With Pichilemu famed for its waves and pro surf competitions, I braced myself for pretentious surf shops, hot Australians everywhere and the feeling that everyone would be slightly cooler than me.
I was surprised by my own disappointment when I experienced none of the above. Where were all the beautiful people?
Photo by Rebecca Novell
Pichilemu's sprawl renders it neither a surf haven such as British Columbia's Tofino, nor a brazen international surf mecca like Byron Bay, Australia or even Newquay, Cornwall. A 259 km journey south of Santiago, the beaches in Pichilemu are packed with local families.
While more surfers might ride into town for autumn competitions like the
APT World Cup Tour, it could never feel like a "surf town" for lack of good clothing shops, decent beach bars and those little surf cafés with sandy floors. Crowded streets are lined with cheap tourist shops, and unappealing bars sprawl out towards the beach from the center of town.
Tourist shops aside, there are good waves to be found and the local surfers spotted were toned, tanned and pleasing to the eye. We rented surf equipment from Lobos del Pacífico Escuela de Surf (Wolves of the Pacific Surf School), one of the few attractive venues in town, with a large wooden deck filled with colorful surfboards and plants that overlooked the beach.
Such a venture wasn't cheap: a two-day board and wetsuit rental for four people cost CP$60,000 (US$97). Be warned, Lobos del Pacifico doesn't accept credit cards--and since pay day is Friday in Pichilemu, the locals take out their cash over the weekend. By Sunday the town's only still-functioning ATM had a 20-minute line, and finally accepted just one of six cards we tried.
A 10-minute drive south from Pichilemu, a huge swell breaks around a dramatic rock formation at Punta de Lobos (Wolf Point), where pro competitions are held and seasoned surfers catch their waves.
For less adept surfers, the waves along Pichilemu Beach are still of respectable size and easier to catch.
The winds off the Pacific are fierce, and the back sections of the beach bars in Pichilemu are too exposed to lounge on during the day. However, they certainly have potential as a great hang out spot in calmer weather.
Keep an eye out for the many inflatable "banana boats" straddled by 20 bouncing beach goers apiece. Towed steadily over the waves behind speedboats, they came frighteningly close to surfers in the water.
Staying the Night
After a five-minute drive southeast from Pichilemu's dusty center, we were told to follow a bumpy track and take the second "dirt" on the left to find ourselves at the charming Cabanas Buena Vista.
Run by Valerie Wilcox, her husband Chris and their baby Emma (the youngest of the team), the cabanas come with ocean views and log burners (fortunately, since Pichilemu gets extremely chilly at night). You can have a bonfire at night or swing in the hammocks in the afternoon.
Along Calle Costanera a row of three restaurants and bars do possess that "surf vibe," with back patios spilling out onto the beach, and a couple with bonfires. At El Puente Holandes, the tortellini con cangrejo (tortellini with crab) tasted fresh though lacked sauce, while the plato de carnes was, well, a pile of fried, gray pieces of meat on a plate. Not so appetizing.
For a locals' meal in the center of Pichilemu, empanada stands and small restaurants let you mingle with the masses.
Slightly out of town towards Punta de Lobos, Restaurant La Roca sits attractive and new, with daytime views of the ocean. Its punchy camarón al pil-pil (prawns) takes garlic to new heights, all the fish dishes are tasty, and pisco sours are freshly made. Sadly, it was quite empty and service was slow.
Pichilemu is a town for those who love to surf and not just look the part by hanging out in trendy surf cafés. If you like to do both, you may be disappointed. Since the beaches are not great consistent sweeps of rugged beauty, nature lovers may feel glum as well.
I shall certainly return to watch the competitions with my body board and flippers in hand. Hopefully Pichilemu’s charm will have washed in with the surf crowd by then.
Restaurante El Puente Holandes
Costanera Eugenio Diaz Lira 164, Pichilemu
Phone: (0) 9 270 9555, (072) 84 23 50
Restaurante La Roca
Comercio 2865, Pichilemu