El Cajón del Maipo
A Brief History of El Cajón del Maipo
It's hard to imagine that millions of years ago the imposing mountains of Cajón del Maipo were submerged in the sea. They were a part of an old marine channel and today it is still possible to find traces of its aquatic past in the form of fossils that can be found high up in the mountains.
The first inhabitants of these highlands were the Chiquillanes Indians who lived around where San Gabriel is today.
Evidence of the Inca's presence can be found in this area too. A Mummy of an Incan boy of about eight years of age was found on Cerro El Plomo (Peak) in 1954. For nearly 500 years he had been there at about 20 meters below the summit (5424m). The mummy can currently be found on display at the National Museum of Natural History in very good condition. Notice how his hair is plaited in more than 200 braids.
In the beginning, San José de Maipo, arose out of the need of having a central establishment for the diverse mining communities that were settling down in the area. Most of them were working in one the first silver mines in Chile, "San Pedro de Nolasco", which earned a lot of money for the region at the time.
Around then, the Governor of the Kingdom of Chile, Mr. Ambrosio O'Higgins, aware of this need, established the Villa San José de Maipo on 16 of Julio 1792 by means of a royal decree of the King of Spain. Later the area was called Villa Alta, but nowadays it is known as San José de Maipo.
How to Get to the Cajón del Maipo
Travelling by car:
The main route to Cajón del Maipo from Santiago is by going along Avda. La Florida. This avenue intersects with another main avenue called Avda. Vespucio Sur (the intersection is known as the Rotunda (roundabout) Departamental). Avda. La Florida, which later changes its name to Avda. Camilo Henriquez, will take you directly to the Las Vizcachas area which is the beginning of the Cajón del Maipo.
Another way is by going along Avda. Vicuña Mackenna until you arrive to Puente Alto. From there you can take Eyzaguirre which will connect to the main route G-25 just before Las Vizcachas.
Another option from Puente Alto is to drive towards Pirque and then take route G-421. This road later connects to route G-25 at two different places; by crossing the bridge to Las Vertientes or continuing until it joins at the Puente El Toyo (Bridge).
If you plan to go deeper into the Cajón by car, San José de Maipo is the last place to fill up the petrol tank.
Route G-25 is paved up to San Gabriel but from there on up into mountains, the roads are made of gravel.
Travelling by bus:
Buses frequently leave from the terminal at Plaza Vespucio which is at the end of Metro line 5, the Bellavista de La Florida Station.
Buses usually go through Puente Alto before they head off into El Cajón del Maipo, so it can take a while before you see any decent scenery.
(while we cannot recommend Hitchhiking as a safe way to travel, we understand that many people do it anyway)
It's best to take a local bus up to Las Vizcachas and try your luck from there. It will be too difficult to get a ride from Av. La Florida. Remember that the further you go up into the mountains, the less traffic there is, especially during week days.
Some traffic that you may find in El Cajón del Maipo.
Some other routes that can take you deeper into the mountains are:
G-345 Cajón Río Colorado - Just after puente Colorado (Bridge)
G-355 Lagunillas - Just after San José de Maipo
G-455 Embalse El Yeso - At Romeral where the paved part of the route G-25 ends
Las Melosas - After Puente Negro which is after Romeral
G-421 El Toyo Pirque - The back road between Pirque and El Toyo
Don't go into the mountains alone and/or in bad weather. Remember that the weather can change dramatically and rapidly, especially in Autumn, Winter and Spring. Rain, fog or the feared "White Wind" (a strong storm of wind, ice and snow), can put your life in serious danger so check out the weather forecast for the time you intend to stay.
If you plan to go mountaineering or trekking deep into the mountains, you should let the local police officers (at San Gabriel) know what route you are planning to take and the day you expect to be back.
If you are fishing or hunting, you should respect the local regulations and permitted seasons.
Take care of the Natural Environment: don't throw away garbage, don't damage the flora and fauna. Take all the necessary precautions to avoid forest fires.
The Little Towns of El Cajón del Maipo.
The following are the picturesque towns that can be encountered while travelling in El Cajón del Maipo.
Along the way you may find some white sheets or pieces of cloth hanging on the side of the road. This means that this place sells either homemade bread, nuts, almonds or honey.
As you go along route G-25, the first town that you will encounter is La Obra. This town sprung up in 1802 when the construction of the San Carlos Channel began. This is where some of the first vineyards in the area were established long ago.
The next town, Las Vertientes, is relatively new as it only dates back to 1941 after the sale of an old property. There are a lot of summer homes here and on the main road with a large orange sign that can't be missed, is an esoteric store (Nauoma) that sells many crystals and has free workshops every now and then.
El Canelo gets its name from the sacred tree of the Mapuches normally found in the South, but which also grows here in the lush green gulleys of the sector. It is here that you can also taste some excellent wines and liquors produced in the area.
