Chileans call the area in which Maipo river valley starts high up in the Andes Cajón del Maipo – Maipo box. We hear it’s because you feel like you’re in a box surrounded by the mountains. And not just any mountains, but the Andes. A visit to the Andes is truly spectacular – if you get good weather.

Maipo is an area some 100 kilometres southeast of Santiage de Chile. Maipo river runs along the road as we ride a red Turistik bus on a guided daytrip tour to visit Santiago’s greatest water reserve and the nature park. It is a popular and growing ecotourism area. As we curve into higher elevations we see many freedom campers on beautiful locations by the river and between mountains. Campsites look so wonderful by the river in the valley that you just feel like going camping there yourself!

We chose to spend one whole day on this trip due to a great introduction in an airline magazine on our way to Santiago (Read more: Vibrant Santiago) . Cajòn del Maipo is a great volcanic area with plenty to do and a great deal of history. A dinosaur skeleton was found here on an archeological site. There are seven volcanoes in the area, a winery region down on the river valley, mountaneous lakes, hot springs, glaciers, popular ski regions and what not. There surely are all these, but make sure you pay for a trip that includes visiting most of them. Ours did not. In fact, it was quite expensive to what it ended up being – and did not fully meet our expectations.

It was still an interesting trip to the mountains. I think we had been rather spoiled with the mountain landscape and scenery as we had just spent a week in the Peruvian Andes ( check out posts here: Inca capital Cusco in Peruvian Andes ). Had we not been in the most spectacular mountain side, this trip would have been truly exciting. Now we were already familiar with the sight. Nothing new there.

However, I guess you never grow tired of this landscape. We later on even crossed the Andes with a bus! (a blog post here in Finnish). But look at this. It is a a popular free camping area, a popular ski area during the winter months and and important place for people of Santiago to get their water from. With interesting natural fauna and flora (although quite a few since it is a very dry area) and glaciers as well as water falls, the area is popular ski resort for the uncommon sites. Especially nouveau riche Russians (we were told) come here to ski on untouched mountain sites – and to stay in luxurious cabins or villas by the riverfront by the river Maipo.

To reach the Cajón area we stopped at a little village called San José de Maipo first. This is a typical and just an ordinary Chilean small village with a Plaza de Armas (heart of any village) in the center and a church, some stores and  school. But for Chileans this particular village is a historic one as the Army of Independence fighters used it for changing horses before riding over the Andes to Mendoza and the battles in the Andes in 1817. Independence over Spanish rule was gained in 1818.

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An interesting stop was by a waterfall and a deserted habitat area with a view to the glacier. Luckily we had quite a clear day so we actually could see the glacier on top of a mountain. Deserted concrete buildings shaped to carry heavy snow used to hold shelter for several men working on the build the water reserve we were heading to. Must have been a bit of a spooky place to stay during winter time back in the 1964 when the reservoir was opened after a 10-year building. This base camp was also used for miners and even military purposes. Nowadays it has new modern buildings for current mine workers just behind the deserted area.

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The highlight of our dy trip was at Embalse el Yeso, the water reserve of Santiago. This is where the people of Santiago get their drinking water from. It is a built reservoir. However, at the time we visited the area, a shortage of 40 percent of water was present. It had not rained for ages and everything was drying up. I was wondering out loud to our guide that how on earth it could even be possible that only a few hundred kilometres north of the place in the everything was suffering from heavy rainfalls and flooding. And just two weeks after our Andes’ visit the whole area was suffering from enormous floodings and cutting down fresh water as it got dirty with flooding and thousands of people were shot off of fresh water!

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Another hightlight of this day trip was wine & snacks by the spectacular views across the  man-made lake. Our daytrip included wine & snacks at the reserve, but no proper meals (though a 11 hour day). Tour stopped at a restaurant for self-paid lunch on the way back. We had a lovely meal with steaks & local wine – this was one of the best parts of the whole day, even though at extra cost…

Andes mountain range is clearly interesting any time of the year or at any place of the range. I would not count myself as a mountain person, but exploring the Andes has certainly been one of the highlights of our round-the-world journey. I guess for a person coming from a country (Finland) with no mountains, they are all exciting…? Even when touring with a slightly overpriced daytrip.

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