OYOP: Beach getaway in Vina del Mar, Chile
There is something about being near sand and ocean in any part of the world that turns you right into a beach bum.
We had already been easing into a slower-paced lifestyle since arriving in Chile, starting with the desert, then in the artsy town of Valparaiso where the entire city is up late into the evening and nothing is open before 10:00am. Well, I assume. Since we were barely up for breakfast at that time, I couldn’t be absolutely sure. In Chile in the middle of summer, the sun doesn’t set until around 9:00pm, when it is just starting to feel like evening. Thus, you are inevitably awake late at night and not really even starting the next day until noon. Taking the short bus ride from Valparaiso to the beach town of Vina del Mar just exaggerated this schedule even more.
Vina del Mar is a weekend beach getaway town. The streets are bustling with smiling people enjoying restaurants that all offer outdoor seating, cheap “soda fountains” with quick eats, sun and ocean. The beaches are not all along the coast, however. There are long stretches of sidewalks from which you can view the water from above, and fewer and farther between, there are small areas of sandy beach. In the beach areas, there is no swimming allowed, and almost no one is in their bathing suits. People are just spending time on the sand with family and friends or out walking their dogs. There are many tents lined up along the beaches where you can buy clothes, beach toys, and souvenirs. Other tents are food stands selling chorros filled with manjar, the Chilean dulce de leche, or selling salchipapa, fries topped with sausage. We spent hours walking to visit the different beaches spread out along the coast.
Another great part of Vina del Mar is the sushi. Over the past two months, we have been easing our way into eating certain foods. We only starting eating uncooked vegetables about a month into the trip. We had fish for the first time in Valparaiso just a few days ago. Now, we felt ready and excited for sushi, and this was the first place we had really seen it as an option. There were so many sushi restaurants here that in the nearest commercial center from our hostel, about a 10 minute walk away, there were four to choose from. On our first night, James walked there to get us sushi to go, and came back with a 60-piece meal. I knew he would go overboard, but I didn’t know it would be with 60 pieces of sushi. Fortunately, we found out that many of the pieces were as small as a regular roll cut into eighths. It was a glorious meal, and we even almost finished it. We frequented this popular spot in our short time in Vina, and I think I got my sushi fix for a while.
Vina del Mar is a short bus ride away from many other small coastal towns, so we wanted to check out at least one more town while we were here. We hopped on a bus on our second day to a town called Horcon, about 45 kilometers away, but an hour and a half bus ride because of all of the stops on endless small streets to pick up and drop off passengers along the way.
We heard about a nice beach in the area and from what we had read, we only knew we needed to get dropped off from the bus in the small town of Horcon, go straight from the road to the Horcon beach, and then walk along the beach for a half hour because you couldn’t get there directly from the road. The quickest way to the Horcon beach we could see was to walk past the security gate of a resort. We tried to look like resort material and easily walked in without any questions despite what James’ hair is looking like these days. The resort was so gorgeous, unlike anything we had seen in South America so far, that we almost ditched our beach plans to stay at the swimming pool on the property instead. But we decided to continue on not knowing it would have been much easier to be lounging by the pool. Once we got to the Horcon beach, it was clear that walking along the beach wouldn’t mean a gentle stroll in the sand. There was actually only a short stretch of beach with soft sand, and then the landscape changed so drastically we questioned whether there was really another beach in any direction. We were in our sandals since we assumed we’d be promenading barefoot in the sand not going on a rocky hike. We walked a short time on dark sand filled with rocks and sharp shell fragments and realized we’d be better off with our shoes on. The rest of the way we were climbing on large boulders and balancing on rows of millions of perfectly round rocks angling down into the water. None of it was easy, and after the half hour, we were still not in sight of an upcoming beach. But now there was no turning back. We were on an adventure.
We continued walking on rows and rows of rocks, and as the time passed, we could see glimpses of a wide open space filled with sand in the distance. After another half hour, we were giddy to discover in the end that the beach was real. There were even a few dozen others who had committed to finding this lovely, secret beach. It was the most beautiful beach around with the least amount of people, and it looked like it was going to be worth the extra effort. Neither of us exactly have the ideal skin for soaking up the sun, so we rented an umbrella to lay at least somewhat protected in the shade and caked on loads of the sunscreen we bought in preparation. We hadn’t noticed, however, when we bought the sunscreen that it was carrot based, so instead of already just sticking out so pale among all of the lovely tan-skinned Chileans, we also had hundreds of shreds of glowing orange carrot bits smothered all over our pasty white skin.
We left in time with the intention to get back to Vina before dark, but we didn’t know we would need to take into account the high tide in the late afternoon. Suddenly, the walk back along the rocks and boulders became much more difficult than before. We were hanging onto cliff sides when the powerful high tide came rushing by with a new offering of wet rocks to knock into our shins and cover our feet, and we were timing short stints over trickier rocks with the waves. It took us an hour and a half to walk back to the resort, and we arrived soaked from the waist down, arms and legs full of rocks and sand, and smelling strongly of the fishy ocean water, although otherwise unharmed. When we got to the Horcon beach, it was packed with people and surfers. It was much louder, more crowded, and less pleasant than the gem of a beach we had found further out. Despite the arduous trip, we left with smiles in the end.
With so much excitement taken in the day before, we just bummed around the last day of our Vina del Mar trip, because that’s what beach bums do, and it seemed like the right town to take a break in, get some sun, and eat way too much sushi.