Chile has many national reserves scattered along the whole length of the country, taking up a total of 19% of the country’s landmass. Altos de Lircay National Reserve, established in 1996, is one of the better-known reserves. Located in the Maule region and taking up 121.6 square kilometers, it contains a huge variety of trees, shrubs, flowers, birds, insects and small mammals. Some of the animals are endangered or rare, such as the Tricahue parrot or Molina’s hog-nosed skunk, and the reserve contains large areas of native forest which are now no longer common in Chile.
When you enter the park, you must register with CONAF and pay the entrance fee. This is a very simple process—just fill out a brief form with basic identifying information and an emergency phone number, and let them know what trail you intend to take and how many days you will be spending in the reserve. You will get a copy of this form, and when you leave the reserve, put your form into the box right next to the exit trail. This is how they make sure that they are able to help people if they get lost or injured in the reserve—if you don’t leave after the number of days specified on the form, they will know approximately where to look and will be able to reach the person whose phone number is on the form. There are several different trails and the reserve is quite large, so it is important to make sure you keep to approximately the same route you specified to CONAF. Although the vegetation is luxurious and green and numerous streams run through the mountains, the forest is very dry—there are warnings posted at the entrance and at the campsites against smoking or lighting fires, as the danger of forest fires is high.
Most of the trails take more than one day, so if you want to see a significant portion of the reserve, plan on at least two or three days. However, even just one day in the reserve is very rewarding. The reserve staff can help you decide which trail to take based on difficulty and how long you’re going to be there, and you can always start on a longer trail and just turn around before then end if you don’t have enough time.
If you are arriving at the reserve by bus, you will be dropped off at the start of a trail, about 2 km, that leads up to the actual entrance of the reserve. At the start of this trail you will find several stores and restaurants—if you planned on buying food at the reserve, this is your chance. There are no stalls or vending machines inside the reserve, but there are bathroom facilities at the entrance and the campsites, and a couple of places along the trails with running water. If you’re concerned about running out of water, I would recommend bringing some kind of portable filter so you can drink out of a stream if you need to.
Entrance fees are as follows:
Adults $2500 CLP
Children $1000 CLP
Adults $5000 CLP
How to get there by bus:
As far as I know, the only bus service that goes to the Altos de Lircay reserve leaves from Talca. There may not be anything posted in the station regarding schedules or where in the station the bus will depart from, but you can just ask at ticket counters until you find someone who knows, which never takes too long. You will be looking for the bus that goes to Vilches, which is a commune close to the Altos de Lircay reserve. It’s not necessary to buy a ticket beforehand, you can just hop onto the bus and pay for it once the drive has started. Tickets cost $1900 CLP (barring price hikes, which are not common). The bus departs from Talca to Vilches at 7:15 am, 12:00 pm, 4:50 pm, and 7:35 pm, and takes a little over two hours. Try to get a window seat, as the ride up into the mountains is spectacular. The stop at Altos de Lircay reserve is not clearly marked, but it’s hard to miss as it’s the last stop on the bus ride. Just get off the bus and follow the people with the mountain-climbing gear—in the absence of people to follow, just head uphill to the gate and turnstile that marks the beginning of a wide and dusty road. Keep going on this road, and after about 2 km you’ll be at the entrance of the reserve.
To return to Talca, the same bus line leaves from the reserve to Talca at 7:15 am, 9:15 am, 5:10 pm, and 7:30 pm.
If you have a vehicle, it is possible to drive up to the entrance of the reserve and leave your car there while you hike. There are numerous hostels and mini-markets along the road to the reserve, so if you want to spend more than a day there but don’t care to camp in the reserve, you could get a reservation at one of the hostels so you only have a few miles to go from your hostel to the reserve.