After seeing all of my girl Marcella’s stunning pictures of her hike at Cerro La Campana, it immediately soared to the top of my Santiago bucket list. With only a few weekends left in Chile (I seriously can’t believe how fast time flies) it was one activity I didn’t want to let sit and go undone. And so I rallied my hiking buddies and 3 weeks ago we finally checked it off the list!
Cerro La Campana or “Bell Mountain” is a lesser known hike to tourists and even some Chileans, so as usual it’s not the easiest to find information on. It is located in La Campana National Park, about 160km northwest of Santiago in the Valparaíso Region of Chile and 1km northeast of the little remote Chilean town of Olmué. Unfortunately we didn’t have more than a full day to dedicate to this hike, but with some research and a bit of planning I figured out how to conquer La Campana in just one day!
In this post I’ll be relaying all of the info and how we got it done, since most of what I found online was either in Spanish, outdated or just plain wrong.
La Campana National Park is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and a paradise for nature lovers. It’s full of beautiful greenery, picturesque waterfalls and over 100 species of wild animals to observe. There are a ton of trails and activities available, but if you want to “conquer La Campana”- AKA the hill that the park is named after, get the famed view and the full experience, you’ll have to take on the Andinista Trail.
I’m not going to lie to you, the Andinista Trail is no “walk in the park” (pun intended). It’s one hell of a workout, will take an entire day and will leave you damn near exhausted, but the experience is in every bit worth it. The main pull of the Andinista Trail is the famed view from the top of Cerro La Campana. From the summit, after over 4 hours of strenuous hiking, you are finally awarded a glorious glimpse of the entire width of Chile, ocean to Andes!
Well, as luck would have it, we didn’t hike La Campana on the clearest day, and so we missed out on the famed “width of Chile view.” Still, I’d say what we saw was pretty cool …..
Cerro La Campana Fun Fact: During his second voyage of the HMS Beagke, Charles Darwin hiked Cerro La Campana to the summit in 1834. On the trek you will pass a plaque commemorating his ascent with a quote:
“Pasamos el día en la cima del monte, y nunca me ha parecido el tiempo mas corto; Chile se extiende a nuestros pies como un panorama inmenso limitado por los Andes y el oceano Pacifico.”
My rough translation: “We spent the day ontop of the mountain and never has time seemed so short; Chile strecthes out from our feet like an immense panaorma limited by the Andes and the Pacific.”
Cerro La Campana Practical Information
Hiking La Campana as a day trek from Santiago
Hiking La Campana in a day can be a bit tricky, but it’s totally doable! You’ll have to leave bright and early to get it done, but with a good night’s sleep and a reliable alarmclock, you should be good to go. We rented a car the night before and left at the crack of dawn around 6:30am. The park is a little under a two hour drive and if you leave early, there shouldn’t be any traffic.
If you want to hike the Andinista Trail, even if you are staying overnight close by, you must check in before 9:30am, so make sure you leave plenty of time! The only problem we ran into with doing this hike on the weekend was that most car rental companies close around 7PM on Saturdays and Sundays. This is where we were in a bit of a rush, but by leaving early and having a quick lunch break at the top, we made it back with some time to spare!
How to Get to La Campana
Getting to La Campana is a bit of a pain on public transportation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible, but for matters of convenience I’d suggest renting a car. I’ve used the company Chile Rent a Car many times now, and have been extremely impressed with their service. You can reserve a car online (or call and speak to someone in English) and the whole process only takes a few minutes. Depending on how many people are in your group (and if you have someone with you who drives manual), you can rent a basic sedan for as low as 20.000 CLP (~$30 USD) per day.
If you plug in “Parque Nacional La Campana” in Google Maps, it won’t bring you to the exact start of the trail. Just know that the road is paved almost until the start of the hike, and you don’t have to go up any crazy hills or down any dirt roads. We found this out the hard way. We had to ask a few people to get back on track and find the start, but we did eventually get there with little problems. I took a screenshot on my GoogleMaps of exactly where the parking lot was and have included a map of the route we took below.
PRICE TO ENTER (as of 2017)
Foreign Adults 4.000 CLP
Foreign Children under 18: 1.200 CLP
*If you’re looking for somewhere to camp or stay overnight, I would suggest the town of Olmué for hostels or if you have access to camping equipment Camping Granizo.
