Practical Information: La Campana National Park
Who would have guessed that there is a gem like La Campana National Park within easy reach of Santiago de Chile?! Most guide books don’t tell you much about this park. La Campana is less than 100 kilometers from the capital, yet you’re in a completely different environment breathing fresh air for once.
The park was founded in 1967, and in 1985 UNESCO declared it a biosphere reserve. It preserves typical flora and fauna found in the Central Region of Chile and protects some important historical sites. Cerro La Campana is a peak which Darwin climbed in 1834, and a plaque commemorates his climb with a quote in which he praises the vistas:
“Pasamos el día en la cima del monte, y nunca me ha parecido el tiempo más corto, Chile se extiende a nuestros pies como un panorama, inmenso limitado por los Andes y el océano pacifico.”
On a clear day you can see the Pacific Ocean to the West, and to the East, the snow peaks of the Andes including Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere.
We were amazed by how many different exotic birds we either saw or only heard. With some patience and experience this park would be a bird watcher’s paradise.
The park is divided into three sections, but we visited only one (although, we might return and then update this page). All three have camp grounds and picnic areas.
Hiking choices in 3 distinct sectors of “La Campana”
Ocoa Sector near Hijuelas
This sector, the only one we visited, is reached from the north. The Ocoa valley offers the easiest access to the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), one of only two remaining, significant locations in the wild. [The second park, Las Palmas de Cocalan west of Rancagua, is absolutely not accessible!] These palms are amazingly beautiful, many of them are hundreds of years old (many over 1000!) and have survived frost, earthquakes, and wildfires but, in most places in the wild, obviously not the human onslaught, including land clearing. Due to its slow growth, relatively smooth trunk, edible fruit, and thick lush fronds, these palms are considered a sign of affluence in places like California, where only the wealthiest can afford them as part of their landscaping.
We chose this section because it was the closest to where we were, the valley offers some relatively level spots to camp, the camp ground here is the largest, and we also assumed the walks would be easy (after all, this was our first time in any National Park for a considerable time and we were out of training). On the last point we were somewhat wrong, as you can read in our previous blog post .
Granizo Sector near Olmué
If you want to follow in Darwin’s footsteps and climb Cerro La Campana, you have to visit this part of the park, which also seems to attract the most visitors. Olmué, to the south east of the park, can best be reached from Valparaiso or Viña del Mar. This entrance is reported to be the only one with a permanent ranger presence. The climb is described as ‘medium’, with some narrow paths and a steeper climb towards the peak. As far as we know, climbing is only permitted if you register with the ranger before 10am. If you have a suitable vehicle, and weather permits, you can drive halfway up. Otherwise it should take around 4½-5 hours (one way) walking from the base. Besides camping inside the park, there is also a range of accommodation available in Olmué.
CAMPING UPDATE 23rd of Oct.2014: I recently met Heather & Scott who, encouraged by our report, visited the park short after us. From their feedback there is no room to camp with an overland vehicle, other than one tight spot right next to the ranger station! They confirm that the best camping is in the Ocoa valley.
Cajón Grande Sector
This sector is further east of Olmué and serves as the base camp for climbing Cerro el Roble. By road the easiest access is also from the west via Olmué; from the east you can reach it by exiting Ruta 5 near Polpaíco and following some windy secondary roads (which might be closed by snow in winter). The climb of Cerro el Roble is reported to be much more challenging and hence this sector also attracts less visitors.
WikiExplorer provides information (in Spanish) about the climb.
Practical Information “La Campana”
Best time to visit is spring, when the waterfall carries more water and all the wild flowers bloom profusely. We understand that in summer it can be very dry and hot, with the danger of wild fires.
CLP 2,500 for adult foreigners (Chileans pay CLP 2,000) per person
CLP 1,500 for foreign children (Chileans pay CLP 1,000) per person
CLP 6,000 per site/day
We are driving a large truck converted into a “mobile home” and most camping spots are walk-in sites, with plenty of shady trees. Parking spots are near to the access road and, due to the hilly terrain, hardly ever level. We were advised to camp near the (signposted) “Palma Solitaria” , an almost level area around a single palm just below the designated camping.
Unfortunately, some trees along the access road were so close together that we could not avoid scratching our truck – well, this is to be expected and wouldn’t keep us away.
There are some simple flush toilets (we never discovered the ones in the camping section – they must be well hidden), but not in adequate numbers for when the park is really full, like during public holidays (when we visited).
Access roads are dirt (mostly compacted sand with some rocks), fairly well maintained and most people drive in with normal family cars. Rubbish is supposed to be carried out – not all Chileans adhere to this.
At Ocoa you can get untreated spring water from a hose on the exit side of the entrance gates (where you find a couple more toilets). There is a shop selling some essentials, but basically you should bring all supplies, most importantly fire wood if you desire to light one at night (beware of restrictions during summer!).
Dogs are permitted! We saw several people on our walk with unleashed dogs.
There are also cattle grazing inside the national park, which is a bit of a strange sight to us.
We didn’t get any mobile reception with Entel, and very lousy reception with Claro, so no internet access via mobile – enjoy the remoteness and solitude!
Ministry of Agriculture : CONAF official web page of the park with current information.
Let’s go Chile website with detailed description (in so-so English).
Lonely Planet’s sparse description of La Campana.
Rough Guide’s online page on La Campana is more informative.
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