The Humboldt Current runs along Chile's 3,999 miles of coastline, giving the country’s beaches their turquoise waves, diversity of marine life, delicious seafood, lack of rain, and famously cold water. However, the cold water hasn’t deterred Chileans from developing a balneario (beach resort) culture in central coast places like Viña del Mar and Zapallar and a strong surfing scene up north in Pichilemu. Whether you want remote beaches, penguin reserves, party scenes, water sports, or desert campgrounds with ocean sounds and starry night skies, Chile delivers.
A popular beach hub in Chile’s Norte Chico region, La Serena has miles of golden sand and a beach for every interest. Surf or sunbath at Playa El Faro, work out at Playa Cuatro Esquinas, or head to nearby Coquimbo for windsurfing, scuba diving, and skateboarding at its skatepark. To reach the area’s most beautiful beach, book a tour to Isla Damas, one of three islands in the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. There you’ll find Playa Las Tijeras where you can relax on white sands as turquoise waves softly roll to shore. To see the Humboldt penguins or other wildlife like dolphins, sea lions, and otters, take another short boat tour from here around the reserve.
For all things surf, grab your board and head to Pichilemu, Chile’s surf capital. Advanced and intermediate surfers ride the waves at Punta de Lobos a few miles outside of town. A world surf reserve and considered to have the best left pointbreak in Chile, the pros come here to compete in big wave competitions where waves can reach up to 30 feet. Those newer to the sport can go to Pichilemu’s main beach, Playa Principal de Pichilemu for smaller breaks, surf lessons, and board and wetsuit rentals. Other popular activities here inlcude windsurfing, kite surfing, and sailing.
Coconut palm trees, white coral sands, and giant moai statues await you at Playa Anakena on Easter Island. At 2,200 miles off the shore of mainland Chile, Easter Island has some warmest waters in the country, but the only place to swim sans rocks is Playa Anakena. Float in the clear blue water or book a dive to swim with sea turtles at nearby Hanga Roa Bay. Bring your own food and have lunch in the picnic area or buy po’e (fluffy banana cake) from one of the food stalls. Take pictures with the moais and keep an eye out for wild horses roaming the beach.
Pan de Azúcar National Park
The Atacama Desert and Pacific Ocean meet in a convergence of white sand and blue water in Pan de Azúcar (Sugar Loaf) National Park. Covering a massive 169 square miles, Pan de Azúcar contains hills with 20 varieties of cactus, brightly colored rocks, archeological sites, and hiking and mountain biking trails. Trek the Mirador Trail for one of the most striking views of the Atacama, and look out for foxes, vicuñas, and guanacos throughout the park. Take a boat ride to Isla Pan de Azúcar to see the resident penguin colony and bed down for the night in one of park’s campsites. Enjoy the clear view of the stars as the sound of the tide lulls you to sleep, and the camanchaca (thick ocean mist) rises to tuck the coastline in for the night.
Named for 17th-century English pirates that hunkered down here as they looted Spanish ships, Bahía Inglesa is one of the most famous, most visited, and most photographed beaches in all of Chile. In front of its fishing village is the main beach of Playa la Piscina (Swimming Pool Beach). It's a calm cove partly enclosed by rock formations and filled with a rainbow of blue water. Families and those looking to relax laze on the white sands, as windsurfers and kite surfers try to catch air and waves in the distance. Come in the shoulder seasons of fall and spring to avoid crowds and an onslaught of jellyfish which coincides with the summer high season.
The OG of Chilean beach resorts, Viña del Mar is the obvious and close option (only a two-hour drive) for a beach getaway from Santiago. Choose from black, golden, or white sand beaches, along miles upon miles of accessible coastline. The area has strong currents, but some beaches have calm water for swimming, like Playa Caleta Abarca and Playa Salinas. Hit the clubs and bars along the shores of nearby Reñaca to party at Chile’s most famous party beach. Head to Playa Mirasol for a quality roller skating path, and see the largest fireworks show in the country here during New Year’s Eve.
A luxury fishing village in central Chile, Zapallar has a small-town vibe with an exclusive feel, all based around an exquisite white sand bay of crystal water. See bright blue and yellow fishing boats bob in the bay as you walk the Rambla, Zapallar’s promenade along its rocky coast line. Stay in one of the Italian-style villas nestled into the forest surrounding the beach and surf in Playa Maitencillo, Playa Grande, or Playa Aguas Blancas. Go for a dive or catch some wind parasailing. Finish the day with a pisco sour in hand and a dinner of fresh seafood in one of the waterfront restaurants.
Formerly the site of Festival Nomade, Chile's version of Burning Man, Caleta Cóndor’s white sands and aquamarine waters beckon within the Territorio Mapa Lahual of the indigenous Huilliche people. Possibly the most remote beach in Chile, it's located in the Lake District and accessible by boat from Bahía Mansa or two-day hike from Maicolpué. A small community of locals live here year-round and rent cabins and campsites to the few visitors who come. Dive and kayak to explore the marine life, or trek the trails cutting through the surrounding hills and Valdivian forests. Simply relaxing without being disturbed might be the most precious activity of all though.
One of the few warm beaches in Chile, Hornitos has developed a reputation as a hippie-friendly, waste-conscious environment in Chile’s Antofagasta region. Of the 300 colorful beaches houses perched along its cove, most are only inhabited during the summer months, though serious surfers come here in the winter for the best swell condition. Few houses have water and electricity, and everyone packs their waste to take out when they leave town. Named for its famously hot white sand, (hornitos means “little ovens” in Spanish), night swimming is common here, as is kayaking and spotting sea turtles.
Located on Chile’s largest island, Chiloé, Playa Cole Cole requires determination and good walking shoes to reach. A white crescent of sand surrounded by lush jungle, its cold blue waters see few visitors, giving it the feel of a private beach only populated by wild horses. Consider bringing camping gear and pitching a tent for the night, as the journey involves taking a two-hour bus from Castro to Cucao, then a three-hour trek of 9.8 miles (15.8 kilometers) over a bridge, through the jungle, and across a small lagoon to reach Cole Cole’s sandy shore. Check out the community of Huentemó on the way if you want to learn about indigenous culture, need a break from the hike, or both.