Beaches north of Viña del Mar to Ventanas
Viña del Mar
is a large city and looks like a modern holiday resort, which you can find almost anywhere. For boondockers like us, it doesn’t offer any options, but it features facilities like laundromat, and various large supermarkets. The coast line is densely built-up with private houses and medium-sized apartment and hotel blocks.
Yasha will continue to work as a language teacher until sometime in December and has rented a cheaper room closer to her work. I have decided to live in the camper and to get out of the city temporarily to explore its surrounds, not driving far and taking it easy. For nine days at the end of September, around the national holiday of Chile, Yasha joined me for a “vacation”. You can read her blog post here.]
is basically an extension of Viña del Mar. It was my first destination as we had an overnight location for it in our own camping logs from 2009, although I didn’t hold out much hope of being able to access it. This turned out to be correct, as all vacant beach front blocks at the northern end of the town have been turned into fenced-in paid parking lots (paid parking is something all locals everywhere in Chile complain about – one way to create more jobs I guess). The northern part is less densely settled, and flat, with a long sandy beach. Towards the southern end of Concón the road is winding right along the beach and buildings become more substantial, so you don’t even notice where Concón ends and Viña del Mar starts. The main town is up on a hill and also offers all services including several large shopping centers. Concón also calls itself the Gastronomical Capital of Chile, although I’d say that’s a rather high aspiration. The entire region is rich with seafood, and all along the coast you will find restaurants serving it fresh.
I found a spot to stay overnight on a parking lot about one kilometer south of the northern beach. For a night it was okay, but I had some bad luck: it was Friday night and the parking lot was popular with young couples… Thankfully, the sound of the ocean breaking on rocks below the parking lot muffled all other sounds.
Leaving Concón northbound the road, la Ruta Costera, follows some enormous sand dunes on the ocean side until you reach the turn-off to Quintero. All beach towns between Quintero and Papudo are thankfully bypassed by the main Ruta Costera, which runs a little inland, so traffic is limited to local vehicles.
is more a regular small port town than a tourist destination. There’s small air force base in town too. It offers most regular services, including a laundromat (no large chain supermarket like “Jumbo” or “Lider” as far as I found), but the town on the hill faces mostly north towards the industrial complex mentioned below. Due to pollution from the factories, it gets featured regularly in local news. The town square (in reality more a triangle) is perhaps typical for this town, as it consists of more concrete than grass.
is just south of Quintero and is a pleasant beachside hamlet, very low key. When you enter Quintero the main road veers to the right at a large triangular traffic island, and to the left the Quintero-Ritoque-Road begins (though there is no left turn permitted). This road is relatively narrow, first going past a few shops and houses, then over a hill through some fields until it drops down to Ritoque. Dense Eucalypt plantings, low key cabañas and a few small holiday houses characterise this settlement. No shops with supplies.
The road dead ends at a roomy parking lot (charges on weekends) near a restaurant and a few small vending stalls. The beach is a wide and sandy bay, but features a sign warning “Unsafe to Swim”. Despite this, the break is quite popular with surfers. I spent a very quiet night there after Yasha had left. The parking lot is relatively well protected from wind and sea mist.
There is reported to be another interesting site near Ritoque, called “Ciudad Abierta”, an experimental architectural settlement started in the 70s. I heard about it after my return to Santiago and
haven’t visited it yet, but I will go searching for it and dedicate an extra blog post to it, and went for a visit later. Here’s my blog post/gallery from the “Ciudad Abierta” [opens new browser].
Further north, the road from Quintero passes some large industrial sites with power plants, refineries, a large grain-shipping dock, chemical factories, and a large copper smelter – with the accompanying smells. The copper processing plant, which is owned by Codelco (with Chile’s Minister for Mining as its CEO), has a terrible reputation as a heavy polluter. Cattle, grazing inland from it, are not allowed to be sold for human consumption; schools in Ventanas and Quintero have had to be closed several times for exceeding air pollution levels (which made pupils sick), and so on…
The road then reaches Ventanas, on the ocean side. This could be a nice small village in a picturesque bay, if it didn’t overlook the industrial complex and loading docks for freight ships, or suffer from heavy air pollution. Driving through town, you connect with the road leading to Horcón.
I describe the stretch from Horcón to Papudo in my next post .