Chile is one of South America’s most beautiful and alluring countries to visit, rich in culture and scenic splendor. Though Chile is only about 110 miles wide, the country extends over 2,653 miles from north to south. That leaves a lot of coastlines to be explored.
Chile offers a great number of coastal towns. If you are exploring by car, these towns can be easily accessed by driving up and down the Pacific coast. Even without a car, some of Chile’s most stunning coastal towns can also be reached by public transport from Santiago.
Vina del Mar is a popular destination for both foreign and local vacationers, and has been since the 1800s. You need only take a bus directly from Santiago for around one and a half hours to reach the town, where you can enjoy the beach and boardwalks combined with the usual resort-style entertainment.
Despite Vina del Mar being a crowded place, it still maintains a certain charm. Handmade crafts, markets, and sand sculptures all add to a delightful sense of being on vacation. The summer months are especially vibrant, and PokerStars runs regular events at the beachside Casino Enjoy, including an eight-day festival in the popular Chilean city.
If you want to be farther away from the maddening crowds, Chile still has plenty to offer. About 100 miles to the north of Santiago lies Cachagua, a small town with a two-mile long unspoiled beach perfect for a bit of surfing. Nearby Zapallar is an even more secluded town that can offer as much tranquility as Cachagua, along with a splendid coastal trail to hike and take in unmissable ocean views.
In the south, Algarrobo is a good choice, with its expansive golden sands that are normally free from the usual flocks of people. The area is situated in an alcove, providing excellent bays for boating and swimming. The San Alfonso resort is located here and boasts the largest swimming pool in the world, but there are many other options available for accommodations as well.
If you are looking for the ultimate sense of peace and quiet, head to the Pan de Azucar — a beachside national park in the Atacama Desert — where you won’t find any of the usual resorts or hotels. In fact, technically, this place is not a town, and accommodations involve pitching tents or staying in cabanas for a few dollars a night.
If you want to get more of a sense of Chilean culture, Valparaiso is a highly praised city that has earned UNESCO world heritage status and is well worth a visit. "Valpo" is best explored on foot, so you can get lost and wander around the streets as you stumble upon flea markets, shops, and giant murals. The city also has a great nightlife with bars open until the early hours of the morning. It may be a little rough around the edges, but that is definitely part of Valparaiso’s appeal.
Arica is another awesome choice for its authenticity. The northwest port town has year-round sunshine and nearby beaches to soak up the sun, not to mention a relaxed vibe that instantly takes the edge off of life.
For Americans traveling for recreation, there is no need to obtain a visa prior to visiting Chile. A valid passport will give you access to a 90-day tourist visa, which can be extended if desired. The easiest way to get to Chile from New Orleans is to make your way to Atlanta, either by car or flight from the Louis Armstrong International Airport. From there, you can fly directly to Santiago, Chile’s capital city.