Crashing waves. Volcanic sand beaches. A frosty pisco sour. Welcome to the Pacific coast of Chile!
With most of the country along the coast, a road trip along western edge of Chile has dozens of opportunities to pull over and enjoy a sweeping ocean view, or stop for a few hours and explore a small town. Here are my favorite 5 stops for a lunch or dinner with a view–ocean spray optional!
Valparaiso–Casa de Cuatro Vientos
You won’t forget your first trip to the rolling, raucous, vividly-colored Valparaiso, affectionately known as Valpo. In fact, I first visited the city on a day trip from Santiago three years ago, and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I fell in love with this eclectic city from the top of one of the city’s many hills, or cerros, accessible via small funiculars, or acensors–a must for any visit to Valpo. Hopping on the Acensor Artillería, one of 16 funiculars, a short ride ($300 CLP/person) takes you to the top of the hill and the Paseo de 21 de Mayo, a small plaza with a sweeping view of the colorful hills full of seemingly precariously-stacked houses next to the water. Turning left as you leave the acensor, head down the stairs towards the bright blue house perched above the acensor railways. Stop in at the Casa de Cuatro Vientos for a breathtaking view of the city as you enjoy a refreshing maracuya (passionfruit) mojito and a tapas-style menu. There’s plenty to watch as you munch, from the cranes lifting shipping containers onto cargo ships, the ever-moving acensor, and ships arriving to the port. And the interior of the restaurant is just as interesting–the weather Victorian exterior reveals a carefully-restored interior of exposed wooden beams and
stained glass windows.
Hanga Roa–Pea Restobar
Okay, so this one is a bit farther than a day trip from Santiago. In fact, just getting to Ranga Roa requires a five-hour plane flight from Santiago–this small town is nestled on Rapa Nui, known in English as Easter Island and in Spanish as Isla de Pascua. Taking a cab, bus or rental car into town, you can’t miss Pea Restobar in the center of town, opposite from the small boat harbor and line of scuba diving shops. Perched over the harbor, you can enjoy a 360-view of the vast Pacific Ocean and reflect on arriving in one of the most remote inhabited island in the world, 2,182 miles away from the mainland. But the highlight of this restaurant isn’t even the ocean view! Sit on the outdoor deck so you can spend your meal keeping one eye on the water–sea turtles are known to frequent the harbor, cruising the waves for a meal and delighting snorkelers. While we enjoyed a couple of beers and a light dinner, we spotted four sea turtles, one the size of a boogieboard–the largest I’d ever seen! At one point, a woman carrying a large armful of bright green seaweed waded out into the waves….and began hand feeding the turtles! If you’re not a snorkeler or a diver, this is your opportunity to see sea turtles in the wild!
Isla Negra–El Rincon de La Poeta
Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda’s works have been celebrated around the world and translated into hundreds of languages–but his winding career path and unique perspective on life are the most intriguing aspects of this famous Chilean. Get a glimpse into the man–and the women–behind the exquisite love poetry, by visiting his lovingly-restored homes in Santiago, Valparaiso and Isla Negra. Led through La Chascona in Santiago years ago, I became entranced with the creative motivations for each aspect of the house. Neruda was in love with the sea, but afraid to swim, so he made his homes into ships: running water canals around the house, using old wood from ships in the floor to mimic the creaking of wooden frigates, and decorating his offices as captain’s studies full of maps and nautical prints. Actually located on the coast, Isla Negra was his favorite home–and undoubtedly the most impressive. Set above jagged rocks covered in sinuous seaweed tossed by crashing waves, the grounds of the home set the stage for an incredible, marine-inspired interior. After your tour of the home, treat yourself to a glass of Chilean Carmenere wine, a likely subject of Neruda’s Ode to Wine. Carmenere was thought to have been obliterated from France due to disease in the 1800s, only to be rediscovered in Chile decades later–and thank goodness, because it’s muy rico (very delicious)!
Las Cruces–Puesta de Sol
If you’re looking for a quiet oceanside retreat with a small town and accessible beach, Las Cruces is your spot. We spent a few days there over the holidays and enjoyed walking through the rolling streets and exploring neighboring towns, heading to the three restaurants along the water in the evenings. All seem to have similar seafood-based menus, so we chose based on location—ending up at Puesta del Sol, set on the rocks closest to the water. Outdoor tables let you take in the expansive sunset, as well as watch kids try their luck at surfing. Enjoy a crisp pisco sour (grape brandy), and a plate of machas parmesanas, local clams baked in parmesan cheese that you can top with a squeeze of lemon and a spoonful of aji pebre, a savory pepper sauce.
As with Las Cruces, for surf town Pichilemu, menus tend to run along the same lines of Chilean seafood and meat staples, so choose your evening spot based on location! Along Costanera sits three restaurants side-by-side along the coast–we chose Kupal, the first of the three. Guaranteed an ocean-view, you’ll find you’re even closer when you walk out to the patio and your feet hit sand. Find a table on the deck and settle in for a perfect sunset with a refreshing bottle of white wine. In fact, just leave behind your shoes like we did and take your wine glass out to the closest dune for a sandy, tranquil sunset.
There’s no better way to end a day than watching the sunset with good food and good company. These spots will add a spark to your road trip along Chile’s coast–and hope you find your own hidden hideouts along the water! Happy travels!