The view of the Andes is one of the most iconic sights in Chile. It’s the world’s longest continental mountain range, after all, and well worth taking the time to explore up close.
That’s why you should take a daytrip to Cascada de las Animas in the Andean village of San Alfonso. Originally a horse ranch, Cascada de las Animas is now an action-packed ecotourism resort that fills up with families and groups of friends having picnics, riding the zip line, hiking, kayaking and rafting. But if you’d like to enjoy great vistas without feeling the pinch of high altitude, then a steady hack on horseback is your best bet.
Possibly the most sensible way to get to San Alfonso is to have a driver from Cascada de las Animas pick you up from your hotel (or the airport) in Santiago and transport you there, which will take about an hour. If, however, you’d like a local experience, then jump on Metro line 4 to Las Mercedes and catch the N72 metrobus. The bus passes every half hour, so you’ll need to be patient, and once aboard it takes roughly an hour to get to San Alfonso. But it’s bursting with locals traveling between the villages, so it’s a great way to fully immerse in local life.
Once at Cascada de las Animas, you’ll pay $245 (115,000 Chilean Pesos) for one person for a full-day horse ride and the van ride to and from San Alfonso (and $128 if you don’t opt for the ride). That price also includes a barbecue lunch, which is carried up the mountain aboard a mule. Make note that more people in a group results in a discount per rider (for example, if you have a group of seven, it’s just $60 per person, with transport). This rustic, rural excursion is a perfect a way to enjoy nature without the frills.
The 37 horses are all very calm, and the riding is perfect for all levels — many people who come here have never ridden before. However, the terrain is steep in parts so you have to hang on, and some of the horses are less than eager on these heights, so a little heel-powered encouragement is needed.
After a speedy run-through on the basics of horseback riding, the ride sets off up a steep craggy path. Large cacti line the mountainside, and the land flattens out before becoming rockier. This mountain, La Campana, offers a panoramic view at 5,675 feet (1730 meters) over the lush Rio Maipo Valley. If you’re lucky you may spot a condor or two circulating in the sky.
Going over the ridge, the journey continues to a wooded glade called Cruce de los Maquis. Everyone dismounts here, leaving the horses in the shade and heading to a crystal clear pool where those brave enough to dip in the freezing water can swim while Crisencio, the guide, prepares lunch. This is when the ride really gets bucolic — lunch consists of meat cooked over an open fire and a salad prepared on the spot. This is proper camping food, eaten on a wooden picnic bench with a glass of wine served in a tin cup.
Fed and watered, it’s back down the hill again by one of two routes — either the direct route, which is arduous but shorter at just more than an hour; or the path that retraces your steps back up and over the mountain, taking just two hours. Either way, this equestrian experience will provide a stunning scape unlike any other.
Want more time on the mountain? Check out the two- and three-day trips offered at Cascada de las Animas.
Photo Courtesy of Cascada de las Animas