Leave the smog and city buzz behind and head to Cascada de Las Animas for a day of nature and fresh air.
SAN ALFONSO — Escaping from the city into nature is a motif found in many belief systems and lifestyles around the world. Despite the theme often written off as ‘hippie-dippie’ or impractical, there is something to be said for taking a stroll through landscapes in our world which have stood long before us, and will remain well after.
Santiago is a wonderful city. There’s life and art, history and culture, and the buzz of the people and the constancy of technology keeps a beat that many people find addictive.
However, as an outdoor enthusiast and an active young adult, the suffocating smog and toxic headaches have lost their allure, and I, like many other wilderness wanderers who have attempted to find their way in the concrete jungle, decided that enough was enough. Sometimes you just need a fresh breath of air.
Seeing as it is late July and the winter’s air is still crisp and cool, my friend and I left in the dark hours of the morning bundled in jackets, a vest, wool socks, a ski hat and wool mittens. Maybe I should crawl back into bed, have a cup of hot tea, and postpone my adventure for another day…
Despite uncertain thoughts, I found my way to the metro for the first leg of our journey. After about a half hour, I emerged from the Mercedes metro station to a sunrise barely peeking over the mountains.
Like most buses in Santiago, you know the stops exist and at some point they are coming, but the more important details like where and when exactly that may be are often unclear.
After watching the first bus rush by, we migrated to a different stop. The bus came, but did not see me (or chose not to stop), and so the final leg of the journey only began after chasing the bus to a red light, banging on the window, and making imploring gestures to board.
The drive was like cracking open a book, flipping through the intro and digging
into the meat of a good story. We wound through old towns, dead tourist traps struggling to beat the winter lull, and slowly but surely we climbed through the hills of Maipo.
The mountain grew before us, lighting the peaks with shadows stretching into the valleys, into the rivers and onto the road. The past few days of rain in Santiago equated to snow at higher altitudes, inviting a thick white layer to a vibrant blue and green canvas.
We arrived at San Alfonso where the driver was nice enough to let us off right at Cascada de Las Animas. Despite the cold and the off-season, the company had one guide who could bring us “trekking”.
As we had an hour to kill before our hike, we strolled through a group of cabins stolen straight from Whoville. Small wooden bridges connected the wooden pods at the base of the mountains. We climbed to the Mirador, a viewpoint mounted on a small hill nearby, a tiny hump hugged between the Río Maipo and the surrounding highlands.
Seeing as the sun was still climbing the sky, the air was quite chilled. We retreated to the yurt-like information center for a delicious cup of chocolate caliente and a quick warm-up in front of the wood stove.
Around noon, the crowds gathered outside in front of an educational board. Our guide explained the wildlife we would encounter and the plants indigenous to the forest. The tourist center and the nature sanctuary are a part of the 3,600 acres of mountain ranges, valleys, springs and waterfalls that belong to Cascada de Las Animas. We were told to keep our eyes pealed for the many fauna and flora around, especially those that are unique to Chile.
The trek started by crossing a wooden suspended bridge across the river, where a magnificent backdrop of the mountains truly set the scene. After swinging and taking an appropriate number of photos (and selfies) we crossed the bridge to an animal refuge, where various birds and animals, like a condor or pumas, sat staring at their visitors.
Climbing higher and higher, the sweet smell of grasses and leaves feel like they are detoxifying your lungs from the weeks of stale air. After subconsciously refusing to breathe deeply in the city, I took a large inhale, fully filling my lungs for the first time in a long time.
Reinvigorated, oxygen levels high, we reached the first water fall. The agua pura (pure water) flows over hard rock and cascades down the cliff side. A small spring spigot is set up so hikers can refill their bottles with sip delicious fresh water.
After a steep increase in elevation, panoramic views of the valleys and mountains surrounded us from all sides. The sun was bright, the sky blue and the freezing temperatures rose enough to peel off our jackets and winter gear.
The ultimate destination on the hike was a large waterfall. With perfect sitting rocks all around, we broke out our snacks and enjoyed the spray of the falls and the rainbow stretching across the misty clouds.
After twenty minutes of lounging and taking in the views, we packed up our belongings and began the journey back to the base. Overall the trip probably took an hour and a half.
For skilled hikers, this would easily be a half an hour trip, but there’s something nice about leisurely looking at everything around you at a lazy pace.
Cascada de Las Animas is an incredible place with cabins, camping, and hostel like accommodations. Daily activities range from trekking, horseback riding, vineyard touring, zip lining, hanging in the pool or hot springs, visiting the spa, rafting and more.
With over 30 years of experience in ecotourism, Cascada de Las Animas is an incredible place to visit with people of any age. They are open year round, and offer a close and reasonably priced getaway into the impressive nature Chile has to offer.
How to get there:
Take the metro to the metro stop at Las Mercedes on Line 4. When you get to the stop, take a right out of the station and walk to the second bus stop you encounter. You are looking for Bus #72. They are small blue and white buses. Ask the driver if they go to San Alfonso. Many stop in San Jose, and it’s about another 15 km from there if you get stuck. Most drivers will drop you right at Cascada de Las Animas in San Alfonso if you ask. Coming home, take a left out of the resort, cross the street, and walk until you reach a bus stop. The blue and white bus will pick you up there. The bus costs $800 CP each way, and will pick you up and drop you off in Puente Alto.