Monumento Natural El Morado
Beyond San Gabriel, where the Río Yeso joins the Maipo and the paved road ends, it’s 23 kilometers farther to one of Cajón del Maipo’s finest excursions, a taste of the high Andes at Monumento Natural El Morado. Only 92 kilometers from downtown Santiago, it overlooks the valley of the Río Volcán, a Maipo tributary that joins the main river a few kilometers south of San Gabriel.
Despite its modest size—only 3,009 hectares—El Morado gets hikers into the high country fast, with easy access to Andean lakes and glaciers. Though it’s a feasible day trip from the capital, the camping and accommodations in the vicinity make it a good overnight option as well.
Sights and Recreation
From the visitor center at the Baños Morales hot springs, the Sendero El Ventisquero is a six-kilometer trail that climbs steeply at the outset before leveling off at Aguas Panimávida, a series of small thermal springs. It continues to Laguna El Morado, a small lake at 2,400 meters, and on to the tongue of the Ventisquero San Francisco. From here, all further travel is cross-country.
Visitors disinclined to walk can rent horses for around US$5 per hour at Baños Morales.
Conaf has a small rustic campground (US$3 pp) at Laguna El Morado; at Baños Morales, there is the inexpensive Camping del Valle and simple accommodations as well in summer.
The best option, though, is across the valley at the Refugio Alemán (Camino El Volcán s/n, tel. 099/2208525, www.refugiolovaldes.com, US$30 pp). Also known as Refugio Lo Valdés, this popular poplar-studded hillside hotel is no luxury lodging, but it has had a loyal public for both accommodations and food since the 1930s. There is also budget backpacker space in the attic (US$15 pp, sleeping bag essential). Both guests and nonguests can also take breakfast, lunch, dinner, or onces at the restaurant.
Rangers collect an admission charge of US$3 for adults, US$1.50 for children, at Conaf’s Centro de Información.
At 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Turismo Montaña (tel. 02/8500555) buses leave for El Morado and Baños Morales (US$9 pp round-trip) from Parque Bustamante, Providencia, alongside the CTC telephone headquarters; they return at 6 p.m.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition