Let’s assume you went to Chile off-season and therefore can’t go to Patagonia. If you still want to see some epic Chilean mountains you can do that easily by heading to Maipo canyon for a weekend. Maipo canyon is an area south of Santiago with various hiking and recreational options.
How To Get There:
You can reach Maipo canyon either by bus to San José de Maipo or, and that will make your life a lot easier: car. If you don’t go by car you will need to figure out how to reach the areas you want to explore, hitchhiking is probably your best option.
Car rental from Santiago is also not very expensive since they have a lot of weekend offers in various rental companies.
With a car you can also easily head to Maipo for just one day and back in the evening. But if you have more time and find a cheap accommodation, Maipo is also worth staying longer.
Go For Some Hikes
1. Go to the Monumento Natural El Morado Glacier
The El Morado glacier used to be one of the most popular hikes in the area. Unfortunately, a wild spring water took away a bridge along the hiking trail making the original hike inaccessible. A cool alternative that the locals recommended us is in the La Engorda valley only some 20 minutes drive further along the road.
You can try out multiple hikes along a wide mountain valley. There is a mountain refuge at the end of the valley in case you want to spread your adventure over multiple days. Supposedly, it is also possible to access the El Morado glacier from this side, but it seemed like a more involved hiking trip.
2. Go to the Reservoir Embalse El Yeso
Depending on which day you head to the reservoir, you might not be really alone there. Actually, it might be crazy busy, especially if you head there on a weekend. But anyways, as soon as you pass the first viewpoint the crowds thin and not a lot of people continue. The reservoir holds Santiago’s drinking water and is one of the most popular weekend destination spots for Chileans. There were a lot of barbecue happenings and alcohol levels were high already around noon (it was a Chile day during our visit after all). But the scenery is beautiful and if you continue past the masses you will be almost alone with the lake and the blue mountains.
Soak In Some Hot Springs
Hot Springs are one of the best things about the colder areas in South America. Because trust me, you do not want to sit in a hot pool when it is warm everywhere and you are sweating already. But if you are surrounded by snow and come from an exhausting hike with your muscles aching, sitting in a hot spring is the best thing ever. In Maipo, you have the choice between two places.
1. Baños Morales
These hot springs are easily reachable since they are located almost right next to the road. You head into the direction of the El Morado glacier and a sign will tell you when to turn off to the left. When we went there the hot springs were closed but we still saw that they are pretty cute. But what makes up most of their appeal is that they are easily accessible.
2. Termas Valle De Colina
These hot springs were NOT easily accessible 😀 However, they were incredibly beautiful and I am so glad that we underwent this bumpy ride to get there. From the parking lot to the Morales glacier, you turn off to the right. It will look like the road does not continue or that it is too bumpy to drive it. If you have a 4×4 you will be fine. If you have a small car, you shouldn’t even try to reach the Colina hot springs since it is very likely that you will get stuck in the giant potholes or the deep mud. Once you arrive at the hot springs, a guy will come and collect money. For us, it was 8 Euros per person. But it might depend on the season, there was no official price list
and the prices might as well depend on the daily mood of the guard. The hot springs are a bunch of naturally formed pools that differ in heat. The insides of the pools are slippery and full of sediment. The water is murky and kind of beige. You will have the most stunning view, probably the best view while taking a bath that you will have in your life.
Towns And Sightseeing
Everything in Maipo screams tourism. I did not find that annoying at all since it was not trashy as it often is in Peru and Colombia. The biggest town in the area of Maipo is called San José de Maipo. I would say that it is worth a visit, including all the little shops and cafe along the main road to the mountains. Unfortunately, the group I was with was absolutely not interested in food-tourism or checking out small boutiques. I hope you will get a better chance at checking these places than me. One thing that I did not like about this area is how expensive and exploitive everything is.
One example: we had our food with us and just wanted to stop somewhere and eat it. We stopped somewhere with some benches but had to leave again after someone told us we would have to pay 4 euro per person to use these benches. WTF? We drove for half an hour until we found a spot next to the road that was just a spot next to the road and not some privately owned picnic spot. But then again, if you are just going to Maipo for the weekend, none of this is your problem 😉
Also published on Medium.