WHEN TO HIKE TO CERRO LA CAMPANA
You can hike Cerro La Campana year round, but I’d suggest you check the weather before you do. Although parts of the trail are in the shade, this hike would be made significantly harder on a really hot day. We did this hike this spring and it was perfect. The weather was warm and sunny, but there was still a cool breeze.
In fall, Parque Nacional La Campana is known for it’s beautiful red oak trees and in winter the view from the top will be enhanced by snow sprinkled mountaintops. The only season I would really suggest against attempting this hike would be in summer because, as I said, I can imagine the intense Chilean heat would make this hike pretty unbearable.
DURATION OF HIKE
Most online sites suggested that Sendero Andinista could be done in around 8 and a half hours round trip. My friends and I hike pretty often and I’d consider us to be in fairly good shape, but this trek, with a short 30-minute lunch break at the top, took us a little over 8 and a half hours. We were actually really surprised by how long it took!
If you’re short on time (or trying to finish with time to return your rental car before the office closes) I’d suggest starting as early as you can possibly bear.
*Remember- if you want to hike the Andinista, even if you are staying close by, you must check in before 9:30AM
DIFFICULTY LEVEL & ROUTE INFO
Like I said before, if you’re looking to hike up La Campana Hill, you’ll have to take Sendero El Andinista (the red trail below). The Andinista trail is the only one that will lead to the famed La Campana view. This trail is pretty challenging and very long, so I’d suggest you try some other hikes around Santiago, like Cerro Pochoco or Cerro Manquehue, before taking the Andinista on. The length of the trail is only 7 km, but as you can see, most of it is at a significant incline.
The trail is marked fairly well until the very end where it’s a little easy to get turned around. If it’s foggy or cloudy on the day that you attempt the hike (like it was for us) it can be bit difficult to find the markers, just know that they are there. Definitely look for the markers and make sure you know which direction to go in before continuing on.
In any case there should be plenty of other hikers around that you can ask and figure it out together. My friends and I ended up taking a very difficult way up for the last hour because we lost sight of the trail and no one seemed to know where it was. We still made it to the top, but I wouldn’t suggest straying off the path, as we basically had to climb, pretty intensely, for the last 45 minutes. On the way down, we asked some people at the top, re-oriented ourselves and were able to find the trail, which was A LOT easier.
You will start the hike from the parking lot following a wide dirt road for a little ways until you come to a fork in the road and large sign explaining the different paths. You’ll want to continue to the right in the direction of the mines or “Camino Minero.”
From here you can easily follow along the marked path in the forest and you will see a few signs indicating how far you are from the “cumbre” or summit. Once you reach the mines, after about 2-2 1/2 hours, you are half way to the top! There will be another sign there telling you that you have 1.8 KM and 2 hours left to go!
The last hour is pretty strenuous and on a steep incline. You may have to climb/use your hands a bit, but if you stay on the path it’s not so bad. We got turned around and ended up climbing a bit too much, which I REALLY don’t recommend. We made it eventually, but I wouldn’t say it was the safest or smartest option.
WHAT TO BRING
- Hiking Boots– Don’t attempt this hike without some sturdy hiking boots. Hiking boots are designed for this kind of terrain and will provide needed traction and support. Trainers are not recommended.
- At least 2 Liters of water per person– There will be nowhere to fill a water bottle during this hike so make sure you bring sufficient amounts of water along. Staying hydrated all the way is very important, especially on hot days.
- Walking Sticks– Walking sticks are completely necessary, but they definitely helped a lot on the way down. They provide some extra support and balance while giving your legs a bit of a break.
- Sunscreen– A good part of the trek is in direct sunlight with no access to shade. Would hate to have you return looking like a lobster …
- Food for the day– I was STARVING by the time we made it to the summit. It’s a longggg day of driving and hiking, so make sure you bring plenty of food and snacks along!
- Gloves with grips– This one is not completely necessary, but is a good idea. Some of the hike includes climbing and using your hands to lift/guide yourself.
- Day-sized Backpack– you won’t want to carry too much, as this hike it pretty long, but you will want to have a bag for water, snacks, sunscreen, etc. while remaining hands free!
- Camera- whatever you do, make sure you bring a camera or a smartphone. After all that hiking, sweating and treking along, you’ll want to have some pictures to show for your accomplishment!
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