Text: Malte Sieber

Those travelling to Chile are all bound to arrive in its capital Santiago in the center of this country stretching over a length of 4,500 km. But most visitors, seemingly unafraid of the distances and the inconvenience involved, are anxious to depart for the north or the south of the country almost immediately. By European standards, one might ask, 'Who would travel to northern Norway and to the Sahara, and all within three weeks?'

This is what the Austrian mountain guide Franz Schubert and the German journalist Malte Sieber have been wondering, who together authored the travel guide "Adventure Handbook Central Chile" published just recently. Having lived in Chile for years, they have compiled countless opportunities for experiencing the outdoors offered by the Central region of the country. "The area between Santiago and Los Angeles is every bit as attractive as Torres del Paine or the Atacama desert", says Franz Schubert, who knows the central Andes like his own backyard. "There are huge glaciers and smoking volcanoes, cactus desert and Nothofagus forests, crystal clear rivers and turquoise mountain lakes waiting to be discovered."

Teno Lagoon

Another well-kept secret: The transitional zone between the arid north and the rainy south is home to the greatest species diversity in flora and fauna. Visitors will find a number of cacti growing here, as well as plants usually associated with the lake district further south - from roble to coigüe, and from chilco to copihue. The same variety applies to animals: flamingo and condor, guanaco and huemul, penguin and sea lion, as well as many other species, are all native to this area.

Since the authors are avid mountain trekkers, the Andes form the centerpiece of their book. 23 trekking tours are described in sufficient detail to allow even novice trekkers to try out a few of them. "The great advantage of the central Andes is that fair weather is practically guaranteed most of the year," adds Franz Schubert. The tours are presented according to degree of difficulty, from easy hikes such as the one in La Campana National Park, to multi-day summit ascents like the one tackling Tupungato volcano (6,550 m). Maps, sketches, and even GPS data for some tours make finding one's way easy.

But those who fancy other sports are well-served, too: rock climbers and mountain bikers, kayakers and surfers can find tips for where to indulge in their favorite passtime. Likewise, the book contains information on horseback rides in the mountains, the most popular starting ramps for paragliders, as well as an overview of bays and shipwrecks worth exploring for divers.

2002 has been proclaimed the International Year of Ecotourism. Franz Schubert comments, "We have placed special emphasis on describing the natural environment in detail, and to promote its protection so that this does not remain merely an empty motto." Which is why, in addition to drawings and photos of typical animals and plants, the book also features a number of tips for tourists on how to treat the natural environment responsibly and with respect.

The ten most beautiful mountain tours of Central Chile

1) Cerro El Plomo (5,424 m)

Santiago's landmark mountain has always lured mountain climbers who want to try an "easy" 5,000 m peak to enjoy the panoramic view of the roofs of the Andes. In 1954 the well preserved body of an Inca child who had been sacrificed to the gods was found here.

2) Volcan Tupungato (6,550 m)

Even though this area is a lot more attractive as far as scenery than the area around Aconcagua, the volcano Tupungato is not climbed very often. The long march to the base camp and the enormous difference in altitude of the last stages give the rather easy climb the characteristics of a tour in the Himalayas.  

3) El Morado Natural Monument

This colorful Andean mountain valley was named after the jagged teeth of Cerro Morado (4,490 m) and can be hiked in a day tour or more leisurely in two days. Especially in the Spring, the ground is covered with a multitude of wildflowers. The trail leads past green moors and a small lagoon to the glacier tongue of San Francisco. Advanced climbers can participate in a glacier tour to 3,883 m Mirador.

4) Volcan Tinguiririca (4,280 m)

This volcano's fame is based on a passenger plane crash in 1972. The dramatic tale of the survivors who endured 70 days in the glaciated mountains and even resorted to eating their dead was made into a gripping Hollywood thriller titled "Alive!". It is easy to imagine the drama unfolding in the wild scenery around the peak.

5) Peteroa – Azufre Volcanoes

As for rugged beauty, no other mountains in this area can match this group of volcanoes east of Curicó. The route will spoil you with views of Chile's second-largest glacier area. It goes past picturesque Laguna Teno, up to the impressive craters of 2,603 m Peteroa volcano and to the glaciated peak of Volcán Azufre (3,603 m).

6) Volcan Descabezado Grande (3,830 m)

"The Great Decapitated One" is a truly impressive specimen of its kind. On April 10, 1932, in one powerful eruption, its side crater Quizapu spread 25 cubic kilometers of volcanic matter all over creation. The technically easy climb starting from Vilches/Altos de Lircay and the extremely variable scenery make this a Dorado popular with hikers and climbers alike.
Volcan Descabezado Grande

7) Enladrillado Trek  

The Enladrillado trek starting from the Altos de Lircay Nature Reserve near Talca makes anyone smile who is interested in UFO's. Most locals have absolutely no doubt that the high plain is being used as a landing strip by extraterrestrials. But it really doesn't take a belief in galactic beings to become enthralled with the natural beauty of the Andes on this tour.

8) Longavi Trek

The circumnavigation and ascent of 3,240 m Nevado de Longaví no doubt deserves its place among the ten most beautiful tours in Chile. Virgin forests and glaciers, a quiet camp on the bank of Laguna Achibueno and stands of rare cypress trees south of the snowy Toro Massif more than compensate for the exertion.

9) Nevado de Chillan (3,212 m)

Do not miss this tour if you are into wildly cracked lava landscapes with glaciers, craters, and parasite cones. Over all this towers the partially glaciated 3,212 m Nevado de Chillán. The icing on the cake is the ascent via the glacier, which provides an ideal practice terrain for iceclimbing novices.

10) Volcan Antuco (2,985 m)

The perfectly shaped sugarcone of the volcano Antuco juts up between dark blue Laguna del Laja and glaciated Sierra Velluda. From the top, you will have an interesting view of the moonscape created by volcanic action. The quiet of Antuco is deceiving: The volcano is not extinct; experts expect new eruptions of lava every 100 to 150 years.

Text:  Malte Sieber

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