Chile is such a long and thin country that it claims an astonishing 6435km (4000 miles) of coastline.
That means as you travel between Patagonia and the Atacama, you’ll find hundreds of beaches in all shapes and colors. Black-sand beaches lie on the edge of volcanoes, tree-lined beaches on the fringe of temperate rainforests and bone-white beaches on the margins of the desert.
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All are perfectly aligned for epic sunsets, and most have the kind of waves surfers dream about. Thanks to the Humboldt Current, which swoops up from Antarctica, the water is generally quite cold, but all it takes is a few pisco sours to work up the courage to dive in.
Here are Chile’s best beaches.
1. Bahía Inglesa
Bahía Inglesa boasts the most Caribbean-like waters you’ll find along the Chilean coast. In fact, the ocean here is so clear, mild and gemstone-green that you can almost trick yourself into believing you’re in the tropics – that is, until you glance back at the surrounding landscape.
This powdery white beach, squished among a series of huge boulders, lies on the edge of the world’s driest desert (the Atacama) with nary a patch of green in sight. What you’ll find instead is a small resort village lined in pisco bars, seafood shacks and breezy beach hotels, all of which give the place a singular allure.
Detour: Until just a couple of years ago, stunning Playa La Virgen, 46km (28.5 miles) south of Bahía Inglesa along a lovely coastal road, was a well-guarded treasure of just a few in-the-know Chileans. While the secret is now out, it’s worth a day trip or a couple of days’ stay at this little sliver of sandy paradise.
Tiny little Matanzas has an outsized reputation among Santiago hipsters, who have been relocating to this long gray-sand beach in droves. Perhaps it’s the legendary windsurfing and kiteboarding, which has captured the attention of the pros. Maybe it’s the nearby wineries, stellar seafood restaurants and architecturally ambitious hotels.
Whatever the reason, Matanzas draws plenty of visitors, but it still remains one of the most serene stretches of the Pacific coast within easy reach of the capital.
Planning Tip: Prices for accommodations are higher here than elsewhere along the coast, but you can expect top quality, trendy clientele and a great sense of design in all hotels.
Swim in the shadows of Rapi Nui’s famous moai statues at Anakena Beach © Eric Lafforgue / Lonely Planet
Most people assume Rapa Nui (Easter Island, a Chilean territory) looks a lot like its Polynesian cousins of Tahiti or Hawaii. But the reality is that this small, isolated island has just one substantial beach. Don’t worry, it’s a stunner!
Anakena is a perfect crescent of white sand backed by dozens of perky palms. What really makes it special is the beachside platform with seven human-like moai statues. Some have pukao (stone topknots) while others have lost their faces amid the turbulence that befell this island around the time of European contact.
Low-key Buchupureo has an alluring back-to-nature vibe with its labyrinth of rocky sea caves, colonies of barking sea lions and hills of leafy trails. Of course, the biggest draw is the world-class barreling left-hand point break offshore, which lures surfers from near and far.
Find dozens more breaks to explore along the coast between the neighboring surf towns of Cobquecura (to the south) and Pullay (to the north). There are also plenty of surf lodges, earthy cabins and inviting hostels to return to each evening.
Take a hike or horseback-ride to Chiloé’s Cole Cole beach © Antonio Salinas L. / Getty Images
5. Playa Cole Cole
Tucked away in a remote corner of a national park on Chile’s largest island, Cole Cole is the stuff of backpacker legends. To reach it, you must first hike 15.8km (9.8 miles) one way through the lush temperate rainforests of Chiloé’s western coast, crossing knee-deep streams that snake beneath towering coihue and alerce trees.
Planning Tip: Most tramp through the woods with camping gear and supplies for an unforgettable evening out in the wild, but you can also turn the trip into a horseback-riding adventure by hiring a huaso guide in Cucao.
6. Caleta Cóndor
Ask a Chilean to name the prettiest beach in the country and you might just hear whispers about this low-profile cove near Osorno. With its crescent of white sand, placid turquoise waters and shady green trees, it certainly looks the part.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to visit. You’ll need to strap on a backpack and hike through the rainforest to experience it. Caleta Cóndor lies in the Indigenous Territorio Mapu Lahual and was the birthplace of Chile’s Burning Man-esque Festival Nómade (which has since moved to nearby Manquemapu).
Isla Negra is a lovely town with other family-friendly beaches nearby © ampueroleonardo / Getty Images
7. Isla Negra
This idyllic artist colony of Isla Negra is a charming, family-friendly beach town about a 90-minute drive from Santiago. Enjoy serene walks along the boulder-lined coast while following in the footsteps of the late Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, who constructed his dream home here. Now a museum, it’s got the kind of madcap architecture and eclectic furnishings that are ripped right off the pages of a fairy tale.
Planning Tip: Isla Negra is also perfectly situated for trips to kid-friendly beaches such as El Canelillo or Algarrobo, the latter of which is home to the largest swimming pool on earth.
Want to hobnob with Chile’s rich and famous? Zapallar is a family-friendly beach about a two-hour drive from the capital where TV stars, winery owners and business moguls retreat each weekend for some R&R. That’s because Zapallar boasts a unique microclimate that makes it the greenest cove on the Central Coast with leafy streets lined in million-dollar vacation homes.
Prices are high, but so too is the quality you’ll find at seafood restaurants and boutique hotels lining a perfect crescent of golden sand.
9. Playa Cavancha
Playa Cavancha makes a perfect launchpad for trips into the lesser-visited northern half of the Atacama Desert. Located in Iquique, the regional capital, this urban beach is packed with food vendors, playgrounds and a row of family-friendly resort hotels set just back from a park-lined boardwalk.
Come nightfall, all the high-rise buildings lining the beach light up in a rainbow of colors as residents embark on their evening strolls.