No matter where you go in Santiago, they will be there. Sometimes the smog covers them a bit, but there is almost always a mountain within view to serve as a reference point for dwellers in Chile’s capital.
Photo by Kyle Weaver
For many they don’t serve as much more than a landmark or backdrop for their daily urban lives. From this vantage point the cordillera (mountain range) appears as a flat image, almost like a painting set as the limit to the sprawling city.
But these mountains are best enjoyed close up. Better yet there are several hikes of varying degrees of difficulty all accessible from the city.
The first step for most is a quick jaunt up the centrally located Cerro San Cristobal, which provides a quick bit of exercise and some good views of the city. Granted it can be fun to spend a relaxing Saturday afternoon in the hill’s Japanese botanical garden, but a true mountain lover will soon grow bored with this experience and look higher to the peaks surrounding Santiago.
Photo by Colin Bennett
This is your welcome to the Andes. The 1800-meter high mountain is the best way to get a taste of what the rest of the mountains in the area will offer you. Although it is a relatively short ascent--some 500 meters vertical or around two hours at a modest pace--there are several distinct sections of the trail. Ranging from loose shale and a steeper grade to a path meandering through large boulders and cacti, the diverse trail conditions give you small doses of what you will experience on other hikes.
At the top, the view of the Andes and the city makes the hike a worthwhile experience that can be done year round. In fact, the view is probably the best after a snowfall.
How to get there: From the Plaza San Enrique off of Avenida Las Condes, take a collective taxi to the Pochoco Observatory, where the trail begins. The route starts along the far side of the parking lot and is well marked the whole way up.
Cerro San Ramón - Photo by Colin Bennett
Manquehue is a constant reference point when on the northeast side of Santiago. The climb to the top is rather short (1.5 to 2 hours) but steep. Since Manquehue sits much closer to the city than the other mountains listed here, the view of the city is superb from the top, giving you purely urban views while en route to the summit top. The only downfall to this hike is accessing the trails, which are far from any public transportation or convenient entrance. The hill has also gained a reputation for being dangerous due to thieves, so going in a group might be advisable.
How to get there: There are several ways to access Manquehue, and none of them are easy to find. Probably the least difficult is to find the street Bosques del Polo in Vitacura, and continue to the end of the street towards the mountain. Visit Andes Handbook for other routes.
Photo by Kyle Weaver
Climbing Provincia takes you to 2600 meters in elevation and offers a panoramic view of San Ramon, El Plomo and the Andes as well as the city below. The hike takes some 5 to 6 hours to the top and 4 to 5 on the way down, making it a full day’s work. Spending the night on the peak is also a great option considering the view of the city below. At the top there is a small dome Refugio--just hope that there is room. During springtime it is a popular hike and the space goes quickly. If done in early spring it is cooler and there is still snow, so less water needs to be carried. In summer the hike is very dry and very hot, so bring lots of water and protect yourself from the everpresent sun.
How to get there: The entrance is near the market Puente Nilhue, 5 kilometers up Camino Farrellones, the road to the ski resorts. The trail is well marked with informative signs the whole way up. It is also accessible from the Universidad Católica’s stadium, Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo.
San Ramon summit. Photo by Colin Bennett
Throughout the east side of Santiago, Cerro San Ramón is probably one of the most notable landmarks. At 3200 meters the mountain forms a high wall that marks the end of the city. But Ramón is more than just one mountain: the entire rock structure of Provincia and San Ramón are actually a separate range from the Andes that carries the name San Ramón, its highest peak.
The hike is best done in at least two days, although some people find the 18- and 22-hour walk a day trip candidate. For the rest, making camp on either San Ramón or Provincia, or both, is the best option. This way one gets an unforgettable bird’s eye view of the city at night.
Photo by Kyle Weaver
How to get there: Provincia’s access (kilometer 5 of Camino Farrellones) provides the best route to San Ramón. Just continue from the peak of Provincia towards the south, where a trail takes you to San Ramón. There is also an access point from Parque Maihuida in La Reina that takes you to the top of San Ramón.
For those who want to conquer the entire San Ramón range, “The Ridge” offers a descent that continues the trek down into the Manzano valley of Cajón del Maipo, instead of heading back to Provincia or down to Maihuida, which are the shortest routes.
Leading to a much greener area than the other side of the mountain, this route can be done in two days, though three days are recommended.
Online Andeshandbook.com is the bible for mountaineering in Chile, especially in the central region. Routes for 82 mountains in the Region Metropolitana alone are available with photos, maps and descriptions. Most descriptions are in Spanish but several have been translated to English. A printed map with more details of several of these is also available from the same site, or bought at the mountaineering shop Andes Gear.