos Lake, one of the most scenic areas of Chile’s Lakes District. Reaching as far as San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina, the 10-day hike takes walkers past attractions like the Cayutué Lagoon and the Tronador Volcano.
Chiloé National Park: The more than 100,000 acres of Chiloé National Park are divided into three sectors. The largest sector, Anay in the south, has a surface area of 87,000 acres (35,207 ha), the smallest, on the island of Metalqui, covers 123 acres (50 ha), and the third, the Chepu sector, covers 19,000 acres (7,800 ha). A beautiful three-hour trek through the Anay sector brings walkers to stunning Pacific beaches, one of the few places to see the ocean in its fullest, wildest potential, with solitary beaches backed by rich native forest.
Torres del Paine: Each year South America’s most famous national park seduces thousands of backpackers, most of whom are lured by one of the park’s two major circuits: the Grande and the W. The more accessible W trek lasts for about five days and takes hikers through the Paine massif, glaciers and the iconic Valle Francés. The longer Grande trek lasts well over a week and continues along less-visited back side of the massif. Located at the southern end of Patagonia, the park is best visited during summer months.
Dientes de Navarino: The southernmost trek in the world, this route along the sharply-peaked mountain-range has been open for only a short time. With altitudes of over 1,000 meters, the Teeth of Navarino, as range is known, resemble a fierce row of jagged teeth with snowy gums. The trek along the Navarino route takes three to five days, depending on physical condition. Hikers should be alert to the variability of the weather in the area, with strong winds and low temperatures a constant threat in this extreme, Patagonian landscape. The total route of 33 miles (53 km) begins in forested foothills then passes on to snow, rocks, lakes and majestic summits. Hikers are advised to go with local guides.
This post is also available in Spanish