El Cani Sanctuary

  • El Cani Sanctuary - © Copyright Flickr user Fanny & Greg
  • El Cani Sanctuary - © Copyright Flickr user Fanny & Greg
  • El Cani Sanctuary - © Copyright Flickr user Fanny & Greg
  • El Cani Sanctuary - © Copyright Flickr user Fanny & Greg
  • El Cani Sanctuary - © Copyright Flickr user Fanny & Greg
  • El Cani Sanctuary - © Copyright Flickr user Nuuttipukki
  • El Cani Sanctuary - © Copyright Flickr user Nuuttipukki

Key information: El Cani Sanctuary

  • The first NGO-protected private reserve in Chile, Cani is a rich landscape of protected temperate rainforest, set in a collapsed volcanic caldera.
  • Explore its waterfalls, lagoons and forests, revelling in its legacy of environmental education and eco-tourism. 
  • The best walk in Cani is a steep, fairly challenging hike to El Mirador, from which you can drink in a spectacular view of the snowcapped cones of volcanoes Llaima, Villarrica, Quetrupillan and Lanin.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating83
  • Beauty31
  • Natural interest18
  • Human interest2
  • Charisma32
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating83

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 16km
  • 5-7 hours
  • Maximum Altitude: 1,550m
  • Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
El Cani Sanctuary - © Copyright Flickr user Fanny & Greg


Cani sanctuary is within easy reach of Pucon, a popular resort town and ideal base for hiking in Araucaria. Though small, it holds a mighty place in the hearts of conservationists. The first NGO-protected private reserve in Chile, Cani is home to the Araucaria trees for which the Araucaria region is named, a species virtually unchanged over the past quarter of a billion years. Nestled in the beautiful landscape of a collapsed volcanic caldera, this reserve has rapidly become a centre for environmental education and eco-tourism - with a strong focus on the protection of its incredible pre-historic forests.

Walkers here shouldn't miss the day hike from the gravel path behind the reserve headquarters, taking you through lush vegetation and past beautiful lagoons and climbing up to El Mirador, with its stunning vista across the volcanic Chilean landscape. Signposted detours can take in several more small lakes.

From the information centre the main path climbs steadily through both forests and prairie to the Aserradero shelter, about 2 hours into the walk. This hut provides an excellent place to spend the night: there is a raised sleeping platform which fits up to 30 people, along with a cooking stove and an open fireplace.

Arrows clearly signpost the way from here, leading you to Cani's largest stretch of water - the conversely-named Laguna Seca ("Dry Lake"). Steep slopes thick with trees rise from its shores. In summer the lake's edge is lined with vibrant green vegetation, providing a rich habitat for birds; in winter, it becomes a bleak, frozen scene of ice and snow.

The final major landmark is the scanty shelter at Laguna Negra, and it is here that the waymarks dry out. Head up the hills directly behind the shelter - there are several paths, but they all join further up. This section is by far the hardest part, as you zig-zag steeply to the viewpoint. Once there though, the effort will seem worthwhile.

Directly below you lie the lakes and pools which dot the old caldera: further away, the horizon is dominated by the impressive site of Llaima, Lanin, Quetrupillan and Villarrica - their distinctive, snow-capped volcanic cones rising above the mountainous Patagonian landscape of the Chile-Argentine border. A well-placed campsite at Laguna Negra allows hikers to spend a night nearby, climbing in the evening or early morning to watch sunset or sunrise from this spectacular viewpoint. 

Have a look at TripAdvisor before setting off - there are some reviews of the sanctuary, and particularly of the hike to El Mirador, which may have useful information.

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.


See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Books and Maps

Suggest books and maps


Books on this walk     

There are no specific guidebooks for this area, and the main guidebooks deal with it only cursorily. However, Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Patagonian Andes has a brief entry, along with excellent coverage of some of the surrounding national parks, and is well worth an investment if you’re visiting one of these on the same trip.


Other books

Chile and Easter Island – Lonely Planet/Carolyn McCarthy 

The Rough Guide to Chile – Rough Guides/Shafik Meghji & Anna Kaminski 

Dictionary of Chilean Slang: Your Key to Chilean Language and Culture – Emilio Rivano Fischer: A useful insight into language use in Chile, which is significantly different to that in Spain or elsewhere in Latin America. Note: this book is in Spanish. 

Voyage of the Beagle – Charles Darwin: Darwin spent some considerable time in Chile, with some arguing that this was as influential as his time spent on Galapagos Islands for the development of his later theories. 

Chile: Travels in a Thin Country – Sara Wheeler 

Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine – Susan Alcorn 

The Last Cowboys at the End of the World: the Story of the Gauchos of Patagonia – Nick Reding 

The Motorcycle Diaries – Ernesto “Che” Guevara: It is almost impossible to escape the pervasive legacy of Che Guevara in South America; this bestseller charts the early travels which inspired his crusade for social justice. 

Clandestine in Chile – Gabriel Garcia Marquez: here, the Colombian author describes the experience of exiled film director Miguel Litten when he returned to Chile in disguise during Pinochet’s dictatorship. Part adventure story, part political reportage, this short book earned the ultimate accolade of governmental displeasure, with around 15,000 copies burnt upon publication. 

