Article updated by Beth Delthony August 2014.
Just an hour or so south of the city of La Serena (La Serena is a 6-7 hour drive north from Santiago) is a tiny peninsula and inlet with two great beach towns and surprisingly delightful weather. The area surrounding the towns of Tongoy and Guanaqueros makes up a fishing/beach area that offers visitors lots of sunny days (unlike in some parts of Chile, it is rarely rainy here) and some of the best swimming, sunbathing, and relaxation in Chile. While nothing can compare to the beaches of the Caribbean, at these beaches you will find clear water, (mostly) white sand, and some of the warmest (summer temps range from 14-25C/57-77F) water on the Chilean coast. While these towns are more sleepy beach getaways than anything else, you can combine a trip to these beaches with a visit to sites like Punta de Churros, or the Elqui Valley, which are major tourist attractions in the area.
Playa Blanca: Located right between Tongoy and Guanaqueros you’ll find this lovely, sunny beach that is a popular vacation destination for Chilean families. Most of these families rent a spot on the beach to pitch a tent and camp on the beach for a week or two. Others rent a modest cabin for some no frills relaxation time. There is also a resort area here if you prefer renting an apartment. Activities on the beach include volleyball and snorkeling, additional activities can be arranged through the resort Club Playa Blanca. To get there you’ll need to take a car or taxi from Tongoy as no buses pass by this beach.
Playa Socos: Just a 10-20 minute drive south of Playa Blanca, Playa Socos is a popular beach that is great for swimming and is also very accessible by public transport. The beach is located just a short walk (5 minutes) from the town center of Tongoy. There are many signs leading the way. To get there you’ll pass by a market selling juices, jewelry, and other popular beach treats and then encounter a small bridge leading to the beach. Once over the bridge, you’ll find yourself on one of the nicest beaches in Chile! Activities here include kayaking and volleyball. (Note: Tongoy has another beach, Playa Grande, which is much larger but not as nice for swimming).
Playa Guanaqueros: In the summer Guanaqueros is a bustling beach town full of tourist. The beach here is easily accessible by public transport, as there are buses that run from the La Serena, Coquimbo, and Tongoy bus terminals to here and the beach is a minute or two from the bus stop.
Playa Totoralillo: Another great, beautiful beach is located a 20 minute drive north of the town of Guanaqueros. Here you’ll find a beach great for swimming, with sandy hills with cacti surrounding you.
When to visit? The best time to visit the beach is in the Chilean summer months of late December, January and February. This is also high season, however, so while the weather will likely be warm, prices may be a bit elevated and the beaches more crowded.
Where to sleep? There are plenty of sleeping options in Tongoy and Guanaqueros but not all are advertised online. The most popular options for Chileans are sleeping on the beach in a tent or renting a cabaña(cabin) to share with a group of people. During the summer months it’s better to reserve well in advance. You can also book a hotel in La Serena or Coquimbo, which are larger cities only an hour or so from these beaches.
Which beach? There are lots of beaches in the area. Check out one or head to a different one every day. All in all, the beaches listed are all great for swimming, snorkeling, and are family friendly. Because they’re shielded by the Tongoy peninsula, the waves are gentler than on other Chilean beaches, the current is not as strong, and the waters are warmer. You’ll see lots of swimmers enjoying the water.
How to get there? It is easy to get to La Serena and Tongoy by bus (TurBus travels to both cities and the drive is between 5 and 7 hours depending on destination/traffic). If you don’t mind driving yourself, rent a car, which will free you up to explore the area at your leisure. It is also possible to fly to La Serena from Santiago (1 hour plane ride) or other large cities in Chile and then navigate the area by bus or rent a car. All options are manageable for a tourist with limited Spanish.
Note: This story was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question.