El Romeral, Chile

Chilean Andes: Love At First Sight

One of the most beautiful things about Santiago, Chile are the mountain views. One look and we knew we had to find a way to explore the Chilean Andes. But this posed a problem since we hadn’t planned on a mountain visit so it meant some last minute “oh crap, we need to hurry” preparations. It didn’t help matters that it was New Year’s Eve.

So with our mind made up we decided to give up a day in the city to venture out into the mountains. Victor isn’t a big fan of taking tours so he proposed renting a car so we could do our own thing.

Victor used his iPad and I grabbed my iPhone and together we looked up the details of the tours offered by local operators. We wrote down all of main destinations in the Andes and from those we decided on a the El Morado Glacier hike, the Yeso Dam and the thermal pools. We starred the destinations in our Google Maps app and downloaded the offline map. But we still needed to get a car! We couldn’t do much that day or the next because of the holiday, but luckily on the third day we were able to get a 4×4 pickup from Hertz!

In South America, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  After waiting an hour, Victor approached one of the employees at Hertz and, in Spanish, asked what was going on and if they could expedite our rental.  In a matter of MINUTES we had our truck and we were on the road.

hertz_santiago

Our rental for the day!

Unfortunately, the long wait for the truck meant we didn’t have time to do the glacier. We drove to San Jose de Maipo, but they wouldn’t let us start the hike because it was after 1 PM. A big bummer. However, it meant that we now had more time to explore the dam.

El Yeso Dam

If you’re wondering, the dam is located in El Romeral, 50 kilometers northeast of San Jose de Maipo and 98 kilometers southeast of Santiago. The first part of the drive was paved and pretty easy. We did run into some traffic that slowed us down for about a half hour.

Driving to El Yeso Dam

Driving to El Yeso Dam

When the pavement ended the driving got tricky! But our truck didn’t mind! Once we arrived, we rounded a corner and there she was, in all her glory.  After seeing so many landscape views, it was almost jarring to see the beautiful turquoise waters.

embalse_de_yeso

Embalse El Yeso is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Growing up in flat ole’ Florida, a couple of hills are enough to get me going… let alone the massive FREAKING ANDES! As we continued deeper into the mountains, we made a couple of stops in the valleys. Victor decided that he wanted to see what kind of cojones were underneath the hood of the truck. We were going to do some donuts.

Cool right? WRONG. Victor left the windows open, and we were dusty for the ENTIRE remainder of the day. Final score, Truck: 1 Victor: 0 Brandon: -1.

Thermal Pools (Piscinas Termales)

After some fun exploring the valleys around the dam we continued on the same road towards the thermal pools. It took about an additional hour to get there. This is when things got a bit lonely! We were the only tourists around for miles! Definitely the only rental truck!

thermal_pools_drive

Driving to thermals pools

We drove until we reached the gate of the park and paid $5 USD to enter. The ranger advised us to turn on the 4×4 on the truck and after driving for a few minutes it became clear why! The road got wicked. All was good until we came up to a large river which we had to cross. I waited for a local to help us cross it.

It was well worth the risky drive. The pools were amazing. We forgot to bring towels so we sat on the edge and dipped our feet in. The view was spectacular.

picinas_thermales_chile_agua picinas_thermales_chile_mountains

We left just before sundown since we had to cross the river again and the road back to the dam had a lot of sheer drop offs. We made it back to pavement just as the sun was setting. What an amazing day! At first I was hesitant about renting a truck and going on our own but I’m really happy Victor convinced me to do it. We were able to experience so much in one day and all at our own pace. I would highly recommend it to anyone. It was one of the highlights of our trip.