Welcome to the Maule wine valley. If you want to taste some excellent Chilean wine, this is one of the better places. It is not as big or frequently visited as other areas (for example the ones towards Valparaiso), but it is also quieter… and on the way to the south if you are already heading in that direction.
Let’s be clear: you don’t go to Chile for the beautiful villages. In contrast to other Latin American countries, there is no colonial architecture. Instead you will find an endless amount of industrial towns draped around a central Plaza de Armas. See Calama, Temuco, Puerto Natales and many many more.
Talca is a mid-sized town with some industry. But the location, in the Maule valley shielded from the wind by two mountain ranges, makes it ideal for cultivating wine. And in the vicinity there is some of the best hiking in Middle Chile to be done… if you can get there.
The town itself is laid out in a grid pattern. The eastern end of the centre is formed by the railway line, the western end by the river. The plaza is located a bit strange, towards the western end, where the density of shops is already decreasing. There is a fair amount of shopping malls here as well.
Food and drinks
There are two main streets running parallel: the Calle 1 Norte and the Calle 1 Sur. These are your best bets for finding all kinds of food. Bendito was a nice lunch cafe. We somehow ended up in Raices del Maule which had a decent menu del dia for the usual ridiculous low price, obviously only during lunchtime. In the evening we landed at La Barra del Toro, a loud rock n roll beer pizza bar, but quite fun.
As everything in Talca, bars and restaurants are down-to-earth and usually not too expensive. Don’t expect haute cuisine though, even McDonald’s is present in Talca, which says it all. One last tip: Las Viejas Cochinas, just outside town on the western edge of the river, is apparently very good. But we didn’t test that one.
Activities / things to do
- Cerro La Virgen: Talca is a hub for wine-tasting and hiking. If you want to spend a day there without doing too much, going to this mirador (lookout) a one hour walk west of the city makes sense
- wine: now here comes the problem. Tourist tours and wine tastings are additional money for the wineries, but they don’t depend on it. Since the pandemic most tours have not restarted. We went to the tourist office at the central square (in the municipal building, fourth floor) and even they didn’t know the current offerings. They will help you, but there is not too much demand. We went to Casa Donoso, but had a rental car, and only went to have a walk around and buy some wine. Vina Gillmore and Vina Balduzzi are two other options, but you have to ask around and be lucky or be rich to get a tour
- Sendero Enladrillado: probably the best hike of Middle Chile, this one is located in national park Altos de Lircay, two hours east by car or bus from Talca. You need to get a ticket (online or at the park) before you are allowed to enter. But the biggest challenge is to get there. After a long search we found a rental car at Circulo Autos on Avenida San Miguel, but that is of course an expensive option. Cheaper is by bus: Buses Vilches will take you to Vilches Alto leaving at around 7am… and return at the latest at 5.10pm. That leaves you with eight hours for the trek, which is manageable but tight. The last option is to sleep in one of the many guesthouses or campings near the entrance.
- Once you make it to Altos de Lircay, the Sendero Enladrillado is a one-day hike (there are also multi-day hikes, see the official park site). From the entry it takes half an hour to get to the registration office. The trail is well-marked and will go gradually up. The first 2-3 hours are through a forest with occasional great views. The last hour is out in the open, a barren place which is quite steep. Eventually you end up on what looks like a strange flat landing place for UFOs, with a pattern of massive square rocks. At the end of it is the lookout, over two volcanoes and the Condor valley. Take some time to enjoy the views: you deserve it. Going down the Sendero Enladrillado will take around three hours
Getting to Talca and getting around
- train: yes, you have read that right. Although Chile doesn’t have European-style train connections, there are some lines that are actually quite useful. They are operated by different companies which (in Santiago at least) have their own platforms at the station. This line goes to Talca and slightly beyond (to Chillan), in Talca is also a connection to Concepcion. Train leaves three times a day and takes three hours. Prices are similar to the bus, you need to reserve in advance as especially the morning trains can fill up
- bus: long-distance buses always stop in Talca. The bus terminal is close to the highway and on the eastern side of the railway station. The long-distance connections are to places like Temuco (5-6 hours), Osorno (ten hours) and Puerto Montt
- within the city: you can walk most of it, though in the burning summer heat taxis or collectivos can come in quite handy
- Weather: in summer this is a bloody furnace. We had temperatures of 35 degrees or more and that is no exception here. When you go hiking in Lircay weather conditions can change rapidly of course
- Safety: not really an issue, just be aware on the main shopping street (which sometimes looks a but dodgy) and the streets around the bus and train station