Talca is a city south of Santiago that has not much going for it. There are a few lack lustre places to eat – like a gimmicky but fun Simpsons themed fast-food place (Dónde Homero) and ‘chinese food’.

However, there is a reason to stop here – to visit the amazing (and little-known to foreigners) national park that is nearby.

Altos de Lircay , or Vilches as the locals call it, is a stunning national park with soaring views of the Andes. It is a spiritual place, and the look out of El Enladrillado (brick paved in Spanish) is rumoured to be a UFO landing site or an Incan site of sacrifices.

How to get there?

Public transport: You can take a cheap bus from the Terminal de Buses in Talca, with no pre-purchased ticket needed. Make sure you take an early bus, because you need to arrive with daylight. In the bus terminal there is an island in the middle where the smaller local buses leave, wait here for the bus to Vilches. This local small bus will stop off at all the small towns between Talca and the national park. It is cheap to get a ticket, and there are set times in the evening for when the bus leaves from the park. Do not miss the last bus or you will be stuck there. Then prepare for the uphill hike to the park entrance.

Private transport: if you have a car it is easiest to drive straight there from Talca. Any navigation application can guide you there. Most of the road is paved, but the last stretch of the journey is gravel. It can be made by 2WD, but 4WD can allow you to drive up to the campsites within the park. If you are without a 4WD you will need to hike a few kilometres up hill to make it to the park entrance.

The trails to see

El Enladrillado: 12km one way from where the bus stops at the park. It is a difficult hike, but worth every second. One of my favourite hikes of all time, I couldn’t recommend it more.

Laguna del Alto: hard uphill and steep downhills to this amazing lake up in the mountains. At the time we visited part of this trail was closed, and it was only accessible as part of the large circuit (hiking to El Enladrillado, then walking across the mountains to this lake).

La Playa-Valle del Venado: 13-18 km. A hike that takes 3-4 days through native forests and rivers, arriving finally at the Valley Venado.

Antumahuida: 350 m walk that is very easy and takes you to a look out of a mountain and river Lircay.

Retrincura: 850 metros. A short walk through native forests for those that would prefer a less steep hike.

Where to sleep?

We did not want to pay for a campsite, so we hiked the whole way to El Enladrillado and back in one day. We would not recommend this, as it is a long hard day. To make it more enjoyable, pack a tent, warm sleeping bag and stove. Pay for a night or two of camping at the park entrance, and break up the hikes. Conaf has a cabin at the park entrance where you can pay entry, get a map, get information and book a campsite.

The photos of this article are mainly by Freehearted Travel, except when said otherwise.