Embalse el Yeso: A Picturesque Day Hike from Santiago

As happens in many large cities, when you are stuck in the web of Santiago’s metro system for hours on end, or are confronted with roaring buses and massive crowds, capital life can seem like an inescapable ordeal.

 Photo: Anika Rice
Photo: Anika Rice

Endless stretches of concrete, smog, cramped sidewalks and long lines at the grocery store can smother even the most cosmopolitan among us. But don't despair: much-needed escapes can be found in the nearby Cajón del Maipo, an Andean canyon in the southeast of Santiago’s Metropolitan Region. Embalse el Yeso is an excellent destination for a refreshing day hike.

 Photo: Anika Rice
Photo: Anika Rice

Embalse el Yeso is a reservoir that was created by the damming of the Yeso River. But don’t let the fact that it is manmade scare you off – the reservoir boasts clear turquoise water and is surrounded by snow-capped peaks. It holds 250 million cubic meters of water, providing a significant amount of Santiago’s drinking water.

A wide trail circles the lake, providing a flat path perfect that wanders along the water's edge. At about three thousand meters above sea level, this is a beautiful, but easy-level hike.

The scenery depends on the season. In winter, snow-capped peaks loom over the trail, which can catch some snow as well. In the summer, the dry hills and warmer temperatures make for a sweatier experience.

 The dry lakebed at Embalse el Yeso, Photo: Anika Rice
The dry lakebed at Embalse el Yeso, Photo: Anika Rice

The first stretch of the hike, starting at the southwestern edge of the reservoir and leading over to the eastern point, is about 6 kilometers long. From here, it is possible to see where the River Yeso feeds into the reservoir. Continuing for roughly 4.5 kms more, the trail snakes through a beautiful valley to the 4794m pyramid-shaped Aparejo mountain.

Beyond the Aparejo lies the Parque del Yeso and access to hot springs, but reaching these spots requires at least a couple of days. If you are up for a longer expedition, the park allows camping.

When I visited the area, part of the lake was dried up. If this section is dry enough, as it was then, it is possible to walk across the crackling clay lakebed in an extensive flat landscape that eventually slopes down into the water.

 Sunset at the end of a beautiful day hike, Photo: Anika Rice
Sunset at the end of a beautiful day hike, Photo: Anika Rice

The easiest way to reach Embalse el Yeso is by car, but the amount of snowfall dictates the reservoir's accessibility. Although you may need a 4x4 during the winter months, it is still possible to get fairly close to the reservoir's western edge and the start of the trail if there is little snow. In the event of heavier snowfall, it may be necessary to park and walk a few kilometers.

After spending some time in Cajón del Maipo, you'll certainly get your nature-fix. Returning to the city chaos is more bearable with a clear head and some lungfuls of fresh mountain air.

Directions: From Santiago, take route G-25 to Cajón del Maipo. 47 kilometers past the Cruce de las Vizchachas, you will reach the police checkpoint at San Gabriel. 2.2 kilometrs past San Gabriel you will reach Romeral, a stop with a few houses and shops. Turn to the right an continue on route G-455 for about 18 kilometers of dirt road until you reach Embalse el Yeso.

Embalse el Yeso
Paso Portillo de Piuquenes
Information on Wiki Explora:
http://www.wikiexplora.com/index.php/Paso_Portillo_de_Piuquenes
About 2.5 hours from Santiago Centro

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