When most people plan a trip to go hiking in Chile, they immediately head south to the Chilean Lakes District and Patagonia, a landscape lover’s paradise awash with too many stunning national parks to count. While some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Chile are found south of Santiago, I was surprised to discover that equally as divine landscapes exist right outside of the bustling cultural mecca of Santiago, where over half of Chile’s population live.
When my dad planned a week’s getaway to Chile basing ourselves in Santiago, I confess that I was a bit skeptical that we would find any good hiking in Central Chile. As an avid hiker who has trekked in some of the best parks in Patagonian Chile and Argentina, I naively thought that the best hiking would be down south. However, I was proven wrong and was wonderfully surprised with the intense, dynamic beauty of the day hikes we found right outside our base in Santiago.
While the Andes stretch all the way from the southern tip of Chile to their terminus in Tierra del Fuego, it is in Central Chile where the Andes rise to some of their highest elevations. Just east of Santiago near the Chilean border with Argentina lies the mighty Aconcagua which at 22,841 feet (6,962m) is the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere.
Perhaps what makes Chile such an exciting destination for hikers is the amazing diversity of its landscape. In the north is the Atacama, the driest desert in the world with its salt flats and open barren stretches of land. In the Center, the Andes rise dramatically high with vast glacial valleys and snow-capped peaks whereas in the South, their appearance is startling different: Craggy, jagged mountains rimmed with glacial lakes and temperate rainforest. Finally, at the southernmost tip in Patagonia it is filled with ice and glaciers and is home to the second largest contiguous ice field in the world, the The Southern Patagonian Ice Field. No wonder Chile is such an amazing place to explore!