Pichilemu, a four-hour drive from Santiago, is known for its black sand beaches and superior surfing and is a popular weekend and holiday destination for Chileans living in Santiago. Because it is not one of the conglomerate of coastal cities directly adjacent to Santiago, it is less congested with casual, day-tripping tourists. Pichilemu draws a nice […]
Pichilemu, a four-hour drive from Santiago, is known for its black sand beaches and superior surfing and is a popular weekend and holiday destination for Chileans living in Santiago. Because it is not one of the conglomerate of coastal cities directly adjacent to Santiago, it is less congested with casual, day-tripping tourists. Pichilemu draws a nice mix of residential expats and Chileans and is worth spending a long weekend to mingle with Chilean residents in a sophisticated, quaint, beach city.
The best housing in Pichilemu comes with an ocean view. Waking up to the soft sounds of waves and the view of an endless beach. Thankfully there are a lot of reasonably priced options for staying in beach-front properties. I was impressed by the modern aesthetics and renovations on these seaside abodes, especially compared to the architecture of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, which have more historical designs. Walking, however, on the main streets near the ocean, there are frequent signs warning of tsunamis. The last tsunami to hit Pichilemu was in 2015, and likely, the majority of seaside properties have been rebuilt or at the least, renovated since that time. The end result though is lovely. The coast is freckled with minimalistic modern housing, floor length windows and extensive patios where you can sit at any time of year, and enjoy the salty brine of sea air and the sounds of the ocean against the backdrop of an infinite, blue horizon.
Visiting Pichilemu, you are confronted by the realities of Chile’s natural conflict. Chile is a country that is locked in constant battle with destructive natural forces. It is plagued with intermittent earthquakes, along with tsunamis, wildfires in the summer, and has a number of active volcanos. Valdivia claims the largest earthquake on record, a 9.5 magnitude quake in 1960 that lasted 10 minutes and triggered a tsunami. After the 1960 earthquake, Chile began enforcing strict building codes; now, all buildings must be designed to withstand a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. In April 2017, I stayed with a group of friends for a long week end at a beach side AirBnB overlooking Punto de Lobos beach in Pichilemu. In mid-January of that year, as a bi-product of Chile’s dry, hot summers, there were 108 active wildfires in Chile, one of which affected Pichilemu. Three months later, the countryside near Pichilemu was spotted with large patches of orange trees contrasting with the neighboring green. From a distance, it seemed to be a pleasing fall foliage contrasted with evergreens, a familiar scene for anyone who has lived with deciduous North American forests. But once closer, the orange trees come into focus as scorched evergreens whose pine needles have changed color post mortem. The trees are scarred with ashen burns climbing up their trunks. Evidence of the environment’s fight with its own natural tendencies.
Punto de Lobos beach, where we stayed, is specifically known for its surfing and is complimented by a number of bodegas with wetsuit and board rental. Chile’s Pacific Ocean is part of the Humbolt current where there is an upwelling from the colder ocean depths and is on a whole much too cold in my opinion for recreational aquatic activities to be enjoyable. Even in the hottest days of the summer, it is a test of determination to submerge yourself in the Chilean ocean. Armed with only a bikini, it’s cold seizes your muscles and incapacitates, a sensation only marginally improved with the help of a wet suit. But even if you don’t swim in the ocean, you can still enjoy beach activities and people-watching the pedestrians and surfers.
Though the cold upwelling detracts from recreational ocean engagement, it provides nutrient rich waters which yield a diverse variety of exquisite, fresh seafood. Seafood is by far the best part of Chile’s cuisine. Chile boasts a number of unique shellfish – beyond oysters, urchin, mussels, and scallops, Chile also has almejas (a type of spade shaped clam), (a variety of razor clam), and (a red colored bivalve that lives within rocky out groves). Chileans also cook a number of dishes using, a thick seaweed often sold in dried bundles resembling loops of dried tripe. Most dishes are served with minimal seasoning, allowing the subtle flavors of their sea food to be properly highlighted. Chile’s uncommon variety of unique seafoods are truly a delicious marveling not to be missed.
The downtown, replete with dense commercial storefronts, is walkable and has a park area overlooking the ocean. There are a number of quality restaurants in the area, including the upscale La Loba and healthy angled Cúrcuma.
The house we stayed in was one of ten houses on a cul de sac ending at the edge of the beach. The yards were interconnected and our Chilean neighbors, all enjoying a short vacation, were friendly and a number of households separately invited us to join them for drinks and conversation in the evening. Welcoming, relaxed vibes reverberate through the entire town, making Pichilemu an easy place to strike up a conversation with Chileans. There is a large pool of foreigners visiting Pichilemu, but mainly ex-patriots living or staying in Chile for a longer period of time who have a more nuanced perspective on Chilean culture. For travelers who enjoy being able to chat with locals in a relaxed atmosphere, Pichilemu is a worthwhile city to include on your itinerary.
Pichilemu and Punto de Lobos beach are a perfect get-away with relaxing beach front, surfing, a small downtown, and inviting residents. The seafood is spectacular and there are enough recreational activities to fill a longer stay. It is a common vacation spot for Chileans, but draws few true tourists from abroad. This makes it a nice option for travelers who enjoy the amenities of a developed city but are interested in mingling in a little local flavor.