Beachgoing in Chile

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, beaches all over the country are packed from late December to early March. But this isn't your standard beach destination. Even where the water is safe enough to enter, the icy Humboldt Current, rushing up from the deep south only slightly north of Antarctica, means only the brave (and typically the local) can bear more than a few seconds up to their chests, and even then, many wear wetsuits.

Outside of the water, wandering vendors constantly appear, plying ice cream, drinks, palmeras (a heart-shape puff pastry), and other goodies. And watch out for the promotoras, scantily clad men and women promoting everything from batteries to beer. Where permitted, Chileans will set up a parrilla for one of their famous asados to grill meat and sausages over a charcoal fire. The athletic may go for a game of paleta, batting a tennis ball back and forth with a small wooden racket, or the occasional pichanga (pick-up soccer game). 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 a hole in the ozone layer in this part of the world. 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.

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