Cerro La Campana is one of the tallest peaks in Chile’s coastal mountain range, just a couple hours from Santiago in the Valparaiso region. It is accessed from the towns of Olmue or Hijuelas and sits within Parque Nacional La Campana. It serves as a great excuse to take a weekend out of the big city to rent a cabin in the country and climb a mountain for the day!
Parque Nacional La Campana is a very large national park with an abundance of places to explore. It is divided into 3 different sectors – Granizo, Cajon Grande, and Ocoa.
It’s said that Charles Darwin climbed to the summit when he visited the region back in 1834 looking for new species. Therefore, up towards the top, you’ll see a plaque in his name.
You have to start early and register with the rangers before beginning the hike. There are a couple of water spots on the way up although we didn’t find them. So, it’s important to carry plenty of water, especially if you are going up during summer like we did. The top half doesn’t have much trees or protection from the blasting sun and, between the sun and the incline, you’ll need refreshments.
Cerro La Campana in Stats
Altitude: 1,880 meters; 6,168 feet
Elevation climb: 1,542 meters; 5,059 feet
Distance: 10.3 km; 6.4 miles
Time: 7-8 hours round trip
Difficulty: decent physical condition
The first part goes through a small forest and you stumble upon this sign, which was a lovely perspective for the rest of the trip.
“We only see what we want to look at. We only appreciate what we learn to see. We only take take care of what we appreciate. We hope, more than to give you information, we wake up within you a great curiosity and respect for this forest. Share your respect with other forests and your curiosity with other friends.”
The first part of the hike is relatively easy, through the forest, a steady but manageable incline, and with pretty views. The forest is dense and has a lot of diversity in different kinds of trees. About 20 minutes after passing the sign, you supposedly run into the first drinkable water, but we didn’t see it. You cross an auto path a couple of times, which I imagine is for the rangers. About an hour-ish in, you run into an open spot where you can see Olmue and the valley underneath. We even had the surprise of some free roaming cows!
Eventually, you’ll get to the mine, at 1265 meters, which is a great place to take a rest and have a snack. It also provides a much needed escape from the heat! You can go into the mine and the temperature drops a solid 10 degrees, it feels like heaven!
From here, you’re about 2 kilometers from the summit and have a mix of dirt and rock paths. It is pretty steep from here up and you should pay attention to your footwork. The next “checkpoint” is the tribute plaque dedicated to Darwin. I was quite excited to see it, although, when we got there, we almost missed it! It’s this little plaque hidden on the rocks and marks La Campana as a national park.
The last kilometer is definitely the most difficult. If you are beginning your mountain climbing endeavors, you’re going to feel like a real mountain climber! haha. In some parts you will be on all fours, grasping rocks to maintain balance and pull yourself from spot to spot. It is pure rocks and boulders… with tiny, cute little lizards.
Once we got to the peak, it’s a gorgeous view of all the coastal mountains and the Andes in the very far distance. You can even see Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America and the Western Hemisphere. The top part with all the rocks can be a little scary for people inexperienced in the mountain, but if you concentrate and pay attention to your feet, you’ll be good.
The only downside to the summit is the amount of graffiti on all the rocks. I really wish people would just let nature be.
How to get to Cerro La Campana?
Public Transportation from Santiago: Take the bus to Olmue, which is just a couple hours and even a bit less in car. Once in Olmue, you take another public bus to the Granizo section of the park. If you acces from Hijuelas, you will head in through the Ocoa section.
Your own transportation from Santiago: Take the Panamerican highway North and follow the signs to Til-Til and finally Olmue. Once in the town, you’ll head East towards the park, and enter through the Granizo sector.
From Valparaiso or Viña del Mar: Head in the direction of Limache, about 30km, and then veer to the right to get to Olmue. Follow the signs towards the park, entering via the Granizo sector.
Note: While I’ve only been to Granizo, from pictures and personal accounts of friends, the other two are just as beautiful. In Ocoa there is the biggest concentration of naturally growing palm trees that I am sure is a site to behold.
When can you climb Cerro La Campana?
Since this mountain is inside the National Park, there are rules that you cannot get around. For example, you must get to the mine before 12:30pm or the rangers will not let you continue to the summit.
There is no shade on Cerro La Campana and the sun beats heavily during summer months. So, you must be prepared with clothes, sunscreen and plenty of water. The fall, on the other hand, is beautiful and in addition to the comfortable temperatures, offers colorful Roble trees.
You cannot climb to the summit of Cerro La Campana during the winter. You are only allowed up until the sector of the mine.
Camping in La Campana National Park
We went for the weekend and decided to camp in Parque Nacional La Campana’s excellent facilities. The campsites are large, nicely spaced out, with flat ground, and with individual BBQ pits in each. The showers were cold but the overall pretty clean. And, there are a few little hikes that one can do in addition to Cerro La Campana itself.
- Sendero Los Peumos – a path with a lot of vegetation that connects to the other sectors of the Park
- Camino La Mina – a path that takes you to an old mine
- Sendero el Andinista – the path that takes you up to the peak of Cerro La Campana
The only thing you need to be ready for is the araña pollito (chicken spider). Not sure why they call it chicken spider… unless it is to describe how one feels after seeing one of ’em!! To paint the picture, they are the size of your hand and look exactly like tarantulas. Huge furry bodies and fat furry legs. The good news is they are 100% harmless, although that doesn’t do anything for the fear factor. The first one I saw was in the shower, which surprised and freaked the daylights out of me, and then, once the night came, they were in abundance, crawling all over the campsites. Needless to say, headlights are a must because those are the last things you want to step on!!
Sticking to interesting animal tidbits, we woke up in the morning unsure of why the stray dogs were going so insane. Well, a peep out of the tent revealed random cows venturing around the campsite and intimidating the dogs. I guess that’s what I call animal diversity 🙂