Altitude: 1,880 meters; 6,168 feet
Incline: 1,542 meters; 5,059 feet
Distance: 10.3 km; 6.4 miles
Time: 7-8 hours round trip
Difficulty: medium (physical), low-medium (technical)
Cerro La Campana is one of the tallest peaks in Chile’s costal mountain range, located just a couple hours from Santiago in the Valparaiso region of Chile. Specifically it is accessed from the towns of Olmue or Hijuelas and sits within Parque Nacional La Campana. The park itself is quite large, with 3 sectors – Granizo, Cajon Grande, and Ocoa.
We went through Olmue, which is a couple hours by bus from Santiago but, from what I’ve heard, only an hour and a half by car. From Olmue, you get to the Cerro through the Granizo section of the park, and, from Hijuelas, you arrive through Ocoa. While I’ve only been to Granizo, from pictures and personal accounts of friends, the other two are just as beautiful. In Ocoa there is the biggest concentration of naturally growing palm trees that I am sure is a site to behold.
We went for the weekend and decided to camp in Parque Nacional La Campana’s excellent facilities. The campsites are large, nicely spaced out, with flat ground, and with individual BBQ pits in each. The showers were cold but the overall pretty clean. And, there are a few little hikes that one can do in addition to the Cerro.
- Sendero Los Peumos – a path with a lot of vegetation that connects to the other sectors of the Park
- Camino La Mina – a path that takes you to an old mine
- Sender el Andinista – the path that takes you up to the peak of Cerro La Campana
The only negative to the park, which maybe wouldn’t have been such a big negative had I been prepared, is the araña pollito (chicken spider). Not sure why they call it chicken spider… unless it is to describe how one feels after seeing one of ’em. To paint the picture, they are the size of your hand and look exactly like tarantulas. Huge furry bodies and fat furry legs. The good news is they are 100% harmless, although that doesn’t do anything for the fear factor. The first one I saw was in the shower, which surprised and freaked the daylights out of me, and then, once the night came, they were in abundance. Needless to say, headlights are a must because those are the last things you want to step on.
Sticking to interesting animal tidbits, we woke up in the morning unsure of why the stray dogs were going so insane. Well, a peep out of the tent revealed random cows venturing around the campsite and intimidating the dogs. I guess that’s what I call animal diversity :)
Okay, back to the mountain
It’s said that Charles Darwin climbed to the top when he visited the region back in 1834. Therefore, up towards the top, you’ll see a plaque in his name. You have to start early and register with the rangers before beginning the hike. There are a couple water spots on the way up although we didn’t find them. So, it’s important to carry plenty of water, especially if you are going up during summer like we did. The top half doesn’t have much trees or protection from the blasting sun and, between the sun and the incline, you’ll need refreshments.
The first part goes through a small forest and we came across this sign, which was a lovely perspective for the rest of the trip.
“We only see what we want to look at. We only appreciate what we learn to see. We only take take care of what we appreciate. We hope, more than to give you information, we wake up within you a great curiosity and respect for this forest. Share your respect with other forests and your curiosity with other friends.”
The first part of the hike is relatively easy, through the forest, a steady but manageable incline, and with pretty views. Eventually you’ll get to the mine, which is a great place to take a rest and have a snack. For us, it also provided an escape from the heat. You can go into the mine and the temperature drops a solid 10 degrees, it felt like heaven!
From here, you’re about 2 kilometers from the peak and have a mix of dirt and rock paths. The next “checkpoint” is the tribute plaque to Darwin. I was quite excited to see it, although, when we got there, we almost missed it. It’s this little plaque hidden on the rocks and marks La Campana as a national park. The last 1 kilometer was definitely the most difficult. I felt like a real mountain climber, on all fours at some points grasping rocks to maintain balance and pull myself from spot to spot. It is all rocks and boulders… and tiny, cute little lizards.
Once we got to the peak, it’s a gorgeous view of all the costal mountains and the Andes in the very far distance. The top part with all the rocks was a little scary going down, but the rest is very doable and highly recommendable.