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Trekking in Cajon de Maipo – Valle de la Engorda & Refugio Plantat

By October 27, 2021May 30th, 2022No Comments7 min read

There are so many places for Trekking in Cajon de Maipo, and the Valle de la Engorda is one of the main valleys that many mountain routes part from. If you’re looking just for a day trip, hiking to the Refugio Plantat, a shelter en route to the San Jose Volcano, is a great option. 

Whether you go in summer, spring, autumn, or winter…. a day of trekking in Cajon de Maipo to Refugio Plantat will be one of those days that you need to pinch yourself and wonder if life can really be so beautiful. And then you’ll stop to say “thanks” because it is… and that you’re part of it all.

We headed out of Santiago around 6:30 am and I immediately fell asleep in the car, shutting my eyes to the buildings and cement of Santiago. Then, I woke up about 2 hours later to the bluest sky, cotton ball clouds, snow-capped mountains, and green trees. I’m not sure if there are greater color combinations than this.

In Cajon del Maipo, where you head into Valle de la Engorda

Trekking in Cajon de Maipo in Valle de la Engorda

When you are going to the Valle de la Engorda, which leads to the San Jose VolcanoMarmolejo, Baños Colina, and many more impressive places, you’ll park at a home locally known as El Cabrerio. This means, “the place of the goats”, because the house here is a family that works in agriculture, herding goats, cows, horses, selling goat cheese, etc.

El Cabrerio, the only house in the middle of these gorgeous mountains

We started walking up into the valley and I could hardly keep focused on my footwork. I was like the distracted little girl with big eyes, head constantly darting from one place to the next, not wanting to miss a second of my view.

Then the valley opened up to us, filled with little streams and surrounded in a bowl of the Andes. On the way to Refugio Plantat, you cross this valley, Valle de la Engorda, for about an hour and a half. The cool air had the perfect bite and my feet softly sank into the fresh and fluffy snow.

The mountains in this area are some of my favorites, they are darker in color, which just contrasts so amazingly with the white and blue. And, there something about the darkess that makes the points and rivits just feel so powerful. I love it, couldn’t ever get sick of it!!

Could these babies get any more beautiful?

After the valley, a short but steep climb up

Once we crossed the flat valley we arrived to the foot of one of the mountains, which we had to climb in order to arrive to Refugio Plantat. It is uneven ground with lots of small and large rocks hidden by a layer of snow. During winter months, depending on the snow levels, it can take about 2 hours from here until the shelter. During non-snowy conditions, this obviously is reduced.

As you climb, the view just keeps getting better, so don’t forget to look behind you! You get the most prestigious view of the valley landscape below. The fresh blanket of snow covering everything was simply stunning. The mountains were rolling peaks seemingly connected by these soft, endless hills.

Just breathe the fresh air!

We got to the top of this part of the climb, which is followed by a little stretch with a soft incline until you arrive at the shelter, at an elevation of 3100 meters. It’s a little house, with a pool of water in front of it, collected from the glacier streams above and flowing down into little rivers below.

Refugio Plantat – a classic in Cajon del Maipo

This shelter was built in 1937 by Enrique Plantat, sister, and the Club Andino Aleman (German mountaineering club), and sits at the feet of the San Jose Volcano. It’s an icon in the region, with many mountaineers who use its shelter to stop for a rest and snacks on their way up or down. Or, for a day trek or weekend camping.

Refugio Plantat was built in 1937, I can’t imagine the work to build this up in the mountains at that time!

The shelter has 8 bunks and a small kitchen area and is decorated with original photographs from its construction. It’s amazing to think of the things people accomplished back then! I can’t imagine how they got up this high, carrying the materials, and building all this. It was pretty cool to see and imagine. What initiative!

There’s a notebook in the shelter that passing mountaineers can write messages in.

Refugio Plantat is like one of those houses in a movie or a book about the good ol’ days, the girl finds the wood cabin in the middle of the forest, one light on and the chimney smoking 🙂 Only this time it is in the mountains and a vacant little shelter for cold mountaineers to bunk up, get warm, and call it a night.

Inside we munched on sandwiches and boiled some water for coffee. Mmmm, there is something about drinking hot coffee in the middle of a freezing, windy mountains that makes it so damn delicious and rewarding.

On a cold day, nothin like arriving to this!
Photos of the Refugio Plantat founders

The way down was fun, like skiing but on my boots. Often the descent is such a treat because, on the way up, you’re looking at everything ahead, paying attention to where you’re walking, where you’re heading… and in the end you just don’t turn around as much as you should. So, coming down is this presentation of the beauty in a new perspective. I love it.

When can you visit Refugio Plantat?

You can get to the shelter year round, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to see it! haha. During spring, summer, and fall, you’ll have a gorgeous climb up with an abundance of colors.

During the summer, the sun beats heavily and there’s no shade until you get to the shelter, so make sure you have your sunscreen, water, and appropriate clothes. The good thing is you can drink the delicious cold water that flows in the stream right next to the shelter.

You can hike to this area year round, but if you come during the middle of winter, you won’t find the shelter, as it will be buried!

If you come towards the beginning of winter like I did, you’ll get all the beauty benefits of the snow and you can happily experience just what I did on this day. A hot coffee or hot chocolate while looking outside at the black mountains, blue sky, and sea of white.

However, if you come in the middle or end of winter, or even the beginning of spring depending on the season, be prepared to scour the horizon looking for the trusty Refugio Plantat and not find it. Why’s that? Well, it will be covered and hidden in the winter snowfall, of course 🙂

How do you get to Refugio Plantat, for you day of amazing trekking in Cajon de Maipo?

In your own private transportation, head out of Santiago towards Cajon del Maipo. You’ll pass the San Jose village and eventually San Gabriel, where there will be a small police officer (carabineros) stop on your right. If you’re not doing a full expedition, you don’t need to register with them. Pay attention to the signs and continue all the way to Baños Morales, in the Lo Valdes sector. 

Looking down on Valle de la Engorda from the route going to Refugio Plantat and the San Jose Volcano

You’ll cross a small bridge and eventually get to the house I mentioned above, the “cabrerio”, where you can park.

Mountain Safety People!!

While climbing on this day, so in love with the untainted beauty, we found an unexpected downside of the snowfall… a group of people who had gotten lost! We were crossing a bit higher and they were in a lower point, protecting themselves from the wind with their tent up.

They yelled and told us they had gotten lost, asking how to get back to the valley. We told them that there were fresh tracks in the snow from our arrival there and they’d be easy to follow. They got disoriented from the snowfall the day prior, covering their tracks and leaving everything looking so similar. We could see their tracks from climbing all the peaks in the surrounding area, looking for something that rang a bell to signal the direction for heading out. Yikes.

A day trekking in Valle de la Engorda will not disspoint!

When going trekking in Cajon de Maipo, or anywhere for that matter, always research your route!! Always have your GPS,!! Always know where you are!! You need to enjoy the mountain responsibly people, and not underestimate how quickly its conditions can change.