Cajon del Maipo

Overview

Introduction

This driving excursion takes you southeast out of Santiago along a narrow mountain road that winds up the north edge of the Maipo River Canyon into the high Andes.

As you climb toward the mountains and the border with Argentina, the landscapes become more dramatic; the pavement ends at Romeral, but the road continues another 22 mi/35 km or so. Relatively few day travelers go past San Alfonso, a popular destination for Santiaguinos (it can get crowded there in summer and on weekends).

At Lo Valdes, approximately 60 mi/100 km from Santiago and 12 mi/19 km beyond pavement's end, El Morado Natural Monument occupies a valley surrounded by glacier-covered mountains. Visitors must walk or ride horses up a steep slope for 2 mi/3 km before reaching the valley floor, and another 4 mi/6 km to reach the San Francisco and Morales glaciers. There are also hot springs at nearby Banos Morales, but the road that continues to Banos de Colina requires careful driving with low-clearance vehicles.

At various points along the canyon road, there are excellent spots for hiking and even camping. There are also opportunities for horseback riding or rafting down the Maipo River.

Visitors going by car should take Santiago's southeast artery, Avenida La Florida, out of the city. Take a left when the road ends and follow the Camino al Volcan all the way up the valley. Public buses and shared taxis from Pirque also take passengers as far as San Alfonso, and weekend buses from Santiago go all the way to Banos de Colina. The best way is to take Metro line No. 4 to the end of the line at Puente Alto, then catch a shared taxi to Pirque and another to San Alfonso.

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