Reserva Nacional Altos del Lircay in the Chilean Heartland

Scenic view of verdant mountains receding into the distance.

View of the mountains along the Sendero de Chile. Photo © Tomás J. Sepúlveda, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

In the precordillera southeast of Talca, Altos del Lircay is another of Chile’s hidden secrets, a forested wilderness of 12,163 hectares with multiple options for backcountry hiking and camping in canyons, valleys, and summits that range 600–2,448 meters above sea level. Part of the Sendero de Chile passes through here, but it’s not the only hike of interest. The reserve has warm, dry summers, but heavy snowfall can accumulate in winter.

Flora and Fauna

Closely resembling the forests of nearby Radal Siete Tazas, Lircay’s woodlands consist of species toward the northern limits of their range, such as the southern beech coigüe, overlapping central Andean species such as lingue, boldo, and peumo. They have abundant birdlife, including the burrowing parrot, black woodpecker, thrush, and California quail (an introduced species). The largest mammal is the puma, reintroduced under a joint program between Conaf and the Talca branch of the conservation organization Codeff.

Sights

Lircay’s aboriginal population ground their grains at the Piedras Tacitas, a series of creekside mortars reached by a short signed trail from Conaf’s Centro de Información Ambiental. On the north side of the former logging road that leads east from the park entrance, the Mirador del Indio offers views of the Lircay Valley; it’s possible to hike across the Lircay drainage to the Río Claro and Parque Nacional Radal Siete Tazas. With improved signage along the Sendero de Chile, route-finding is easier than it used to be.

Two kilometers east of Mirador del Indio, a signed trail climbs north and then east to El Enladrillado, a sprawling tableland where weathering has uncovered columns of hexagonal basalt formed millions of years ago beneath the earth’s surface. With an early start, this tiring hike is possible in one day, but carry adequate water and high-energy snacks. Views of the Río Claro Valley, 3,830-meter Volcán Descabezado Grande, and the Andean ridge along the Argentine border are among the country’s best.

More ambitious hikers can consider a five-day trek on the Sendero Valle del Venado to the summit of Descabezado Grande and back; the less ambitious can do a day hike to Mirador Venado, which gives fine views from a platform at the junction with the Sendero de Chile.

For details on current conditions and further suggestions, contact Casa Chueca (Viña Andrea s/n, Sector Alto Lircay, tel. 071/1970096, tel./ fax 071/1970097, tel. 09/9419-0625, casachueca@trekkingchile.com) in Talca; their Condor Circuit map, at a scale of 1:50,000 with some details at 1:25,000, is the best available guide.

Accommodations and Food

Conaf’s Camping Antahuaras (US$16 for up to five persons), near the entrance to the reserve, has hot showers. There are also private campgrounds along the dusty road just prior to the entrance, with a few small shops nearby, but supplies are cheaper and more abundant in Talca.

A short walk from the park entrance, Refugio Don Galo (tel. 02/1960619, tel. 09/8315-6921, claraluzcontreras@gmail.com, US$50 d) has decent rooms with private bath, plus a restaurant with a pleasant deck, and also offers guided horseback rides.

Information

At the park entrance, Conaf collects an admission charge (US$6 adults, US$1 children). Its Centro de Información Ambiental contains exhibits on natural and cultural history.

Reasonably priced rental horses are available just outside the park entrance.

Getting There

Altos del Lircay is 66 kilometers southeast of Talca via paved Ruta 115 and a 29-kilometer side road, whose unpaved upper half billows with dust in the dry summer and splatters mud in winter, when the last few kilometers can be difficult.

From Talca’s Terminal Rodoviario, Buses Vilches (US$3) goes to the Administración (park office) at 7:15 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4:50 p.m., returning at 7:15 a.m., 9:15 a.m., and 6:15 p.m. There are usually additional buses in summer. The day’s last bus from Talca returns the next morning.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Chile.

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