When it comes to beach destinations, Chile might not instantly spring to mind. But this long, skinny country has a coastline that stretches for more than 4,270 kilometres. And along this impressive length of Pacific Ocean shore, there's no end of visit-worthy stretches of sand. Read on for our pick of the best beaches in Chile.
This northern nature reserve straddles the border of Antofagasta and the Atacama desert and features no less than 100,000 acres of beach. Four campsites offer the incredible experience of sleeping under the stars on impeccably white sand which is reason enough to place it high on your bucket list of beaches in Chile. Spread over more than 400 square kilometres, the park is home to a wealth of wildlife. Prepare to see guanacos (wild cousins of llama), foxes, otters and pelicans. Take a boat trip from the fishing village of La Caleta around the Isla Pan de Azúcar to see hundreds of Humboldt penguins.
Viña del Mar is one of the most upscale beach resorts in Chile. What's more, it has some of the best beaches in Chile near Santiago. This is where wealthy Santiaguinos come to relax. The main beaches are Playa las Salinas and Playa Reñaca. Playa las Salinas is a good choice for beach-goers with children. The beach is protected from the wind and strong currents by rocky headlands. While the waters are a bit rougher, you'll find more of a buzz at Playa Reñaca. Backed by exclusive apartment buildings, there's more than a touch of glamour to the cafes and boutiques on its promenade. Try to visit in February (that's high summer in this corner of the world) to catch the city's International Song Festival. This popular event is the longest-running music festival in the whole of Latin America.
While the majority of the coastline around the mystical and remote Easter Island is rocky, Playa Anakena is all soft white coral sands. Its calm waters make for ideal swimming conditions. Remember to bring a bathing suit, or you'll regret it! Framed by swaying coconut palms, it's hard to imagine a more beautiful setting for the island's iconic moai statues, the enigmatic figures carved by the Rapa Nui people. What's more, with traces of human settlement dating from as early as 1200 CE, Anakena is thought to be the oldest inhabited place on the island. More modern signs of life include a handy car park right at the entrance of the beach. You'll also find small kitchens serving local specialities such as tuna empanadas and po’e, a traditional dish made with pumpkin and flour.
Surrounded by the bone dry and desolate Atacama Desert, Bahía Ingles (English Bay) is right up there with the most striking beaches in Chile. It takes its name from the 17th century British pirates who sheltered here. No doubt they were drawn to it by the same features that make it popular today: its long stretch of white sand and warm waters. Those who want to do more than lounge on the sand can take part in all manner of water sports, from sailing and windsurfing to kitesurfing and kayaking. A little further to the south, Playa La Virgen is well worth a look too. Named for a Virgin Mary-shaped rock formation, locals believe the rock protects the area.
While the city of La Serena is technically a couple of kilometres from the coast, it's well known as a beach city par excellence. Named for its landmark lighthouse, Playa El Faro is the closest beach to town, and it's so big that even on hectic summer weekends you stand a good chance of claiming an isolated spot to lay your towel. Those with more time to adventure should head to the tiny island of Isla Damas to spend the day at Playa Las Tijeras. It's one of three islands that make up the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve and a day on the sand will be nicely complemented by a boat trip to spot these charming creatures.
Pucón's black volcanic beaches are scattered around the vast glacier lake of Villarrica. The most notable is Playa Grande which is overlooked by the snow-dusted cone of a still-active volcano. It's one of the most striking beaches in Chile. The beach walking distance from Pucón town and can get very busy in the summer. On the other hand, its accessible location means a beach day can be matched with dinner in town and a spot of shopping for indigenous Mapuche crafts. Pucón is Chile's adventure playground so consider taking a few days here to explore the region with guided hikes, mountain biking and rafting.
Top image: Anakena Beach © Karol Kozlowski / Shutterstock