With nearly 6,500 km of coastline, Chile offers a veritable buffet of beaches for those seeking to dip their toes in the cool waters of the Pacific. With such a large selection, the question of where to go suddenly becomes a game of matchmaking.
Viña del Mar
Arguably Chile’s premier beach resort, Viña is a hotspot for tourists with cash. Though the icy water makes for a teeth-chattering swim, it also allows for a coastline brimming with delicious seafood restaurants and a good amount of shoreline shopping.
Beach bag essential: Enough pesos to shop the boardwalk and come away with a Chilean treasure.
This 1.3 Km stretch of beach resort coast line can scarcely accommodate the evenly-tanned prepsters that perch in its sands. If ever a beach could be ‘hip,’ Reñaca would be it. Though the waves are a bit too much to handle for actual swimming, beachgoers take quick dips in the chilly water before continuing their rotisserie sun-tanning regimen.
Beach bag essential: A shnazy pair of rip-off Raybans. Don’t have any? Lucky for you, every stall along the boardwalk will be happy to sell you a set – for gringo prices, unless your Spanish accent is up to par.
The Ying to Viña’s yang, Valpo – Chile’s primary sea port – offers a colorful, historical, charismatic alternative to the sometimes tiresome pace of the beach resort towns. The coastline that inspired Neruda and the rolling hills crowded with brightly painted houses make the setting idyllic albeit a little dilapidated. Out of over 36 beaches, only 5 are ok for a swim: Las Torpederas, Caleta Abarca, Las Salinas, Los Lilenes and Playa Amarilla. However, these beaches have steep drop-offs, something to keep in mind if you’re venturing far from shore.
Beach bag essential: Umbrella or a brimmed hat, as shade will be hard to come by.
As the popularity of Viña and Valpo beaches grow, some visitors are breaking away from the herd and heading north to La Serena (conveniently located the other side of a quieter border control at San Juan). Waves and rip currents make conditions dangerous for taking a plunge, however beach bars and loungers suit land lovers. Closer to Coquimbo and south of Cuatro Esquinas, you can swim the warmer waters and they are a hotspot for water sports.
Beach bag essential: Surf gear.
The coastal resort of Concón, just north of Viña del Mar is a leafy green escape from the urban vibe of Viña. The 10 Km route connecting the two cities not only makes for an interesting bike ride, it also is home to some of the best stetches of beach in all of Chile. The three main beaches in Concón are Playa Negra, Amarilla and Boca. Playa Amarilla, a favorite among families with small children, offers calm waters, fine sand and (mostly) free parking.
Beach bag essential: Food and libations, as there is not an ample selection of restaurants and stores nearby.
Regardless of how earnest their argument, no one comes to Playa Luna for the birdwatching. At least, it seems unlikely. This bird sanctuary is also the only official nudist beach in Chile. Tucked into a secluded nook of coastline just north of Valparaíso, Playa Luna is reachable by hiking the shoreline from the cove of Horcón. Nude, partially nude, or bundled up in a parka, the atmosphere is relaxed and the waves are welcoming.
Beach bag essential: Ditch the beach bag and swimming costume, just bring yourself and a strong SPF!
By Madeline Blasberg
Published in the December 2012/January 2013 edition of Wine Republic