Who would have thought that surfing would influence our year of family travel? Before entering South America only Michael had ever been on a wave, and his board had been gathering dust in his sister’s garage for twelve years. It was in Trancoso, when our friend recommended surf lessons with local teacher, Romualdo, that our kids fell in love with the sport and Michael attempted to relearn all he’d forgotten.
After nearly four weeks spent on the Uruguayan coast, none of us could imagine life far from a surf break. When it came time to pick a destination in Chile, Google decided for us. Enter ‘top Chilean surf towns’ and one rises above all others — Pichilemu and its legendary break, Punta de Lobos—‘El Capital del Surf.’
Granted, not one of us was skilled or knowledgeable enough to appreciate the grandeur of this world-class surf break, but the charm and natural beauty of the surrounding central Chilean coast was unmistakable. When we arrived in early December yellow wild flowers were in bloom all over the hills and meadows, the land was drowned in every shade of green and the sun shone brightly nearly every day. We ate empanadas on the black sand beaches, played in the myriad rock tide pools and tried our best to surf the frigid Pacific waters. It’s fair to say we were completely unqualified to surf here, but we were welcomed into the water by every person in it. The waves dealt us many lessons in humility but we kept coming back for more of the Pacific’s tough love.
Not every day was a surf day. Often the waves were too big for us, the current too strong or the morning fog too thick to inspire a beach day. On those occasions we made our way inland and explored the surrounding countryside, villages and towns. It’s virtually impossible to find ‘Best of’ lists for this part of Chile. The Internet is remarkably short on ideas for activities beyond the water. Thankfully we persisted. We asked around, made friends with some locals, met kindred travelling spirits — Adam, Emily and family from Our Open Road— and found a local guide, Oceanos Chile. After three weeks we left still wanting to do and see more.
We’ve compiled a list of our favourite things from Pichilemu and the surrounding area below. We’ve also sworn to return to this beautiful country with its warm people and cold waters. We’re particularly interested in exploring the south, areas like Chiloé Island, where we’re told the local arts and crafts are especially beautiful, and of course the Atacama, Andes and Patagonia. Hmm, maybe we need to extend this journey a bit…!
Best of Pichilemu (and the surrounding area):
- Surf huts on the beach in Punta de Lobos (inexpensive wetsuit and surfboard rentals from super friendly people!)
- Beach vendors, Punta de Lobos. A stream of vendors walk up and down the beach offering Chilean specialties, from sweet to savoury. On weekends food trucks offer even more choice. An especially kind woman named Marisol sold the most delicious whole wheat vegetarian empanadas and delicious fresh juices (strawberry and mint, lime & ginger, etc.)
- Pichilemu Farmers Market (Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9am to 2pm). Get your week’s worth of veg here.
- Cardumen Cafe for coffee and homemade ice cream with special Chilean flavours like ‘Harina Tostada’ or ‘Manjar.’
- Fereria market stalls in Pichilemu for stickers, postcards, wool socks and souvenirs.
- La Quilla food market for groceries, the wine shop next door for great local wines, and Cosas Ricas for delicious kuchen and Pastel Jaiba (all located in the same square)
- ‘Los Guapitos’ verdulería (vegetable stand) in Pichilemu, when you can’t make the Farmers Market.
- Surf Lessons and Guided Tours from Oceanos Chile
- Stop by the ‘Roadside stalls’ selling strawberries, blueberries, olives, olive oil, jams and much more.
- The town of Santa Cruz
- The Colchagua Museum, Santa Cruz (SO interesting!! we could have spent several days here as there is so much to see)
- Artisan shops leaving Santa Cruz en route to Lolol — Find handmade Chilean hats, rugs and ponchos
- Any of the vineyards in Santa Cruz. We chose to tour the Viña Santa Cruz which has some cultural exhibits and a gondola (see previous post)
- The little village of Cáhuil, the salt flats and the markets (see previous post)
- Pottery in Pañul (see previous post)
- Surfing in Puertecillo (see previous post)
- Chocolan Palm Forests in La Campana National Park. We didn’t make it here as it was a bit too far to drive, but it has one of the few remaining Chilean palm forests.
- Museum in the little town of Ciruelos. Still on our to-do list, this charming little museum is curated by a local teacher.
- La Loba – delicious ‘slow food’ (open only on weekends when we visited)
- Alaia hotel (the kids loved watching the surfers from our dining table!)
- Pulpo for pizzas, Chilean style
- La Famiglia in Santa Cruz – not particularly charming but the most authentically Italian food we found in the area. The pizzas are made in a wood fired oven and had a distinctly Napolitano quality to them.