In less than two hours from Santiago, you can be sleeping in a glamping pod on the very edge of a national biosphere park, surrounded by wildlife, a hip little village and fun activities for the children.
I had never heard of Parque Nacional La Campana, but it is so close to Santiago — yet you feel miles away. It is about 1 hr 45 min drive to the north west if you take highway 5 out of Santiago, past Tiltil and on to Olmué. There are three entrances to the national park, and we stayed in glamping pods at the Biosfera Lodge outside of Olmué on the doorstep of the Sector Cajon Grande Entrance.
La Campana was declared a UNESCO biosphere in 1984 as it encompasses a variety of forest zones including desert, spiky plants, deciduous, spiny shrub and the Chilean palm forest. It is also home to the Cerro La Campana peak at 1,920 metres, which Darwin climbed during the second voyage of The Beagle, and from the peak you can see the full width of Chile, from Andes to sea. You need a good eight and a half hours to do the hike, the first three-quarters of the hike takes two hours and the last quarter also takes two hours so the last bit is quite steep and strenuous. You must sign in at the Sector Granizo entrance by 9:30 a.m. to allow sufficient time. With the children we had no plans to do the hike, but we have put it on our list for the future! The park entrance to access the hike (Sector Granizo) is only a five minute drive from where we stayed, so it would make a good base if you wanted to do the hike.
But as we had three children under 10-years-old with us, we decided to go do a walk to see the Chilean Palms. We arrived in Olmué a bit before noon so we stopped off in town for lunch at Otra Cozza. It was an excellent choice for all of us, the food was plentiful, the pizzas were perfect, as was the pasta, and I had a Vegetarian Tabla that could have fed the whole table! We loved everything we ordered and they have local beer as well. They have a caramel corn popper machine if you fancy that for dessert! The town was shady and lined with cafes, ice cream shops, artesania and local flower vendors. On the side roads we saw a lot of fields growing fresh cut flowers.
Leaving town we saw numerous fruit and veg stands as well as antique shops. It is rare to see antique shops in Chile and I was really dying to go in. Unfortunately, they were all closed on the Sunday morning when we had the time to stop! So make sure you stop in on the Friday or Saturday.
We drove from Olmué to the third park entrance Sector Ocoa which is a good hour away if you take the toll roads. (about $4500 CLP in tolls round trip). We paid the $3,000 CLP adult park entrance (local price) and for some reason the children were free. We chose a short walk as, even in November, it was really hot and the children really just wanted to be back at the pods. I can’t imaging doing this walk in January or February, it would be boiling! It was a sandy track of about 1 km each way to the mirador. There was an additional 20 min extension afterwards to the Casino (no, not for poker!!) that the park ranger had recommended, but the children had hit by the time we got to the mirador. We saw a snake, the large hummingbird typical to the area — it’s about the size of a robin but it’s a hummingbird! — and of course the Chilean palm.
The Chilean palm grows very slowly. Our guide, on the second day, said the ones we saw in the park would be about 600 years old. They have the largest diameter of any palm and their trunks are very smooth. We saw a few that had fallen over and their root base is almost like a mass of spaghetti. I’m not sure how they can even stand up. They have been transplanted to cities like Viña and Santiago, but they need to put a mark on the tree which way is north before they move it, as they are very susceptible to where the sun is.
We headed back to the Biosfera to check-in properly and have a swim. We went with our friend so we were three adults and three children with two pods between us and a shared bathroom hut that had two bathroom and shower combos between the pods. The pods only go up to four people, but their pricing is based on the pod, plus how many people. So a family of five could rent a 2-person and a 3-person pod. For a family of five (two adults three children) one night cost us $196,000 total which included the accommodation in two pods, towels, all you could eat hot and cold breakfast, and activities. The activities were swimming pools, yoga/meditation room, a two hour guided walk through La Campana park, use of the zipline with guides and the climbing wall. The breakfast was also really filling, cheese, ham, granola and yogurt, eggs and avocado, bread basket and juice and hot beverages.
On our second day we took the guided walk through La Campana from the Sector Cajon Grande entrance. The pods are right on the fence of the park so you really are practically in the park. We learned a lot about the palm and the animals. At one point we were standing on the trail between two eco systems — a forest on our left and desert and cactus on our right. The trail followed a riverbed which, sadly, this is the first year it has been dry over the winter. You can picnic here, but no camping allowed. Our guide Daniel was lovely with our group and really patient with the children. We really enjoyed the walk and it was easy to do with young children.
When we booked the Biosfera we weren’t sure what type of food was included or available. My friend and I brought a cooler of cheese, sausage, drinks, olives, bread and fruit/veg in case we needed it. In the end, the Lodge has lunch and dinner available, but we ate two meals out of our packed cooler. We had a supper at the Lodge and it was delicious. Mostly meat based, but salads and vegetable sides were also available. Meat stir fry and hamburgers with french fries were about $8,000 CLP. Portions were big.
We spent the afternoon relaxing in hammocks, swimming and trying out the zipline. During the evening when I was walking around with a headlamp I saw the pollito tarantula scurrying around. I am glad they are harmless.
We slept really well in the pods, they have heaters and nice duvets. We could have had more curtains in pod 3, but pod 4 was fully enclosed.
We left the next morning after breakfast as we were worried about traffic on the long weekend. We stopped numerous times for fresh fruit and vegetables ($2,800 CLP for my weekly shop! country living indeed) and bags of the tuna fruit (my husband’s favourite) with the field of the cactus right beside the roadside stand.
What to bring
- sturdy walking shoes and flip flops if you want for the pool
- cash for the park entrance fees ($3,000 CLP local adult with RUT, each entrance)
- Our plan had been to drive up on highway 5 and then back to Santiago via Casablanca as it’s only 20 minutes longer. We were going to stop at a vineyard for lunch on the way home of the last day. Our favourite vineyard to visit for a tasting is Attilio y Mochi. Our favourite for food and wine flights is Casa del Bosque. We have also been to Emiliana for a tasting and Matetic for lunch, both are also nice.
- You could do Bisofera – Valparaiso – Santiago loop as well. Valpo is an hour from the Biosfera Lodge so it could be a day trip or an overnight stay on the way back to Santiago.
- Olmué is also a nice stop on the way to the beaches north of Valpo, like Concon, Zapallar or south, like Tunquen or Algarrobo.