Exploring Cajón del Maipo
In the waning days of winter, I decided to entertain a friend’s spontaneous invitation to go to Cajón del Maipo. I had heard of its beauty, mystique and allure, but was confused as to what exactly it was.
After searching Google and a bunch of different travel sites I still had no idea what we would actually do.
But here it is: Cajón del Maipo is a long road along the Maipo River. It runs through a canyon that passes by several small towns, breathtaking vistas, rustic cabañas, and local, touristy café-restaurants. There are plenty of things to do and agencies to contact, which are listed at the bottom.
I wasn’t sure if it was worthwhile to explore without a car or paying for a guided tour.
It was, without question, worth it.
This is not to say you shouldn’t rent a car. But that it is possible to simply stroll through, powered by buses and strangers’ generosity, to enjoy the colorful surroundings.
First of all, the bus ride is a treasure. Make your way to Metro Bellavista la Florida (Line 5) and then take the Metrobus 72 towards Plaza de Armas de San José de Maipo.
It’s like a theme park ride and you’re merely paying for the scenery. But you don’t end up where you started – you end up in the main plaza of San José de Maipo. This little town is exactly what you would expect in a canyon of the Chilean cordillera. Fresh air, children running in the street, homey with a slow pace and plenty of little cafes and shops.
After asking a local how to continue on, we boarded a bus to San Gabriel for a few hundred pesos.
We bought some coffee and watched our breath steam in front of snow peaked mountains and three rivers merging together. We descended along the side of the highway, getting friendly honks from truck drivers. I chuckled upon seeing a sign with a stick figure that urges caution for falling rocks. Out of nowhere, an adorable trinket shop appeared… touristy yet unique.
At this point we decided to get adventurous.
We met a man who works for a mining company who offered to give us an impromptu tour and drive us farther into the canyon. The guy spoke Spanish at a mile a minute, telling us about the history and how amazing the mineral rocks are. He even stopped the car to gift us a “good” mineral rock.
He drove us along Camino Al Volcán to a little town called El Volcán. My favorite part was the abandoned wind mill or granary.
At this point, we joked about how everyone we asked told us “just 15 more minutes” to the good hiking. Walking along the now dirt road we saw two girls depart an 18-wheeler. My friends started running towards the truck and I realized that we’d been invited to hitchhike.
The driver was relaxed, friendly and spoke Spanish clearly. We made it to the snow! Baños Morales, a very quaint village with bed and breakfasts everywhere.
The farther we went the more it seemed like Christmas in a small German town.
We explored the town and saw people making snow angels in the distance. But it was time to head back as we couldn’t spend the night. We hitchhiked all the way back to San José de Maipo and then took a bus to Santiago.
We defied the Internet and local advice, laughed at the signs, marveled at the mountains, and were mystified by abandoned relics. Not much was “done” in the activity sense, but sometimes exploring aimlessly is all you need. In the end, we journeyed carelessly through Cajón del Maipo.
And we’d do it all over again.
*Remember, you should leave as early as possible to avoid traffic (especially on weekends)
The official website has plenty of resources (in Spanish): http://www.cajondelmaipo.com/
Here you can find all of the tour companies that operate in the Cajón del Maipo. Unfortunately, there isn’t an English version. But, you can always use Google Translate to translate pages in a snap.
For plenty of options, plus ongoing promotions, check out Geoaventura.
Call Tursmontaña (Tel: 56-2-8500555) for services to Baños Morales from Plaza Italia. This is an easy way to get to El Morado, Monumento Natural.
Finally, here is a great list of activities from Frommers.
Photos by Alex Cole.