La Campana National Park
The Last Refuge of the Chilean Palm Tree
20 meters, only 20 meters left to get to the end of the route we were going to climb ‘La Campana’ hill, when we had to start the descent. We were expected to be at the entrance of the park at a certain time, and we were late. I missed it. We missed it.
I missed watching the coast slopes ridge from almost 1,800 meters above sea level, and trying to distinguish, towards the east, the subtle differences between the blue color of the sky and the sea. Watching towards the valley, the cities of Olmué and Limache, looking so different than last night. Watching the Andes Mountain Range, getting lost to the north and south...
To come back! There is no choice.
Created in October 1967, the National Park ‘La Campana’ has a size of 8,000 hectares, belonging to the areas of Hijuelas and Olmué, 5th Region of Valparaíso. It is one of the most representative zones of the biological variety of the central zone of Chile, having been declared ‘Biosphere Reservoir’, by UNESCO, along with the Peñuelas Lake Forest Reservoir in 1984.
Among the most outstanding characteristics of this area, we have the fact that this is one of the two places where the Chilean palm tree – one which has the most southern distribution – is protected from exploitation, that caused it to be a ‘vulnerable’ species according to its conservation status.
This palm tree forest, or ‘kan kan’ as it was called by the ancient inhabitants of the area, is located in a place of the park called Ocoa. The trees can grow up to 30 meters and live a thousand years. In old times, it was widely present in the country; nevertheless, the overexploitation as producer of syrup and nuts caused a dramatic decrease in its number.
It is also important the presence in these latitudes of a Chilean species known to live far in the south: the oak. The forests of this species, located in the foothills of La Campana and El Roble, at 900 meters above the sea level, represent one more of the curiosities of this park.
The park fauna has chilla and culpeo foxes (they are seen sometimes), wildcats, and skunks. There is a great variety of rodents such as chinchillas, cururos and vizcachas, and among the birds, of course, the giant hummingbird (a world record), finches, crown sparrows, mockingbirds, turcas, tapaculos, eagles, and owls, among so many others.
So much biological variety is framed and marked by a contradictory geography: heights as those we can find in hills as La Campana (1,828 meters above sea level), and El Roble (2,222 meters above sea level); deep abysses and smooth slopes in the valleys.
On the other side, in this same wild land, archeological evidences reveal ancient native presence in the zone. Evidences of this presence are related to old agricultural villages, besides cultural expressions as ‘tacitas’ stones, mortars, projectile heads, marai and pottery.
Visiting and Enjoying
The park has three sectors, each one with a different entrance: Granizo, Cajón Grande and Ocoa.
The access to these sectors is very good and clear. To get to the first two ones, you have to go through the city of Olmué (map); from here, you can go to Granizo or Cajón Grande. To go to Ocoa, located in the north part of the area, you can get through a detour in the 5 North highway.
Granizo area is a paradise for those who practice trekking. If your energy and legs can bear it, through the ‘Andinista’ trail, the visitor can get to the top of ‘La Campana’, and be at the same place where Darwin, 165 years ago, saw the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountain Range, just by turning his head; besides, in the interpretation trail ‘La Canasta’, the visitor can carry out an interesting survey of the flora and fauna existing in the area.
In Cajón Grande, near Granizo, it is possible to enjoy not only the goodness and scenic beauty of the place, following the paths ‘Portezuelo Ocoa’ and ‘El Plateau’, but also the fresh waters of the pond that gives its name to the area of ‘La Poza del Coipo’.
Coast Mountain Range
In Ocoa, as we’ve already mentioned, the main star is the Chilean Palm tree. To observe the palm grove in its full magnificence, you must walk the trail along the stream of the Rabuco brook (route that links this area with Granizo). If this is not enough, in this area there is a beautiful waterfall called ‘La Cortadera’, 35 meters high, which is a real unexpected event, considering the fact that this park doesn’t have big hydric resources.
To Walk Around
Perhaps it is its location, the beauty, or the physical challenge posed by its geography, that this park receives so many visitors during all the year, even during winter: families, schools, climbers, etc.
The park has special areas for picnics and camping, with the necessary services and facilities so that visitors can enjoy the park without damaging its ecosystem.
If what you want is a more comfortable stay, the cities of Olmué, Limache, Villa Alemana and Viña del Mar, all of them nearby, can offer a wide range of hotel possibilities.
The queen of all the activities you can do in this park is, doubtless, trekking. For those who practice this activity, there are more trails than the ones already mentioned, including different aims and degrees of difficulty. If somebody doesn’t want to walk, horseback riding is another alternative ecologically valid.
Descending La Campana Hill
A glance at ‘La Campana’ hill is enough to realize that it is an ideal ground (or wall) for climbers. With routes whose degree of difficulty varies between 5.7 to 5.12, the west wall of the hill (Granizo area) is an excellent opportunity to practice traditional climbing. The routes have between 4 and 5 pitches and only one of them has belay stations.
Open all year round, every day from September to April (between 09:00 to 19:00), and between May – August, only Sundays and holidays (between 09:00 and 18:00). The entrance fee costs 1000 pesos (USD 2, approximately) for adults, and half this price for children.
Visit the park, we assure you will enjoy it.