Beaches north of Viña del Mar: Horcón to Papudo
In my last post I listed the towns between Viña del Mar and Ventanas , the southern turn-off towards Horcón.
Built on the steep side of a hill, the main part of Horcón is a cluster of colourful rickety houses, almost all of which have been extended, once or twice, in a haphazard and unique way. This small hamlet is supposed to be the home of a large alternative community, with some curious, tiny shops, and Chile’s only legal nude beach (Playa La Luna to the north past Playa Larga) bearing witness to this. The main bay is very small, bordered by a nice rock arch to the south and the fishermen’s co-op to the north. Unfortunately Playa Larga, to the north, has now been developed with apartment blocks, though you hardly notice them when in town . To the west there are several more beaches, Playa Cau-Cau and Playa El Tabo being the easiest to reach. Near El Tabo are a couple of camp grounds (which we didn’t check out), there’s another roomy compound on the hill to Playa Cau-Cau, called Camping Cau-Cau where a rooster greeted us at the front gate (a clear no-no for us!). We finally chose to stay on an empty lot near the road into town (easy walking distance to everything); we found an almost level place there, away from the traffic.
After you pass through the inland township of Puchuncaví, which offers a number of essential services, you soon reach the first turn-off to the beaches of Maitencillo. This town consists of an inland settlement and a long row of mostly small beach houses squeezed in between the shoreline and the cliff face behind. Some houses cling really precariously to the side of the cliffs. There are three roads connecting this long stretch with the hill part behind, which should give you some indication of the length of the beach road. The entire hill seems to be real estate haven with one shiny white estate, complete with pompous gate, next to the other. There is also the largest hardware store I’ve seen in a long time and a large Lider supermarket along the Ruta Costera on the hill.
When down at the beach, you don’t notice much of this. After the township of Horcón, this stretch appears the least developed. The beaches are relatively calm, interrupted by large rock boulders, which centuries of pounding waves have washed smooth. Since there’s not much room along the coast there seems to be no camping ground anywhere; twice we stayed on beach front parking lots (we tipped the attendants) at Playa Aguas Blancas which, according to many locals, is the nicest part.
When you drive out of Maitencillo to the north you immediately enter the next district of Zapallar, which has the reputation of being the coastal retreat for the rich.
Across a bridge, the first small village is La Laguna (part of Zapallar), tucked in between the outlet of a lagoon in the south, a hill with some apartments to the north, and a small bay with coarse sand to the west. La Laguna itself is a chessboard pattern of narrow streets with small seaside houses. Due to Chile’s constant threat of Tsunamis, I guess there is little attraction to build anything more substantial in this location. The main street offers some basic supplies and few touristy shops (half were closed for good when we visited).
Inland from the town, along the road to Catapilco (connecting with Ruta 5), there is a commercial camping place, badly sign-posted, badly in need of some refurbishment, but charging 6,000 Pesos per person (September 2014). To get from there to the beach you need a car or bicycle; we chose not to stay.
The hills between here and Papudo seem to be all dotted with rich peoples’ houses, stylish architect designed modern glass and concrete boxes or US inspired mansions with little turrets and shingle roofs, often accessed by badly maintained dirt roads. How would you drive your Porsche or Mercedes up to your mansion? I’ve since learned that many owners arrive from Santiago in their private helicopters.
is a pleasant-looking, leafy village with mostly wealthy looking houses of various periods, built on a hill overlooking a south-facing bay. Unfortunately, the low lying beach front is now in developers’ hands, and the charm might soon be spoilt. Currently there is a large flat parking area at the beach, which would lend itself to being a nice overnight boondocking site, but unfortunately you are not permitted to stay here with any camping vehicle. When we visited in 2015 two security guard vehicles turned up very quickly to send us away – even before we had time to get our stair out…
When you walk along the beach to the north, past
some carved statues and [the statues have been removed] a lovely beach-side restaurant, you reach a rocky outcrop. From here you can watch many penguins and other birds nesting on a protected island not far off shore.
itself, is built on a fairly steep hillside around a small bay. You enter along one short main street with shops and real estate agencies, left and right are small tree-lined streets and high fences often hiding beautiful houses, old or modern. To drive through this maze with a truck our size is a challenge; to find parking, near impossible. There’s also a Copec station in town (another big Copec on the southbound Ruta Costera, just past the Lider in Maitencillo).
is the last town along this coast before the road veers inland towards La Ligua, up a hill onto a plateau (farmland which is currently being sliced up into more sub-divisions). Papudo has an established older town center on the hill, medium sized beach front properties, and not much space to park. The southern and northern edges of town are also characterised by bulky medium- to high-rise developments. This could have been a nice place some 20 years ago. Towards the northern end of town you will find two small fuel stations with some of the cheapest diesel along this coast.
One beach I missed, which was later recommended by several, is Salinas de Pullally. From its name I assumed it could be an industrial site with working salt mining, but it must be a nice wide bay with good parking for boondocking during the week. Popular as a surf beach, so expect some waves. The turn off to this is very near to the roundabout on the Ruta 5 near La Ligua. You go off the roundabout towards Papudo, and within 2-300 meters a dirt road goes off this road to the right towards the ocean (sign-posted among the few houses there).
The water of the Pacific in Chile and Peru is rather cool to cold year round, so don’t expect to swim for extended periods of the day – it’ll be a short dip unless you’re a hardened person…
We found that this coast still holds some charm, and each place has retained some individual character. But slowly everything is getting covered with repetitious sub-divisions of mostly generic, boxy, white houses. During summer, late December to mid March, this coast is crowded with tourists from the near-by cities and prices go up. We recommend that you visit soon or you might not understand what attracted us to this part of Chile’s coastline.
Don’t forget to read the first part (if you haven’t done so), without it our list of beaches is not complete.
Have you found any beach along Chile’s coast you would like to recommend for camping? Please share via the comments below…