Colorful boats lined up on a sandy beach in Horcón, Chile.

Horcón, Chile. Photo © Hector Garcia, licensed Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike.

Map of Chilean Heartland

Chilean Heartland

From the Viña del Mar suburb of Concón to Papudo, the northern beach towns offer visitors the same general sorts of attractions, but they are not quite cookie-cutter resorts. In fact, in terms of clientele, there is considerable diversity among them.


Contiguous to Viña del Mar but politically separate, Concón has been a holiday destination since construction of a coastal highway and the first beach houses in 1917. From Reñaca, Avenida Borgoño follows the coastline past Playa Amarilla, the preferred beach for swimmers and sunbathers; Playa Negra gets body-boarders.

Concón’s greatest appeal, though, is the gaggle of seafood restaurants along Avenida Borgoño, such as Playa La Boca’s La Perla del Pacífico (Av. Borgoño 25007, tel. 032/2812330).

Quintero and Vicinity

About 16 kilometers north of the Río Aconcagua, a paved road heads west to Quintero, a working-class isthmian beach town that once was Lord Cochrane’s hacienda (the writer Maria Graham was Cochrane’s guest during the 1822 earthquake). Before turning inland to Quillota and La Campana, Darwin rode here to see “the great beds of shells, which stand some yards above the level of the sea, and are burnt for lime.” A few kilometers south, Chilean surfing got its start at the hamlet of Ritoque.

For family-style dining, Quintero has a score or more of seafood picadas (informal, family-run restaurants) lining 21 de Mayo, but it lacks any accommodations worth mentioning.

Las Ventanas

Across Bahía Quintero, in what otherwise appears to be an industrial sacrifice area with a major power plant, the Estero de Puchuncaví is a wetland reserve that appears to be an environmental mitigation project. Just to its north, at the tiny fishing port of Las Ventanas, salvage crews have finally finished pulling scrap metal off a grounded LPG tanker whose rusting rim barely sticks above the water. Despite the coal-fired power plant nearby, this is one of the north coast’s primo surfing spots.


About five kilometers north of Las Ventanas, on its namesake harbor and off the main highway, the community of Horcón is a combination fishing port and artists’ colony with a holdover reputation as a hippie hideaway. Its single main street dead-ends at the small but sheltered beach, where fisherfolk sell their catch directly to waterfront picadas (informal, family-run restaurants).

Just to the south, Playa Cau Cau was a onetime nude beach that is now a more conventional destination for sunbathers, surfers, and swimmers. The only remaining nude beach is Playa La Luna, immediately south.


At Maitencillo, 12 kilometers north of Horcón, rocky outcrops along Avenida del Mar separate the long sandy beaches of Playa Aguas Blancas and Playa Larga, among the region’s best.

Maitencillo’s dominant tourist institution, though, is the sprawling Marbella Resort (Km 35, Carretera Concón-Zapallar, tel. 032/2772020, US$260 s, US$280 d), which also has more expensive apartments for rent. Occupying most of the broad hilltop above Avenida del Mar, Marbella is an all-inclusive resort with a conference center, restaurants, and bars, with recreational facilities that include swimming pools and tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course, a 9-hole par 3, and polo grounds (Chile has few public golf courses, but guests can play here). For everything it offers, the rates are not excessive, and there’s a variety of weekend and weeklong packages; for more details contact Marbella’s Santiago headquarters (La Concepción 81, Oficina 303, tel. 02/4385300).


Filled with Santiaguino weekenders, 10 kilometers north of Maitencillo, Cachagua is an upscale village where kids ride docile ponies and plump burros over hardpacked sandy roads. There are no accommodations, but the beachfront restaurant Los Coirones, reached via a staircase at the south end of Avenida Los Eucaliptos, is a good lunch alternative.

Opposite the west end of the beach, bring binoculars to view the Humboldt penguins and other seabirds at Conaf’s Monumento Natural Isla Cachagua, separated from the mainland by a 100-meter channel. Measuring only 300 by 150 meters, the nearly barren granitic island harbors a population of roughly 700 Humboldt penguins. There are also brown pelicans, cormorants, oystercatchers, Dominican gulls, and other birds, while sea lions and otters (which subsist on shellfish) frolic offshore. While divers take some sea urchins and other shellfish, the human disturbance is minimal.


Three kilometers north of Cachagua and 80 kilometers from Viña del Mar, curving tree-lined streets nearly block the view of the ocean at Zapallar (population 5,700), originally part of Francisco Javier Ovalle’s Hacienda Catapilco. After inheriting the property in 1884 and making a tour of European beach resorts, Ovalle’s son Olegario began to give away lots to his friends on the condition that they build houses within two years, and Zapallar quickly became an outpost of monied Santiaguinos.

The 1906 earthquake destroyed many early buildings, but Zapallar’s inhabitants rebuilt with a vengeance, creating some of the coast’s largest, most elegant properties. Now a zona típica national monument, Zapallar is an eclectic mix of colonial-style houses, neo-Gothic mansions, and fashionably rustic villas, on large lots with extensive gardens. The Rambla, a broad footpath, follows the coastline.

Many founding families still own properties here. Among the notable mansions are those of Manuel Vicuña Subercaseaux (1912) and Carlos Aldunate Solar (1915), both designed by Josué Smith Solar; the extravagant castle of painter Álvaro Casanova; and María Luisa MacClure’s Bavarian-style Casa Hildesheim.

Directly on the highway, the 42-room Hotel Isla Seca (Camino Costero s/n, tel. 033/741224, US$194– 399 s or d) consists of two separate structures a short distance apart. Despite the roadside location, traffic is not heavy and most of the rooms face the ocean and have balconies. Some have whirlpool tubs. There’s also a handsome bar/ restaurant. Rates fall in winter and during the week, but rise in summer and on weekends.

On the beachfront César (Rambla s/n, tel. 033/741507) is an upscale seafood restaurant with outdoor as well as indoor seating. To the south, reached either by the curving Rambla or by road, Chiringuito (Caleta de Zapallar s/n, tel. 033/741024) has better views, more charm (with its crushed-shell terrace and asymmetrical tables), and even fresher fish straight off the boat.

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Chile.