Walks around Valpo

North of Quintay

Our first walk was an exploration of the coastline between the fishing port at the Calera de Quintay and the Playa Grande, a few kilometres to the north. The sun shone warmly as we headed down the dusty main street of this peaceful village, descending gently past the old timber houses towards the coast, passing wattles in bloom and breathing in the scent of eucalypts - it was good to be back in the Chilean bush! At road's end, we passed through a fence to continue on a footpath in open grassland leading down to the low cliffs.

Coastal scenery north of Quintay

Tamarix in flower

Looking back along the coast track

All along, the signs of spring were evident, with many coastal flowers in bloom and birds singing as they flitted between the low heath shrubs or trees a bit further inland. Across the bay, an unbroken line of impressive headlands and cliffs swept northward back toward Valparaiso.

Gully leading down to the coast

The track took us back into the empty streets of a more developed area, where rich Chileans had built their summer houses along the cliff-tops and from where they could enjoy the sumptuous views over sumptuous meals of local fish and pisco sours on their extensive decks. Not a bad place to come for a holiday and done quite discretely. Less so, the sight that greeted us as we dropped down toward the Playa Grande; here, a modern development of large multi-story apartments and clusters of villas had been built, strangely empty at the moment, but no doubt a beehive of activity in January and February. This area was only a few kilometres away from Quintay village, yet was world's apart in ambiance. Still, it had been set well back from the beach and did not impose itself like many modern coastal resort developments and we felt pleasantly isolated on the beach itself.

Overlooking the lagoon at Playa Grande

View across the rocks to the Playa Grande beach and resort

We wandered slowly along the steep strip of golden sand to find a spot where we sat and watched the big Pacific surf pounding the shoreline, while dotterels scurried and sandpipers piped along the ebbing and flowing water's edge. It would have been nice to stay all afternoon here in the warm sun, but it came time to head back.

Track around the base of the cliffs

Big surf at Playa Grande

This time we followed the bottom of the low cliffs - across rocky areas filled with low flowering herbs, succulents and cacti, past curious rock formations protruding out from the coast or emerging from the foaming waters of the big waves that crashed against them and across grey-black boulder beaches and coves.

Stony beach and rocky islets

Part of the Quintay coast walk

A final clamber over the cliffs and home

Fisherman returning to Quintay Cove

Pelicans and kelp gulls at Quintay Cove

La Ponderacion de Santa Augustina (yummmm!!)

As we neared the old port, the path vanished, necessitating a bit of rock scrambling and cliff-climbing to work our way around a final series of black, guano-speckled rock barriers and covelets. Eventually we reached the port and wandered up to the local basque restaurant for a coffee and "Ponderacion de Santa Augustina" (now there is a dessert to remember!) to finish a very pleasant coastal walk. The negative ions had done their job - we were feeling revived again.

South of Quintay

The following day, the sky was even clearer and bluer with a cold southerly wind sweeping up the coast. We had forgotten what cold was during our few months near the equator, but there is something enjoyable about a bracing windswept coastal walk.

This time we headed south, crossing the stillness of a plantation of pines before emerging once again at the coast to cross the Playa Chica. This small cove, lined with boulders, rocky platforms and tidal pools was a mecca for the local fishermen, who dotted the rocks in small clusters as the big waves sent towers of foam spraying upwards around them.

Kelp gull

Rocky inlet at Playa Chica


The rock fisherman of Playa Chica

From the Playa Chica, we climbed up the low rocky cliff to a large grassy area with superb views and several half-finished, half-collapsed timber buildings; it was a ghost-resort, a failed tourist development from 10-years earlier lying sadly in its magnificent setting.

Monument to developer's folly

The "ghost resort" south of Quintay

Heath-covered coastal cliffs

We continued to climb over a small knob, covered in flowering heath, succulents and cacti, to pass several rugged coves. To the south the coastline swept away in a series of low cliffs and beaches, the light green of the heath at times broken by the dark green of pine forests.

