“A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition”. – William Arthur Ward
On a free morning in Santiago, we decided to take a break from hiking in the Andes to go the other direction and explore Chile’s stunning coast. Given Chile’s tremendous length (from north to south, Chile extends 4,270 km/2,653 miles), Chile has an extraordinary amount to see along its shores. Ranging from the driest deserts of the Atacama in the north to the craggy terminus of the Andes in the South, Chile’s rich geographical diversity is bound to inspire and soothe the soul.
Our fantastic hiking guide Nico from Coigüe Expeditions had laid out an entire itinerary for us to visit the coast ourselves. Like many middle-class Chileans, Nico grew up spending his summers along the coast where his family owns a summer home. Over recent years, the area has witnessed a huge real estate boom and today these once tiny coastal towns are home to some of Chile’s wealthiest elite.
We left Santiago a little past nine heading west towards the Chilean Coastal Mountain Range (Cordillera de la Costa) that runs parallel to the Andes separating the lush Central Valley of Chile from the sea. I was amazed how quickly the landscape changed from the verdant green valleys to the arid, sparsely-vegetated rolling mountains. As soon as we reached the mountains, we were instantly engulfed in coastal fog and a big temperature drop from the high summer heat of the Central Valley.
A little after eleven, we reached the small oceanside town of Cachagua where we followed the road to the beach and parked our car in the public lot. Unfortunately, the fog had not lifted which I found a little disappointing. It was still incredibly beautiful yet I could only imagine how much more beautiful it would be with the sun out. My dad however was secretly pleased that it was cloudy because he had overdressed and would have been roasting if the sun was out.
We followed a narrow path down to the beach and I took in the smell of the ocean air. There was a gentle breeze and the mesmerizing sound of the waves lulled me to peace. I instantly pulled out my camera and took a few pictures of the shoreline. It was too bad it was cloudy yet perhaps the weather kept the people away. We had almost the entire beach to ourselves save the pelicans and sea gulls hovering overhead.
The main highlight of Cachagua is the stunning Isla Cachagua, a protected natural island sanctuary that is home to two breads of penguins (the Humboldt and Magellanic) as well as large pelicans, various varieties of ducks, gulls and sea otters. The island – also known as Penguin Island – is off limits and only viewable by boat or across the shore.
There is a lovely stone path called La Rambla that starts in Cachagua and winds around the coastline passing through the neighboring town of Las Cujas. You can even continue up onto the road or drive to the next big oceanside town of Zapallar. The path leads you right past Isa Cachagua, a beautiful quiet beach, and through tons of incredible ocean views on one side and beautiful summer homes and gardens on the other.
As we neared the island, I could see the tiny penguins off in the distance. It is best to bring a pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens if you want to see the penguins more closely. The entire island is covered in birds! It is quite amazing to see so many birds all in one tiny space. Apparently this island is one of the most important nesting habitats for the Humboldt penguins in all of Chile.
After we passed the island, the stone path began and I was impressed by the beautiful homes and colorful flowers lining the trail. Each house was set up high above the ocean on the cliff affording sensational views of the ocean below. Most of the homes were empty now as they await the arrival of their owners on the weekends or during the summer holiday months of January and February.
A lovely beach alongside the trail
We followed the trail for an hour or so and then turned around deciding we would drive to Zapallar. It was approaching lunch time and we wanted to make sure we’d arrive in time for a quick lunch before heading back to Santiago.
The flowers were so stunning and brightened up a cloudy, gray day.
We arrived back to the carpark at the beach just in time for lunch. Unfortunately we didn’t have our tour guide Nico with us and after thirty minutes of driving around Zapallar in search of the restaurant he recommended, we decided we were too hungry to wait. Instead we had a mediocre sandwich at a roadside cafe on the way out of town. Once again, I have another reason to come back!
If you go:
Cachagua is about a two hour drive from Santiago depending upon traffic. Park at the lot next to the beach “Playa” and head north towards Isla Cachagua where you can pick up the trail alongside the coast. Plan at least 1-2 hours (or more if you plan to hike to Zapallar, have lunch and walk back). You can also visit Papudo and hike up to the point at the top of the hill for an overview of the area. Don’t forget a good pair of binoculars!
Finally, a visit to Cachagua also makes a good day trip from Valparaiso as well.