As an Australian, I have grown up with amazingly beautiful beaches within minutes from home. I’m thoroughly spoilt and am quite picky when it comes to choosing sea-sand-surf that is up to standard. It is understandably a bit difficult living in a city that does not have its own beach… But luckily, I found these two. They are located in a loosely-defined area (between Los Vilos and Santo Domingo, or thereabouts) known commonly as the Central Coast (see map below).
Zapallar and Cachagua are two fantastic beaches, both immensely popular with the people of Santiago for weekend city-breaks and long term holiday homes. Whenever a Santiago local tells me about their beach visits, they’ve usually gone to Cachagua, Zapallar or Maitencillo (another nearby option). The water can be cold even in summer, thanks to the legendary Humboldt current coming from Antarctica, but it’s not cold enough to deter hundreds of dedicated beachgoers. I recently visited Zapallar and Cachagua and can definitely give them my Australian-authority-of-good-beaches seal of approval.
Unless you’re happy to navigate the Chilean bus system (which I can’t vouch for in this situation) I would highly recommend renting a car. This gives you lots of freedom to choose your route, go exploring, and to travel up and down the coast as you please. It’s always a good move to add on a GPS, though bring a map as backup, in case you can’t get one or if it won’t work.
Zapallar is a small town full of big, expensive houses. It has plenty of corner stores and liquor stores and there is a giant supermarket in the region (I can’t find the supermarket details but ask a local and they’ll tell you). Down at the beach, it’s a bit quiet and seems better for strolling around, but there are the occasional swimmers. You can find a fresh seafood market right on the water and partake in scuba-diving, if you’re thermally-invincible. There’s also kayaking, lots of restaurants and outdoor film nights in the summer. Parking is priced according to time spent there – an hour is about $800 CLP.
Getting there: Zapallar is about 170km or 2-3 hours drive (depending on traffic) north-west out of the city, travelling on the Ruta 5 highway. Take the Catapilco turnoff on the left to the E-46, and then the turnoff on the right onto the E-460 (which later turns into the F-30-E ). There’s other way to get there, via Valparaíso, for example – this is just the most direct route.
This beach is way more popular with serious beach-goers – for starters, it’s a lot bigger and therefore holds more people. In my opinion, it’s just more… Beachy. Families, couples and groups of friends can be seen pitching umbrellas and settling in for the afternoon. Kids are making sandcastles, parents are reading, swimmers brave the waters and there’s lots of svelte, oiled bods throwing themselves around makeshift volleyball courts. Don’t worry, beach attire is very tame here, no nudes or anything outrageous. Parking is free, but can be difficult to find in high season as it’s just informal parking on the sides of the streets. Get there early for easier parking.
The town of Cachagua is smaller again, and quite quiet. I wouldn’t rely on any of the towns to provide much entertainment, so take lots of books, maps, your camera, suncream and friends!
Getting there: You can drive between Zapallar and Cachagua very easily. It only takes about ten minutes (on the F-30-E). Coming from Santiago, you take the same route (Ruta 5, Catapilco turnoff onto the E-46, turnoff on the right onto the E-460 (which later turns into the F-30-E ) and then take a turnoff into the town of Cachagua. I don’t know the exact locations of these turnoff but I would imagine that there are several. The driving time would be almost the same as that to Zapallar.
A weird weather phenomenon causes rain and cloud to sink in over the coastal region a lot of the time – however, this tends to burn off by about 3pm. Locals know this and so the busiest times at the beaches are from 3pm onwards… So don’t be dismayed when you wake up to miserable weather. The beach will be awesome later!
Accommodation in these places are limited, unless you know someone or you are renting out something long-term. Check out Booking.com in Zapallar for a few options.
If you want to make a weekend or holiday of it, why not combine your beach trip with some time in the mountains?
View The Central Coast, Chile in a larger map
Note: This story was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question.
To learn more about Kat, read her bio!