El Manzano sprung up around a very old railway station that connected El Volcan with Puente Alto. The train has long since stopped its trek up into the mountains but the little town still remains. To the north of El Manzano, there are number of places to practice rock climbing such as Las Torrecillas Hill, Palestra and Romeral Rock.
El Cajón Del Colorado:
Straying from route G -25 by turning left a few meters after El Colorado Bridge, you can find the Cajón del Colorado.
This sector is called Colorado (coloured) because of the colour of the river's water. As you go into the mountain range, you will pass the town Los Maitenes and finally reach El Alfalfal. Here you can observe Tupungato mountain (6.570m) and the Tupungatito volcano (5.682m) and also enter Parque Río Olivares. You can only enter this park with a special permit given by the Ministerio de Bienes Nacionales (a government ministry).
Backon the main G-25 after visiting the Cajón Del Colorado, you can find the sector of Guayacán, which gets its name from a type of tree in the area which produces high quality wood.
San José de Maipo:
San José de Maipo is the capital of this sector and is where the main commercial activities are. Its picturesque architecture (especially in the central sector the town) has remained more or less the same since the town's beginning. You should visit the Plaza de Armas (the main square) where interesting typical handmade crafts of the area are often on sale in stands, and don't forget to check out the church in the top left corner of this square. The tourist Information office can be found in the top right corner of the main square.
A short distance from San José de Maipo, Route G-355 leads you 16 Km up into the mountains to the Lagunillas ski center (2200m).
Lagunillas can be enjoyed throughout the entire year, with skiing and snowboarding in winter and during the rest of the year, hiking and mountain bike descents are popular.
This is small and typical town with a lot of direct contact with nature by means of diverse activities, as walks and sporting fishing. About 3kms from San José De Maipo, in front of an attractive wooden hanging bridge, you can find what looks like an enormous footprint stamped on a rock wall – a rock known by the locals as "La Pata Del Diablo" (the Devil's foot). It is the result of natural geological processes but there are many myths and legends in this area to give it a more interesting background.
This town started out as being the source of grass and hay for the animals to feed on when they came down from higher up in the mountains. Now, it is a starting point to go rafting and kayaking.
A quiet town that contains many Summer houses. The identity characteristic of this town simulates the visitor to enjoy its beautiful natural environment that in the sector it is mixed with the picturesque of its local architecture. Besides the attractions of the local wines and liquors, you should visit the Tinoco Tunnel, a National Historical Monument, wish offers an amazing experience for those that walk through it.
This town is a little off the main route but worth a visit even if it is only to try the exquisite cakes and candies made there. It is basically a small town where people go to rest and get away from the city life.
A small town on the main route similar to El Ingenio in that it is a place to rest.
San Gabriel sprung up as a result of nearby quarry and mining activities long ago. There is an obligatory Police controls which halts the traffic in the middle of the road. You should leave your name with them if you plan to go off the beaten track higher into the mountains. In winter, you will often find snow on the sides of the roads for the families to come and play in. From here, the scenery starts to change from the lush green slopes to a dry brown, grey and sometimes purple rock.
A small town surrounded by the imposing mountains that is where the paved road ends. From here, it is possible to take route G-455 up towards the Embalse El Yeso (reservoir / dam).
This area gets its name from the "Embalse el Yeso", the large reservoir situated at an altitude of more than 3.000m. At any one time, it can hold 253.000.000 m3 of water with depths of up to 55mts. The reservoir, which contains fresh water, took 10 years to complete and was finally ready in 1964.
The water is a beautiful emerald green and sometimes turquoise colour. It is possible to practice a wide range of aquatic sports here such as windsurfing and fishing, all the while being surrounded by gigantic mountains. Another 18kms further into the mountains, you will come to El Plomo thermal pools.
Off the main route and onto route G-465 and the way to Las Melosas, is Queltehues. Here you can find one of the three hydroelectric power stations in the Cajón del Maipo area.
From the town of Las Melosas you can appreciate the beauty of the mountains, and find native fauna and flora. Don't be surprised if you see Condors floating on the breeze high in the mountain skies.
Continuing along Route G-25, you will encounter El Volcán. Once this was a very active mining town. Remains of that period can easily be found here such as the towering storage silo or the old rusty mining machinery.
Baños Morales, a small town located at more than 2000m, is the starting point for the El Morado national park. It has rich thermal pools with salts and mineral that are good for the health. Every summer, numerous people visit the town looking for some relief from their rheumatism by bathing in the healing waters.
El Morado is a spectacular Natural park administered by CONAF. In this beautiful sector of approximately 3000 hectares, there are two Glaciers, the San Francisco Glacier and El Morado Glacier which can both be reached on a one day hike. On the way, you will come across the Panimavidad waters which are natural springs of mineral water and also the El Morado lagoon. The beautiful El Morado peak can be seen too with its height at 5060m
Located at more that 3.500m, Baños Colina is the last stop on the journey deep into the Cajón Del Maipo. This is another natural thermal pool center with a more rustic character and it is possible to enjoy a totally natural environment, almost untouched by humans.
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