A CHILEAN PARADISE
Pichilemu, a small and charming beach resort city just west of Santiago on Chile’s endless stretch of Pacific coast, has it all; big surf, good coffee, and great food. A fishing village-turned surfing Mecca, Pichilemu’s charm and blossoming bohemian lifestyle attracts all kinds of people; from locals of the nearby Santiago, to surfers and travellers from across the globe. Having quickly evolved from its humble beginnings as a fishermen’s’ shanty town, Pichilemu’s economy now relies almost exclusively upon seasonal tourism. Thankfully though, this doesn’t mean polished cafes and glitzy hotels, but family pizza joints, brightly coloured coffee vans, and street side burrito stalls instead.
I first came to Pichilemu at the end of January. While this is usually the small town’s busiest period, my time there also coincided with Chile’s worst ever wildfires, with the fire front laying only 50km South, leaving in its wake a dense layer of smoke that rendered most of the town deserted. The town’s centre is positioned at the northernmost stretch of beach, a maze of one-way streets, beachfront bars, and cosy coffee shops. Then it unfolds for 6km south along the beachfront, which is littered with cabanas and hostels, all the way to the famous point break of Punta de Lobos. While everything is spread out along this stretch of road, getting around is easy. Leaving the bike at my hostel, I could catch a collectivo (communal taxi) anywhere I wanted for the local equivalent of 0.75USD.
Pichilemu’s biggest appeal, however, is the aforementioned Punta de Lobos. This is the headland located at the southern end of the beach featuring two huge rocks that sit off the point, perched like two of the 12 Apostles I’m used to seeing off Australia’s coast. The point break here is known as one of the world’s best, a barrelling leftie that usually breaks at between 6 and 9ft, but has been known to grow as big as 30ft. For this reason, it has previously hosted the World Surfing League’s Big Wave Competition, and is the home of big-wave surfer Ramon Navaro. Ramon grew up surfing Punta de Lobos every day, and is a town hero and cultural icon across Chile. He lives in a house he built himself, set on the hills behind the point, with his wife and six year-old son, and is regularly seen surfing at the point. Even if you yourself aren’t a surfer, I’d strongly encourage you to spend at least one evening at Punta de Lobos, if only to watch the fiery sunsets and the steady crashing of waves as they tumble in from a Pacific Ocean that bulges monstrously against the horizon.
As a Melbourne boy, the coffee scene in Pichilemu was a real pleasure to experience. While the limitations in regards to milk quality in Chile means that the lattes and cappuccinos never achieve their full potential, there are some nice pour-over’s and V60s to be found here. A great place to try is Cardumen Café. They have a little shop on the main street and also a street van that sits up at Punta de Lobos on the weekends and public holidays. Carlos, the cafe's owner, makes the best latte I’ve had in South America so far, somehow able to produce beautiful art and a delicious froth from the long-life milk. Be sure to supplement your coffee with one of their delicious homemade brownies as well. Also at Punta de Lobos is El Burrito Pe, a small street stall that sells the tastiest burritos I have ever had. The owner is a Peruvian (widely regarded as South America’s best foodies), who specialises in cooking Mexican cuisine (in my opinion the world’s best food), so what could go wrong?! Look for the red and white Peruvian flag flying above a small caravan on the point, and then enjoy.
Pichilemu is unquestionably one of my favourite spots in Chile. I have recently spent three weeks there, taking some time off from the road and working on the website. While the local Wi-Fi is pretty slow, the way of life here makes creative thinking easy. Whether a surfer or not, you should definitely take a trip to this seaside haven.