The last week of our road trip would take us to two of the most interesting and contrasting landscapes we experienced on the trip: the granite domes of Valle Cochamo and the native palm forest of Parque Nacional La Campana.
Valle Cochamo had been high on our list of places to visit, but unlike most of our other destinations, the area is entirely private land. In the U.S., this often means less access and more development. But the valley’s billing as “Chile’s Yosemite” in our guide book was too much of an enticement to avoid.
We began on the 12km trail to La Junta (a remote settlement inaccessible by road), which continues through the mountains to Argentina and has served as an important trade route for hundreds of years.
Today, you can still encounter real life cowboys on horses, transporting supplies or herding their cattle along the seriously muddy, rutted trail.
Thankfully, the constant roar of the Rio Cochamo and frequent glimpses of its emerald green waters and the surrounding mountains kept our minds off the dodging of puddles and ponds and our increasingly muddy shoes.
The Chucao Tapaculo also made multiple appearances on the first day. This little bird graces the cover of “Birds of Chile” and had thus far eluded us despite our hearing its distinctive call almost everyday for the past two weeks.
We reached La Junta within a few hours and set up our tent at Camping La Junta, an off-the-grid campground complete with composting toilets, and a lovely fogon where a fire keeps you warm day and night.
Granite domes surrounded us on all sides promising amazing hiking opportunities the next day. We opted for a climb up to Cerro Trinidad.
The “trail” started with a ride across the river on a pulley system used to transport people and supplies.
At times the trail was incredibly difficult to find, let alone climb, often requiring the use of all four limbs to hoist ourselves over roots and boulders.
But the reward was towering old growth Alerce trees, giant granite monoliths and a sweeping natural amphitheater, complete with a soaring Andean condor.
Our only regret was that we didn’t have more time to spend in this truly stunning setting.
We reluctantly left Valle Cochamo and began the long drive north to Valparaiso, an ocean town near Santiago that several people had recommended we visit. Within minutes of entering the city we were stuck in rush hour on San Francisco-like streets. The bustling city was too much of a shock to our systems after three weeks of rural mountain bliss. So we hightailed it out of there and headed to the nearby Parque Nacional La Campana.
The park is just an hour or so from the five million people of Santiago, but we encountered only a handful of other visitors. Our hike here was highlighted by a profusion of dainty, yet colorful wildflowers…
…and capped by the native Chilean palm forest (a Chilean endemic in danger of extinction) that appeared as we crested the ridge high above the campground.
The park contains one of the last remaining Chilean palm forests in the world.
The palms’ giant leaves rustle loudly in the breeze and made lunch on the trail a unique experience.
We headed back to camp and on to Santiago the next morning: the end of an epic road trip adventure.