Set in the dry, dusty mountains of the coastal range, PARQUE NACIONAL LA CAMPANA is a wonderful place to go hiking and offers some of the best views in Chile. From the 1880m-high summit of Cerro La Campana you can see the Andes on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other – in the words of Charles Darwin, who climbed the mountain in 1834, Chile is seen “as in a map”. Another draw is the chance to see a profusion of Chilean palms in their natural habitat; this native tree was all but wiped out in the nineteenth century, and the Palmar de Ocoa, a grove in the northern section of the park, is one of just two remaining places in the country where you can find wild palms. You can also expect to see eagles and giant hummingbirds and, if you’re lucky, mountain cats and foxes.
The park is located 110km northwest of Santiago, and about 60km east of Valparaíso. It’s divided into three “sectors” – Ocoa, Granizo and Cajón Grande – each with its own entrance. Sector Ocoa, on the northern side of the Park, is where you’ll find the palm trees – literally thousands of them. Sector Granizo and Sector Cajón Grande are both in the south of the park, close to the village of Olmué; this is the part to head for if you want to follow Darwin’s footsteps and climb Cerro La Campana. While it’s possible to get to Parque Nacional La Campana on a day-trip from Valparaíso, Viña or even, at a push, Santiago, you should count on spending a couple of nights here.
There are about a dozen very scenic walks in the park, most of them along good, well-maintained trails and many of them interconnected. The maps given away at the Conaf hut are very useful. If you plan to do some serious walking, try to get hold of a more detailed map from Sernatur before you come. If you’re on a day-hike you must get back to the Conaf control before it closes (5.30pm); if you want to camp in the park, talk to the guardaparque when you sign in. Finally, there aren’t many water sources along the trails so bring plenty with you. Also take sunblock; the summer sun combined with the high altitude make it easy to get burned.
The well-marked 9km Sendero el Andinista, up Cerro La Campana, is the most popular and rewarding trek in the park. It’s quite hard going, especially the last ninety minutes, when it’s more a climb than a hike, but the views from the top are breathtaking – and this is where Darwin climbed. Allow at least four and a half hours to get up and three to get down. Sendero Los Peumos is a pretty, 4km walk (about three hours) up to the Portezuelo Ocoa, through gentle woodland for the first half, followed by a fairly steep climb. Three paths converge at the Portezuelo; you can either go back the way you came; take the right-hand path (Sendero Portezuelo Ocoa) down through the Cajón Grande to that sector’s Conaf hut (about three hours); or follow the left-hand path (Sendero El Amasijo) through Sector Ocoa to the northernmost park entrance (another four hours; best if you’re camping as there’s no accommodation at the other end).
SECTOR CAJÓN GRANDE
The Sendero Portezuelo Ocoa, also known as Sendero Los Robles, is a 7km trail (about three hours) through beautiful woods with natural miradores giving views down to the Cuesta La Dormida. From the Portezuelo Ocoa, at the end of the path, you can link up with other paths as described above.
Sendero La Cascada makes a lovely day-hike through lush palm groves to a 35m-high waterfall, most impressive in early spring. The 8km path is mainly flat; allow about seven hours there and back. It has eight well-marked estaciones that describe local flora. Sendero El Amasijo is a 7km trail (3hrs) following the Estero Rabuco (a stream) through a scenic canyon before climbing steeply to the Portezuelo Ocoa. Most walkers make this a cross-park trek, continuing to Granizo or Cajón Grande. Fast, fit walkers should be able to do it in a day, but it’s more relaxing if you camp overnight.