Practical Information: La Campana National Park

La Campana National Park Map

La Campana National Park Map

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”

La Campana: info board at Ocoa

La Campana: info board at Ocoa

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 .

La Campana: Cerro La Campana from Valle de Ocoa

La Campana: Cerro La Campana from Valle de Ocoa

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.

I found this birding site with a detailed description of how to reach this section by public transport.
WikiExplorer provides information (in Spanish) about the climb.

La Campana: valley view

La Campana: valley view

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.

Entrance Fee:
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

Camping Fee:
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!

La Campana: cow on top of waterfall

La Campana: cow with no fear of heights grazing on top of waterfall

Further reading:

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.
All links open in new browser!

Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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19 Responses

  1. I had never heard of this park – it’s really beautiful! For some reason it seems very odd to see a cow grazing where there are cacti – I hope that doesn’t mean the cow’s a prick! :)

  2. Traveling to Santiago is on our bucket list. I’ve heard of this park. Some say that some of the trekking paths are very challenging and remote. The views of the scenery in your pictures are spectacular. Thanks for linking up to #WeekendWanderlust.

  3. Having been sucked in by your photos of this beautiful and distant land I’ve ended up clicking through to all manner of pages including your wonderful refurbishment of Bertha!
    A slow unravelling delving into your travelling life :)

  4. Your photos are beautiful and I love the way you use them to illustrate your post. I especially liked learning a little bit more of the Chilean wine palm; the fact that they grown so slowly and can live up to 1000 years old makes them national treasures and it’s reassuring to know that they’re in a protected environment.

  5. Thanks for this great information for visitors!

  6. It sounds like a beautiful paradise! And your photos are simply gorgeous!!

  7. La Campana looks like truly beautiful wilderness. I’m always amazed at all the remote places Darwin travelled to.

    • Juergen says:

      Considering the times and how difficult travel must have been Darwin was certainly an intrepid traveller. I sometimes come to places, see a plaque, and think “him again”.

  8. Looks fantastic, and great photos, as always.

  9. I had no idea that La Campana National Park even existed!. Have been to Santiago twice.

  10. Leigh says:

    I’ve traveled to Santiago but this park is news to me. It’s always Patagonia that I hear about. Looks like a great place to explore.

    • Juergen says:

      Yep, Torres del Paine and San Pedro de Atacama at both ends of the country (South & North). The long long stretch in between you have to discover yourself! ;)

  11. How fascinating to read about this remote area that many will never visit in their lifetime. Your shot of the cow and waterfall looks like Eden personified. Very fun to read.

  12. The park looks and sounds wonderful. Love the flora and the views.

  13. Lauren says:

    Wow, what a beautiful place! Thanks so much for sharing your fantastic photos and info on how to get there. Thanks for linking up with #WeekendWanderlust!! :)

  14. Joy says:

    I’m really enjoying your posts and travels! We’re currently in the planning stages of becoming a location independent family as well. Too many unique and wonderful places to visit, things to see and people to meet! (just trying to secure income ideas at the moment.. then we are go!)
    Health and safety in your amazing travels! Can’t wait for more. ;)

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