Think great trekking begins and ends in Nepal? Think again. Take a read of this guide to Chile trekking holidays and the 10 best Chilean treks to find out why you need to visit.
Chile is a remarkable country for trekking. It is criss-crossed by ancient native trails, rainforest tracks, wind-thrashed rock hikes, serious scrambles and off-trail rambles.
The trail infrastructure in Chile is well-managed with around 8,500 kilometres of recognised trails. They are served by legible signs, handy access points, campsites and well maintained footbridges at crossings.
The Chilean government tried to enhance Chile’s reputation for great trekking further by building the Sendero de Chile (Route of Chile). When completed it would span a staggering 9,700 kilometres.
It would be the longest uninterrupted walking trail in the world. Unfortunately the project ran into problems and was never completed.
However, a lot of good work has been done, new routes opened and existing ones improved. The Sendero de Chile foundation is still improving hiking in the country and the dream is still alive.
If you’re heading north, March to May and October to November are the most rewarding seasons. Outside these months the Chilean winter can bring snow and sub-zero temperatures.
In Central Chile, September to June offers temperate climates and relatively predictable weather. If you’re much above 2000 feet temperatures drop to a reasonable 14 degrees.
Further south the summer, so December to February, is best. Though in some trekking destinations you can hike between September and June.
There are obviously a whole host of terrain risks to consider on any mountainous trek. Falls, rock slides, avalanches and even a minor injury can be life threatening. But this is no different in Chile than other places around the world.
However, Chile also requires a degree of common sense about crime, wildlife and disease. While you’re unlikely to be robbed on the trail, when in cities and transport terminals keep your eyes on your bags and valuables close.
The main bestial threat is spiders. The auburn-coloured arana de rincones spider is fairly common hiding in in nooks and crannies, it is the 6th most dangerous spider in the world. Black widows, the world’s 4th most dangerous spider, lurk in green areas.
There are also a variety of snake species, but although a bite is nasty they are not considered lethal. However, mice can carry the potentially fatal (if not treated fast) Hanta disease. There are also pumas although they stay away from humans.
These creatures will be way more afraid of you than you are of them and will try to escape before biting. So if you are sensible and keep your eyes peeled you can easily avoid any issues.
If you’re wilderness trekking in Chile, you’ll need to bring a lot of kit – tent, sleeping bag, extra layers, food, water, cooking utensils etc. If you’re hauling 20 kilograms or more for multiple days, you might do yourself an injury. So perhaps hire a pack animal.
The great travel author Bruce Chatwin is said to have he quit his job at the Sunday Times Magazine by leaving a note that simply read ‘Gone to Patagonia’. So this is where we will begin the best Chilean treks:
The Torres del Paine National Park’s USP is its cuernos – granite behemoths coloured in distinctive blue and white. The cuernos are the main reason why there are no trekking holidays anywhere else in the world quite like Torres del Paine.
The W-trail here is best completed shelter-to-shelter. It ascends in increments of 1500-3000 feet to keep things more achievable. It is known as one of the best treks in the world so is a good place to start.
Only the Lake District’s verdant meadows and heavy rainfall bear any relation to its UK namesake. Fortunately, the more popular paths are partly boardwalked to prevent catastrophic slip-ups.
There are numerous routes through the Region de Los Lagos. They expose you to volcanic backcountry that can feel as if it’s enveloping you like a big dark blanket. Horse Flies can be a nuisance at lower altitudes.
The hike to the 1,880 metre summit of Mount La Campana on the Coastal Cordillera is one of the best Chilean treks. It offers ample opportunity to spot some of the prettiest birds in South America, from loicas to patridges to various species of hawk.
The explosions of Chilean palms on the mountainside can be deceptively beautiful as they sometimes conceal bluffs. So be careful where you reach for handholds.
The 6-day trek up San Jose is half-trekking, half rock-climbing. Given its similarity to Aconcagua Mountain in altitude gain, it’s also a perfect training ground for this much taller and more difficult peak.
Fancy exploring a 4000-metre windswept desert where flamingos dance and salt lakes glisten? You’re not the only one. The Chilean Altiplano is strenuous going, but stunning with. The Atacama desert is particularly popular.
Lying 670 kilometres off the shore of Chile is the Juan Fernandez Archipelago. It was here that Alexander Selkirk – the real Robinson Crusoe – washed up in 1704. A short day hike along the coast will reveal lush, shaded canopies and subtropical flowers of almost blinding brilliance.
Returning to Central Chile, the Vilches circuit leads across a 1000 metre deep gorge. Inside UFOs are believed to make regular landings. Chile’s otherwise excellent trekking infrastructure doesn’t stretch as far as Vilches. So you need to take all your food and gear with you.
The highest peak you can see from the capital city Santiago is El Plomo. The trek to the base camp takes two days. If you want to go any higher than 5000 metres you’ll need a climbing iron.
Also not far from Santiago is the El Morado National park. Here you can trek across the glaciers on a variety of trails in stunning scenery. There are also plenty of other treks in central Chile.
No guide to Chile trekking holidays would be complete without including the Condor Circuit. Often likened to the wilds of New Zealand it ranges across gnarled forests and with stunning views of Descabezado Grande . It finishes at a tranquil campsite beside some health-giving hot springs.
Already one of the best Chilean treks this is a great add on to the Condor Circuit. Switch west at the Rio Volcan River stage to get a taste of the majestic Andes. The trail heads to one of its finest Chilean lakes, Laguna Mondaca.
Starting and ending this guide to Chile trekking holidays in Patagonia seems appropriate. The 2,800km (1,740 miles) Route of Parks only opened in 2018 and runs from the city of Puerto Montt to Cape Horn. It’s the newest and possibly the best trek in South America.
The Tompkins Conservation, set up by US billionaire and founder of North Face Douglas Tompkins, donated vast amounts of land to the Chilean government. This helped create a network of 17 national parks and the new trek connecting them all.