Panorama of the Pacific Ocean behind a small headland

We reached a point where the pine forest had been planted right up to the cliffs and wandered inland a bit to find a sunny opening, sheltered from the cold wind, for a pleasant lunchspot. Then it was back again, retracing our footsteps along this beautifully rugged and unspoilt coast line to the village of Quintay.

The wild coastline south of Quintay

At the edge of the pine plantation

Tthe impressive cacti and bromeliads of the coast

Pacific twilight over the Quintay beacon

Interestingly, a few of the locals stopped us to ask how we knew about Quintay, surprised that that a couple of gringo blow-ins had discovered their secret paradise. The answer is "research". We celebrated this discovery that evening over a meal of freshly caught rockfish, fine Chilean wine and another "ponderacion" at our friendly basque restaurant. The locals are right; Playa Grande apart, Quintay retains the unspoilt charm and beauty that has attracted people to the seaside for ages.

La Campaña National Park

The Valley of Olmué just interior to Valparaiso claims to have the third best climate in the world (based on a UN survey). Moreover, in 1834, Charles Darwin visited the mountains of this region and climbed neighbouring 1880m Cerro Campaña, praising not only the superb views from the ocean to the Andes, but also the rich biodiversity of the region. Reason enough to visit and thus, after a few changes of local microbuses, we found ourselves in the quiet resort town of Olmué preparing for a bit of a climb in the footsteps of Darwin.

Entry to La Campana National Park on a foggy spring day

Sadly, the world's third best climate let us down badly and we emerged to a cold grey morning; the cloud hanging low and obscuring the peaks around, including Cerro Campaña. It was to stay there and keep temperatures down all day.

There would be no views across the width of Chile today and the enthusiasm to do a 1400m climb in the fog rapidly dwindled. Still, we had come to walk in the National Park and so we set out on a lesser climb, 720m up to the saddle of the mountain ridge at Portazuelo de Ocoa. At least this would give us a chance to check out the richness of the flora that impressed Darwin, particularly the rare palm groves that grow here.

On the Sendero los Peumos

Leaving the park entrance, we followed a road up through the camping/picnic areas for a kilometre, before turning off on the Sendero los Peumos which led us up alongside the rocky bed of a trickling quebrada beneath a dense cover of trees. Under the grey skies and thick canopy, we found ourselves walking in a very dim light in a world of varying greenness, brighter spring growth mixing with the darker green of older leaves. Eventually the track rejoined the road, following it for a short distance before crossing it several times on a steeper line. Finally, we left the road completely to head up a more open ridge at the 800m altitude mark.

Forest of the valley floor

Dense forest of La Campana

Climbing up into the mist

A splash of colour on the path

The mists closed in as we climbed

However, this was also the level of the cloud and just as the views began to open up, the cloud thickened to obscure them. Nonetheless, walking in the fog has its own rewards with the ghostly shapes of trees appearing and disappearing in the mists and, as the vegetation changed, we came across lots of red, white and yellow flowering herbs and a couple of species of beautiful orange and white orchids - Darwin would have been impressed by these!

Tiny but beautiful white and yellow orchids of La Campana

Lunch at the Portazuelo de Ocoa

The slope dropped off steeply beneath the path and you had the impression that beyond the ghostly pall of the swirling cloud there were magnificent views over the ridges of the park and perhaps of Cerro Campaña itself - we would need to return one day to find out.

Finally, we reached Portazuelo de Ocoa and ate our lunch in the shelter of an old stone wall on the pass - sadly, the clouds also obscured any trace of the palm groves in the valley beyond. We retraced our steps and retreated to Olmué for a cup of hot chocolate and a pisco sour.

What Cerro Campana looks like in the sun (from the bus)

Footnote: As often happens in such cases, the sun shone brilliantly over Cerro Campaña the next day, as our bus wended its way over the ranges towards Santiago, while beyond lay the unbroken line of snow-capped peaks of the Andes. Not quite the way we wanted to see them, but you can't always have everything your own way.