"Yerba Loca : a little known mountain paradise" Villa Paulina by Glospi

Villa Paulina Travel Guide: 9 reviews and 19 photos

Villa Paulina: the beginning of the trail

Located only 33 kilometres from downtown Santiago, on Curve 15 of the Farellones road, the Nature Sanctuary of Yerba Loca (aka Villa Paulina) is a mountain haven which, quite surprisingly, very few people -both local and alien- visits.
It is a joy in any season, be it winter or summer, since its river -the Yerba Loca creek- flows forming natural pools near Villa Paulina, which are a welcomed relief in summer, when people arrives to the camping area for picnicking and bathing, while autumn walks let visitors experience the fresh air of the season and the progressive solitude the area begins to show, while in winter, mountaineers enjoy ice climbing, classic mountaineering and sub zero temperatures deep into the 22-kilometre-long canyon which ends at the foothill of the 4910-metre/16,105 ft. La Paloma peak.
In springtime, colors bloom in the lower valley of Villa Paulina, while up in the canyon and glacier, the winter's ice and snow are still there.
Villa Paulina is one of my favourite places for camping and climbing near Santiago, because as soon as one leaves the ranger's office, all contact with the "outside" world is lost, due to the narrowness of the canyon which prevents radio signals to enter, leaving the visitor in a healthy communications limbo (or almost...).

Overall silence in the canyon is astonishing: you just hear the river flowing twenty metres below, and nothing else; occasionally, a bird or a rabbit may appear, but their rustling only adds to the feel of an almost touchable silence.

Photo: The 4910 mt./16,105 ft. La Paloma (Altar) peak, at the end of Yerba Loca canyon.
Taken in April 1995 with a Mamiya C 220 6x6 camera, 80 mm. lens, f.11, 1/60 sec., Fujichrome Provia RVP 100 Professional slide film

"Yerba Loca": the origin of a crazy name

The name of Yerba Loca means literally "crazy herb", and it is because the cowboys of yore noticed that when their horses and beasts of burden ate a certain herb or grass that grows locally, they got crazy, running around, jumping and whining. Sometimes, these days one can occasionally see this behavior amid some animals; this usually happens in a grassy area some 5 hours from Villa Paulina (on coordinates S 33º14'51,4/W 70º16'54,1" alt. 2871 mts.).
Around there, is usual to see wild horses as well, along with wild donkeys and other fauna, such as vizcachas, foxes, rabbits and hares, giant owls, condors and the smallest South American marsupial: a mouse-like furry animal with a long prensile tail and a marsupium on its belly, no bigger than 7 centimetres. It sometimes approaches to tents looking for a warm place to spend the night. It is the mouse-opossum (Thylamys elegans), also known as Yaca. It is harmless and friendly, and is not a carrier of any disease.
The Santuario de la Naturaleza Yerba Loca is also known as Villa Paulina because the former entrance and ranger's office was located in the tiny settlement of this name, 4 kilometres from its current ubication, into the canyon (the ranger office was moved some years ago to the very entrance of the park, next to the Farellones road)

In the picture, the camp at the so-called Lunar plain (S 33º13'55,7"/ W 70º16'20,3") is a favourite among mountaineers and ice climbers: it is a wide plain at 3017 metres (9900 ft.) with many massive boulders that shelter from the high winds that blow in the canyon in winter, and is handy for the frozen cascade that lies (or falls, actually) right behind this camping area.
Little below this campsite, is the "crazy herb" area...

Photo: Nikon FM2N, Nikkor 20 mm., 1/30 sec., f.5,6-8, Kodak Ektachrome EPP 100 slide film.

Villa Paulina: black and white in color

The lower reaches of Yerba Loca canyon are a narrow valley known as Villa Paulina (S 33º18'34,6"/W 70º19'20,9" alt. 1986 mts/6515 ft.): this is the real place after the whole area is usually known among non-mountaineering people, who goes mostly to have picnic and spend te day, or maybe a couple of days, at the basic camping area at the end of the 4-kilometre long dirt road which leads from the entrance to there. Sometimes, campers venture into the canyon, so is not that rare for a curious walker to "discover" Casa de Piedra (base camp for mountaineering expeditions =S 33º13'17,2" / W 70º16'31,3" alt. 3248mts./10,653 ft.), 14 kilometres from Villa Paulina, or the base of La Paloma peak and glacier, another 4 kilometres from Casa de Piedra, and at an altitude of about 3500 metres/11,500 ft.

Villa Paulina itself is quite special: with an alpine-looking layout, the small valley is surrounded by pines and crossed by the Yerba Loca creek, deeper into the canyon, and easily recognizable from far away, because after a couple of days in the harsher conditions of the higher canyon, the sight of the pines and the green valley is like that of a luxury resort.

But Villa Paulina is not always green, or even has any color at all: after a heavy snowfall, everything looks like a black and white picture, which is quite weird (and for a photographer, fascinating too), just as it looks in the color picture shown here.

Photo: Nikon F4s, Nikkor 20 mm., f. 2,8-4, 1/30 sec., Kodak ProImage 100 negative film.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Silence and pristine environment, with choices for every wild Nature lover
  • Cons:No public transport
  • In a nutshell:It is worth the relative effort to reach there
  • Last visit to Villa Paulina: Mar 2004
  • Intro Updated Apr 19, 2004
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Reviews (9)

Comments (5)

  • touristgal's Profile Photo
    Mar 12, 2008 at 10:22 AM

    I cried when I saw that photo. I want to be there, but I don't climb mountains like that.

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Sep 25, 2004 at 7:38 AM

    What a marvellous place !! Thanks for sharing this fantastic area with us :-))

  • MattTB's Profile Photo
    May 11, 2004 at 1:45 AM

    Thanks for the birthday wishes last week! Great page here! Going back to Olympus next week!!

  • Irine_29's Profile Photo
    May 1, 2004 at 10:10 AM

    nice adventure here, and beautiful shots of the mountains:-)

  • titti's Profile Photo
    Apr 28, 2004 at 9:07 AM

    Great adventure! I'd love to meet those micro-marsupial :-)

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