An unexpected discovery one hour from Santiago: one of the most beautiful beaches

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Tunquen Beach near Santiago Chile with Seagull Flying Over

I’ve lived here long enough to know it all… right?

We lead our lives secure in the knowledge that we’ve seen it all around our own ‘hood. We believe there is nothing left to explore, unless we head out to the opposite side of the globe. Then someone fresh arrives to ask:

What? You haven’t been to this café around the block? These guys roast the best coffee in your neighborhood. It’s a must!

Life experience has reinforced my belief that there are new, amazing discoveries waiting just around every corner of your life’s routine. Embrace the world around you like it’s uncharted territory: all that’s required is to have eyes and ears wide open.

We lived in Santiago, Chile for a few months before realizing how close we were to one of the most beautiful, abundant beaches in this part of the world—and yet also one of the least known.

This adventure started with a humble attempt to recruit at least four or five friends for a quick beach getaway in early spring. At first I had trouble getting people on board, but we eventually had to turn down requests as the house we rented filled to capacity. And then we discovered something truly amazing, something hiding just in front of our noses.

The video below is a courtesy of ASP production. So enjoy.

Tunquen weekend video

 

Tourist attractions, or world explorer’s distractions?

If you ask anyone in Santiago to recommend a nearby beach, you will consistently hear the same two answers. Half the people you ask will speak enthusiastically about Vina del Mar, and another half about Valparaiso, which is essentially the same thing.

Night view over Vina Del Mar from RenacaThe photo above was taken from a 20th floor balcony in Concon, looking towards Vina Del Mar. It looks and feels great!

But…

You need to realize….

Vina Del Mar is a major attraction for anyone coming from the east, the north, the south… did I miss the west? Well, there is only New Zealand to the west of Vina del Mar, but it’s 6,000 miles across the Pacific. Not every kiwi will make it that far.

Vina del Mar and the surrounding area is a summer playground for all kind of people, carrying all kinds of passports, coming from all kids of social circles, from the metropolitan areas of Chile to Argentina and Brazil, and beyond.

What the hell is Tunquén?

A very small handful of the people you asked, though, would tell you about a small beach town south of Valparaiso called Tunquén. Historically, Tunquén was a refuge for artists looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Santiago. Now it mostly consists of vacation homes sitting on a bluff above an incredibly beautiful beach, or scattered over the hillside adjacent to a pine forest.

Abundant beach of Tunquen

Tunquén residents have developed a self-sustaining community that produces its own energy and water, and deals with its own waste.

Some of the recently built structures serve as examples of contemporary architecture, and very fine examples at that:

Topcliff House in Tunquen

… or take this one, designed by Grupo-7:

Tunquen Residence by Grupo 7

The show begins

My Canadian friend Alain was visiting us in Santiago and we were looking for a quick weekend getaway. My intention was to find a short-term house rental for ten to twelve people, somewhere near a surf break. I was looking at options in Concon and Renaca but this Light House With Garden in Tunquén Comuna de Algarrobo caught my attention. As I started reading about the area I learned that the Playa de Tunquen could be surfable. That proved to be the only hope left unfulfilled by this fantastic weekend trip.

For a group our size, we needed to rent a van. In the United States, a regular rental minivan seats up to eight people—if you have more friends than that, good luck. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that in Chile, every car rental company offers vans seating up to fourteen people. The most economical option I found, also offering a very convenient pick-up option, was Chilean Rent a Car, with offices in the Bellavista and Las Condes barrios of Santiago.

So off we went to discover something unknown.

Google Maps does not give you good directions once you start navigating small coast roads in Chile. Based on the owner’s instructions, though, we finally found the artist’s house we had rented, within a gated community on an unpaved road winding through the forest. It was quiet and fairly isolated.

We enjoyed some great moments sharing the space and food during the day.

Teh artist's house in Tunquen commmunity

By evening we were the only ones out on the hill, disturbing the peace with a BBQ and marshmallow feast running late into the night.

Having marshmallow BBQ in Tunquen

 

It’s worth mentioning that there is a better-known beach town about 17km south of Tunquen. The neighboring town of Algarrobo is much more developed, and boasts a few attractions of the sort you’d expect from a seaside resort town.

Algarrobo is known for the world’s largest swimming pool. It’s a kilometer long, covers 20 acres, and contains 250 million liters of filtered seawater from the Pacific Ocean. It’s hard to justify the existence a pool so huge that maintenance costs run to almost $4M USD annually. Nevertheless, it’s worth checking out.

The worlds largest swimming pool Algarrobo

 

Algarrobo is also the place you go to stock up on food supplies. We went to a market near the gas station to pick up some fresh fish for the grill. Fish merchants there will fillet you a whole fish in a matter of seconds. They put on a great show, slicing it down quickly with two massive knives.

 

Time killed outside is time well spent

The following morning, we set off to explore the area and get our hands sandy at the main attraction. The enormous beach we found at the end of the road exceeded all our expectations.

Panoramic ocean view from Tunquen community

We spent a few afternoon hours occupying ourselves with some silly stuff. Some practiced their bouldering skills on slippery, algae-covered rocks:

Climbing on the slippery rock at Tunquen playa

Then ran around scaring the crap out of the seagulls:

Scaring off the birds on the playa de Tunquen

 

Nothing would stop the bravest and the strongest of us from experiencing an early-spring swim. (The quantities of beer consumed the previous night should also be taken into account.) Chile’s coastal waters may be turquoise, but don’t get fooled thinking that they’re warm. The average water temperature is 12C / 56F year-round. Anyone would find this refreshing. This beach also features a very strong rip current, so it’s necessary to be cautious about venturing into the open sea.

Swimming at la playa de Tunquen

Some would take clever pictures of the cave hole:

Circling cave openning

And others would shoot a silly photo of the clever photographer:

Silly photo of a clever photographer

 

My wife got inspired by Steve McCurry’s photography and produced some close replicas:

Steve McCurry replica

Dragging giant kelp around was also fun. It weighs much more than one would expect. No wonder, since there is so much healthy stuff in it 🙂

Caring kelp around

The Chilean coast is famous for its sea kelp, also known as cochayuyo or simply cocha weed. Locals harvest it and then sell it restaurants, where it’s turned into one of the most delicious salsas I’ve ever tried. The best batch I’ve had was at Pepi restaurant at Punta de Lobos, near Pichilemu.

There’s no shortage of cochayuyo in Chile. The stuff practically comes crawling out of the water.

Giant kelp on the beach at Tunquen

 

It was very amusing scaring my friends by pretending that the kelp was moving around like a sea creature, beached on shore but still alive. Just look at these priceless facial expressions 🙂

Scare moving giant kelp

 

That was one of those perfect weekends, getting out of Santiago, having fun and getting energized from nature. At the end of the day, you just sit on a rock, enjoying the surf break, dreaming of how cool would it be to live right here on top of this cliff.

Sitting on the rock at playa Tunquen

 

Do you have any stories to share about your own unexpected discoveries?

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