You may have heard about the Atacama desert in northern Chile. This tremendous desert plateau in South America covers a 1,600 km (990 mi) strip of land on the Pacific coast, West of the Andes mountains. You may have seen some of its classic postcards, with giant volcanoes and stunning geysers. But I bet you haven’t seen its incredible coastline!
While most travelers aim to San Pedro de Atacama - the most popular tourist destination in the Atacama desert - fewer people go to the Southern area of the desert, where you will find the most impressive beaches in Chile. In the driest desert on Earth, you will encounter some turquoise blue waters and family-friendly seaside resorts.
Here’s a small guide to help you find your dream beach in Chile, in an area that stretches from Pán de Azucar National Park to Huasco. Vamos a la playa!
1. Pan de Azúcar
In this vast National Park, there is plenty of wildlife - including foxes and guanacos. Here, the sandy hills overlook the vastness of the Pacific ocean. This is a great area for hiking, with photogenic spots to capture the cacti and plant life of the desert with the sea as a backdrop. The beaches of Pan de Azúcar National Park are really stunning, but only recommended for adventurous travelers.
2. Bahía Inglesa
Often compared with the Caribbean, the blue waters of Bahía Inglesa are popular amongst Chileans. And while the waters of the Pacific ocean are not particularly warm, I bet you will want to take a bath in one of the natural pools or simply bask in the sun on the shiny white sand. Bahía Inglesa is a very accessible place (there is an airport nearby and a small tourist city where you will find everything you need) that is great for water sports, namely for sailing, surfing , kayaking or windsurfing.
3. Playa Chorillos
While driving 20 minutes south of Bahía Inglesa, you will reach the hidden beach of Chorillos. The dramatic cliffs and nearby hills offer some epic views of this wild beach, with a long stretch of grey sand. The area tends to be a bit windy, but it is definitely a must-do if you want to capture the mesmerizing beauty of the Atacama coastline. In addition, few people know this beach, so you may have the landscape for yourself.
4. Playa la Virgen
Near Bahía Inglesa (a one-hour drive to the south), you will find one of the most colorful beaches in Chile : Playa la Virgen. The soft white sand and blue-green waters make it a very photogenic spot and a dream place to relax in the Atacama desert. To get there, you will have to drive through the desert (a 4WD is highly recommended!) for a few miles, before you reach a parking lot. An easy walk will take you to this small beach with palm trees and sun loungers.
5. Playa Blanca (Llanos de Challe)
Llanos de Challe National Park is one of the southernmost national parks in the Atacama Desert and a biodiversity hotspot, with one of the greatest populations of guanacos in the continent. The area is popular amongst Chileans after it rains in the desert (which usually happens once every 5 years, though some places have never recorded rainfall), as this dry place experiences an incredible flower bloom.
It is less famous for its beautiful sandy beaches, such as Playa Blanca. However, this remote beach may be one of the most peculiar beaches in the country, with turquoise blue waters and beautiful mountains covered with sand. If you’re looking for an experience that mixes nature observation, hiking and beach vacation, Llanos de Challe national park is a great idea.
How to get there?
To get to the Bahía Inglesa area (to access all of these beaches), you can fly from Santiago de Chile to Caldera (a 2-hour flight). You can also drive from Santiago to Bahía Inglesa while driving through Copiapó, which is an 8-hour trip.
Alternatively, you can take a bus from Santiago de Bahía Inglesa, an 11-hour trip. But I can only recommend hiring a car if you want to make the most of your time in this beautiful area of the Atacama desert.