Even in a country with the intense natural beauty of Chile, there can be few places as distinct as the stunning Siete Tazas (Seven Cups) rock formation situated in the Andes mountains around 200kms south of Santiago. The name refers to a canyon rich in dense vegetation that contains seven large and swirling pools in which crystal-clear water overflows from one into the other before cascading down into the Rio Claro (Clear River) and following a course down through the mesmerising landscapes of the area.
El Salto de La Leona (photo by Marianne Fuentealba)
The Siete Tazas are part of an region that is well renowned for its beautiful scenery and the relative proximity to Santiago makes it an excellent spot for a weekend visit, but it is also good for a relaxing but active trip over longer periods. A number of protected parks provide trekking and climbing opportunities and the many rivers and pools flow with water that glistens in its clarity, and is a rich blue in the deeper parts It is cold, however, and causes grown men to grimace as they gingerly enter and to squeak as they submerge various body parts.
This is the Maule region of Chile and the cordillera here is covered in forest in its lower sectors before soaring away into rocky, snow-covered peaks. The bumpy road up to the Radal Siete Tazas National Park and beyond winds its way up the mountains from the town of Molina and passes through a couple of small villages, with camping and cabañas, before arriving at the majestic Velo de La Novia (The Bride’s Veil), a waterfall that plunges fifty metres in a white spume from the forested mountainside into the blue depths below.
The Siete Tazas (photo by Marianne Fuentealba)
Legend has it that the name comes from the tragedy that befell a newly-married young couple as they admired the spectacular waterfall. The bride slipped and went over the edge. As she fell to her doom, they both shouted ‘Te amaré para siempre’ (I will love you forever) at the same moment, before the groom launched himself into the void and joined her in eternal companionship. Although nowadays the waterfall is off limits, it is said that couples who drink from its rushing waters will feel a passion as intense as the lost lovers. For the less suicidally romantic, there is a mirador that offers a great view of the veil.
Further up the road lies the entrance to the Siete Tazas National Park where in addition to the remarkable rock formations there is another waterfall which, although of lesser height than the Veil, provokes a wondrous gasp on first view. Largely due to its surroundings, it is reminiscent of the entrance to the secret lair of a James Bond baddie. This is El Salto de La Leona which crashes down into a pool of breathtaking sight, surrounded almost entirely by sheer, tree-covered cliffs, in which the pressure of the waterfall has pushed the earth up to create a beach on the pool’s other side. It is a sight of such idyllic allure that your mind will be consumed by one thought only: to get to that beach.
El Velo de La Novia (photo by Marianne Fuentealba)
Fortunately you can, although it’s not the easiest access you’ll ever encounter. Situated at the bottom of a ravine, to reach the Salto and the pool you must follow a well-marked but steep path down the cliff face and then climb over rocks for about 500 metres before you arrive at this majestic place and a very rewarding swim in the chilly water. It shouldn’t prove too complicated for most people although young kids and those of a more respectable age might struggle getting over the rocks. And obviously you have to do the whole thing again on the way back, with the added bonus of going up the steep path this time. But you’ll remember swimming here for the rest of your life.
A few kilometres past the Siete Tazas, you’ll find El Parque Inglés (the English Park) which looks nothing like England but is supposedly named for the fog that often descends here in winter. There are four campsites as well as cabañas and a hostel, and this is the best place to base yourself for your stay. The campsites are very peaceful and shady, tucked away in the woods or on the banks of the sparkling water (try and pitch the tent here, it really is a special spot). Small fires are allowed with charcoal but not wood as this possesses a fire hazard. The simple life doesn’t get much better than cooking over the coals to the sound of nearby running water and under a blanket of stars.
Excellent for swimming (photo by Marianne Fuentealba)
From the Parque Inglés, there are a number of treks you can do that range from one hour (a short circuit up to a viewpoint of the valley) to three days (to a remote mountain lagoon), plus swimming , horseriding and general do-nothingness. All along this stretch of the river you can find small coves with pools deep enough for a dip and a nippy squeal.
Whatever you’re into, whether its minimal rock sprawling slovenliness to turbo-charged mountain conquering this is the place for you. There have been a lot of rumours floating around in recent times regarding the Siete Tazas and their accessibility, and whether or not they even contained any water following the 2010 earthquake, but the best advice, as is so often the case, is to ignore all that. This place is a gem, one of central Chile’s most spectacular spots and an essential visit for anyone.
It is easy to reach the Radal Siete Tazas National Park by public transport from Santiago. First, take a bus to Curico (Pullman and Tur Bus run several services a day, 2.5 hours, $3000-4000). From the terminal at Curico take a local bus to Molina (30 minutes, $500) and from the Molina terminal Buses Hernandez run every hour and a half to the Parque Inglés (2 hours, $2500). In total, the journey from Santiago should take around five or six hours. By car the journey can be completed in less than four hours.
For further information check the Siete Tazas website.