A UNESCO world biosphere reserve since 1977, Parque Nacional Fray Jorge sits on the Altos de Talinay, a range of steep coastal hills plunging into the Pacific some 80km west of Ovalle and 110km south of La Serena. It extends over 100 square kilometres, but its focal point, and what visitors come to see, is the small cloudforest perched on the highest part of the sierra, about 600m above sea level.
The extraordinary thing about this forest is how sharply it contrasts with its surroundings, indeed with everywhere else in the area. Its existence is the result of camanchaca, the thick coastal fog that rises from the ocean and condenses as it meets the land, supporting a cover of dense vegetation – fern, bracken and myrtle trees – normally found only in the south of Chile. Close to the parking area, a 1km path dotted with information panels guides you through a poorly labelled range of plants and trees, and leads to the forest proper, where a slippery, wooden boardwalk takes you through tall trees dripping with moisture. The whole trail takes less than half an hour to walk. Three kilometres beyond the Conaf control there’s a picnic area, but note that camping is no longer allowed anywhere in the park.