Zipping down the Panamericana from Santiago, you can reach the unremarkable agricultural town of RANCAGUA, 87km south, in about an hour. With a little more time and your own transport, however, the old road from Santiago (signed Alto Jahuel, running east along the highway) makes a far more appealing route, winding its way past estates of vines, fruit trees and old haciendas, half-hidden behind their great adobe walls.

Rancagua presents a picture that is to repeat itself in most of the Central Valley towns – large, well-tended central plaza; single-storey adobe houses; a few colonial buildings, which were damaged in the 2010 earthquake but are being restored; sprawling, faceless outskirts. Once in town, you’ll find little to hold your interest for more than a few hours – unless your arrival coincides with a rodeo – but Rancagua makes a useful jumping-off point for attractions in the adjacent Rapel Valley.

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