One of the great things about Santiago is that it isn’t necessary to go far from the city to find some great walking/hiking spots.
There are quite a few hills in the city, following the spine of the cordilleras that thrusts down into the centre of Santiago from the North-East. All of these are great options for anyone looking for something to do on a weekend of afternoon in Santiago.
If you feel like closing the lid on your Macbook, unplugging and going outside to explore a little and escape from the concrete jungle, the hills of Santiago present some neat options just outside your front door.
In this post I’ll give some brief background on the three most well-known hills in Santiago including where they are, how to get there and what you can do at the top.
Cerro Santa Lucia
Santa Lucia is right in the Santiago Centro, at the very tip of the hill chain. It’s something of a green island in the middle of a crowded expanse of buildings, and is surprisingly peaceful considering it’s location right in the centre of the city.
The nearest metro station is (somewhat unsurprisingly) Santa Lucia metro on the Red Line (linea 1). From the metro station it’s just one block walk east, and you can enter the hill to climb from either side.
Cerro Santa Lucia is great if you have an hour or so and want to take a walk (what the Chileans call ‘dar un paseo’) on a relaxed afternoon. With an altitude of 629m, it rises only 69m above the surrounding city, but still offers great views of Santiago.
There is a castle with a lookout point at the very top, a plaza with fountains, fish and stalls and benches to sit on under the shade of low-hanging trees. Its first use by was as a point of reconnaissance by the Spanish, and with its views of the surrounding area must have made a great lookout point.
In 1816, the local settlers built two forts one north and another south of the hill, built of stone and lime and each armed with 8-12 cannon (some ornamental cannon can still be seen on the hill today).
It no longer serves any kind of military purpose and in 1872 was converted into a park for Santiago citizens to enjoy.
You will see a lot of Chilean couples here trying to hide (usually ineffectively) together amongst the trees or in secluded spots. It offers great views despite its modest height, and in the summer it can be the perfect place to go with a girlfriend/boyfriend and chill out on the grass – perhaps with a mote con huesillo, a traditional Chilean summer-time drink.
Cerro San Cristóbal
San Cristóbal is a popular spot for Chilenos (and extranjeros too) especially on the weekends. It rises 880 MASL, and about 300 m above the surrounding area, making it an easy 1 hour climb if you go slowly. It also has plenty to do at the top, as well as on the way up. The Chilean government has recently made quite a few renovations to the hill and can be a very pleasant climb on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon.
The best way to climb starts from the entrance on Av. Pedro de Valdivia. It’s an easy 10 minute walk north from the metro station, just ask anyone for the entrada de Cerro San Cristóbal and they’ll point you in the right direction.
You can cycle to the top following the road, or walk if you prefer. If you like a challenge, you can try to beat my best time for cycling – 18 minutes from the entrance to the summit.
There is plenty to do, including organised cycle rides, ‘baile entretenido’ and entertainment events such as open air concerts on some days. At the top there are plenty of stalls selling snacks and ice-creams, and if you don’t feel like walking you can take the Funicular up or down from the station near the zoo in Bellas Artes.
Cerro Manquehue is a slightly different beast from the two listed above. It was once an active volcano, but for the last 19 million years it has been safely extinct. It’s located in the far North-East of Santiago in Vitacura and is the highest peak in the city at 1,638 MASL, rising 1078m above the surrounding area.
There are a multitude of routes to climb both up and down Manquehue and the surrounding, smaller peaks. Be careful, heavy rains have created plenty of what appear to be beaten paths, but are in fact simply erosion channels from running water. The area is not well documented in English and quite a few people manage to get lost.
Warning: some parts of this hill can be a bit of a scramble and while this isn’t a difficult climb by any stretch, you should be in reasonable physical shape or you will struggle. I don’t recommend it for children under 12 or for the elderly or injured.
The best route I have found for climbing Manquehue is called ruta de Lo Curro and is about a 4-5 hour total hike. It starts from a point on the north-eastern side, takes you up a steep scramble to the top of Manquehue, then a gentle sliding descent down the south-west side via Desvio Carbon. I’ll describe the route below (see the attached gallery for photos).
How to get there
The climb starts at the foothills in Lo Curro. There are several ways to get here.
1) Take the metro to Escuela Militar, and get in a colectivo outside the station. Ask to be taken to ‘el punto de partida para escalar Cerro Manqueue en la ruta Lo Curro.’ It’s also known as ‘estacionamientos de la Via Roja.’
2) Take the metro to Escuela Militar, then take the C22 bus north to Rotonda de Lo CurroLo Curro (Avenida Louis Pasteur con Avenida Santa María). From Rotonda Lo Curro you can take a colectivo or taxi up the hill to the point of departure.
3) You can take the bus to Rotonda Lo Curro directly and climb from there but expect to add about 90 minutes to your walk of hard uphill climbing, and it is on roads so nothing special to see here. I don’t recommend this option unless you really like lots of walking.
The starting point is a dirt car park on Via Roja. The first section of the walk is quite easy, there are a lot of different tracks but just follow the main dirt route west and you’ll soon arrive at a westerly point between the two peaks.
After this the second stage gets a little tougher, it’s a steep uphill scramble to the summit of Manquehue. The path is generally marked with green spray paint and the occasional yellow altitude sign, so you shouldn’t get lost. After about an hour of scrambling you’ll be rewarded with the sight of a Chilean flag fluttering in the wind, and will arrive at the summit, a flat rocky top. Just a little way east on top of the hill will reward you with probably the best view of the city to be found in Santiago, and the odd passing glider or if you’re lucky, a condor.
At this point, I would officially recommend descending the same way you came up. If you are ambitious, you could try taking the same route that I did and climbing down the westerly side, but it’s a long, slippery route and not well marked. You have been warned.
The descent on the west side is longer in distance but as it is downhill, it’s not any more tiring than the initial climb. Be careful as the path is not well defined and there is a lot of loose scree and rubble. I almost lost my footing and went flying down the hill several times on this stretch, so I recommend taking it slowly and carefully.
You can follow this path over Desvio Carbon, which has a mirador to look at the city (although the view from Manquehue is much better). While following this path down, I was joined by a young U.S. army cadet on a field trip in Santiago, who had become lost on the mountain.
We somehow managed to lose ourselves again on the way down, and ended up leaving the foothills next to a bridge where the Autopista Nororiente crossed the valley near Huechuraba. By the time we made it down, it was almost dark and we ended up being forced to walk for about a kilometre on the hard shoulder of the highway – not a comfortable situation.
Eventually we were able to climb out over a concrete wall (luckily the American cadet was there to help my girlfriend over otherwise we might still be stuck there) and we escaped onto a nearby bike path that took us to Vespucio Norte where we could catch a bus to the metro station. I think there is an ‘official’ way down from the foothills near this point but it isn’t obviously marked especially at night, so if you do come this way, be careful.
Regardless of whether you attempt the adventurous route down the western side, or descend the same way you came up back to Lo Curro, Cerro Manquehue makes for one of the best Sunday afternoon hikes you can do without leaving Santiago.
Just be prepared for some soreness the next day!
You can find more detailed information about Cerro Manquehue (in Spanish) on wikiexplora.com.