GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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To the vast majority of Chileans, summer holiday means one thing: heading to the beach. Whether on the banks of a southern lake, one of the north's deserted coves, or one of the pleasant towns of the Central Coast, from late December to early March, the beaches are packed. Even where the water is safe enough to enter, the icy Humboldt Current, rushing up from Antarctica, means only the young and the brave can bear more than a few seconds up to their chests.
There is little reason to move when lying on the beach. Wandering salesmen constantly appear, plying ice cream, drinks, and other goodies. And watch out for the promotoras, scantily clad young women promoting everything from batteries to beer. Where permitted, Chileans will set up a parrilla for one of their famous asados, grilling meat and sausages over a charcoal fire. The athletic may rouse themselves for a game of paleta, batting a tennis ball back and forth with a small wooden racket. If you want to escape the crowds, try walking along to the next beach, which may be surprisingly empty though just a few hundred meters away. The southern end of Maitencillo or the north of Papudo are particularly suitable for exploration.
Strong sun protection in Chile is essential, due to the nearby hole in the ozone layer. Even if the day begins in a fog, the mist quickly burns off, leaving you vulnerable to the sun's rays. Be sure to pack a hat, strong sunblock, and something to cover you up. You might even consider a beach umbrella, often available to rent right on the beach. Once the sun goes down, temperatures can fall quickly as sea breezes pick up, so bring a light jacket or sweater as well.