In Patagonia – Bruce Chatwin: Although the veracity of some of Chatwin’s encounters has been questioned, his stylized account of travelling through Patagonia transformed ideas about travel writing. 

By Night in Chile – Roberto Bolano: A novella comprised of a dying priest’s monologue, in which even as his ramblings become more disjointed, his ties to Chile’s twentieth century political history become clearer. 

The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems – Pablo Neruda, Ed. Mark Eisner: A collection of poems by Chilean national treasure, and Nobel prize winner, Pablo Neruda.



Maps for self-guided walking can be got from rangers in the Sanctuary, or in Pucon. Way-finding is not too difficult, although you will need a decent route description to climb the final section of the path to El Mirador. 

Stanfords: A good online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks). Also try Maps Worldwide and www.trektools.com.


Best times to walk/weather

Best times to walk

People walk here at all times of the year. However, in winter the trails can be much more difficult to follow (and it can get very cold!), and as elsewhere in southern Chile, mid-summer can bring hoards of bloodthirsty tabanos (horseflies).


The climate here is mild in summer, whilst in winter temperatures reach average lows of 3-4 degrees Celsius. Monthly precipitation is high from May through to October, with most falling between May and August: the sanctuary is often coated in snow and ice during these months. 

For detailed weather information, have a look at: www.worldweather.org or www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides.



Getting there/transport/permits/fees

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Most visitors to Chile will fly into Santiago. Skyscanner is an excellent (relatively new) site for finding the flights you need; otherwise try Lastminute.com, or look at what’s available on Tripadvisor. 

El Cani Sanctuary is within an easy distance of Pucon, a popular tourist base. Situated between Huerquehue NP and Villarrica NP, it provides a great (and cheaper) alternative to the more popular climb up Volcan Villarrica. 

The easiest way to access El Cani is by car – otherwise public microbuses run regularly to Huifa from Pucon, stopping at the reserve en route. 

Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from/to arranged start/departure points. 

You will need to pay an entry fee to get into Cani Sanctuary: as of 2013, this was 3,000 pesos. (Please let us know if you are aware that this has changed!)



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See Walk Summary above.



Possible problems, health, other warnings

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·         Variable temperatures – it can get cold, and in winter snow-covered trails can be difficult to follow. Come prepared.

·         This is remote country: food and other supplies will not be readily available and help may be hard to get if things go wrong. 

See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information. 

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information. 

Make sure you have appropriate insurance.



Guided or independent?

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You can do this walk independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come fully prepared. Independent walking isn’t advised in winter, when the path can be impossible to follow.



Some people form or join organised/supported expeditions. Given the remoteness of the country and difficulty of trail-finding in winter, some will prefer to do it this way. 

If hiring a guide locally, meet him/her and get comfortable before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed – including how you will eat and the importance of avoiding illness, as well as overnighting and, of course, remuneration! 

If you pay 10,000 pesos (about GB£13.25 in 2013) rather than the usual 3,000 entry fee, you can do the day trek with a local guide. It is extra to camp. 

Other expedition organisers include: 

Patagonia Experience

Amity Tours

Hosteria ˇécole! in Pucon also has information and can organize trips for its guests. 

Have a look at Infohub to see if they have any good deals for this expedition. 

Check Tripadvisor for some reviews of this walk and walk organisers which may prove helpful. 

PLEASE HELP Walkopedia by recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise.




Pucon is the obvious base for those wanting to walk El Cani Sanctuary: a good range of hotels can be found on the unimaginatively but effectively named Hotels.com. If you’re on a budget, Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation; or perhaps try for some bargain luxury on Lastminute.com.

See what the commentary on Tripadvisor is on possible places to stay – although do take their reviews with a pinch of salt, as they can be “interested”. 

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Other information and tips

Having the correct gear is important for a comfortable, safe walk. In the Cani Sanctuary you won’t need much for a day hike, but some tough, comfortable shoes will make a big difference. Begging and borrowing gear off others is ideal if you’re on a budget, but at some point you may want to invest in some of your own. Some of our favourite equipment and clothing specialists include Surfdome, Britain’s Cotswold Outdoor, and the Utah-based company Campsaver. 

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Useful websites and information

There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.

·         The official El Cani Sanctuary website is currently undergoing work, but should be back online soon.

·         In the meantime, Travelaid is a good source of information (including route descriptions), as are the pages of Ecole Hosteria.

·         Have a look at Five Reasons to visit El Cani Sanctuary.

·         This is an old LA Times article on the sanctuary, discussing the role of private US wealth in its creation.

·         Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.

·         Have a look at Tripadvisor – there are some good, current views on this walk.


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Other things to do in the area

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Other walks

Patagonian Chile is awash with excellent walking opportunities, and Pucon is a great base for walkers. From Cani, head south and try climbing fiery Volcan Villarrica in Villarrica NP, or go north and explore the ancient forests, lakes and peaks of Huerquehue NP.

Other activities

There are numerous activites around Pucon, including swimming and skiing. 

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

El Cani Sanctuary - ©Copyright Flickr user Fanny & Greg

share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

El Cani Sanctuary - ©Copyright Flickr user Fanny & Greg...

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