Pichilemu — the town I hate to spell! I always want to add an e rather than i and y rather than u. But once you learn to spell it properly, you are well on your way! Pichilemu — a popular spot for surfers and wanderers — is also a nice place for an extra long weekend with children to spend some down time at the beach. It’s almost 200 km from Santiago and can be over three hours drive to get there without traffic, so I really think you need a four day weekend for the area.
You can take the direct route down highway 5 out of Santiago. You will pass Pomaire which would make a nice stop as it’s a town known for black pottery made from the local mud (greda). I like Pomaire but have yet to venture there with children (images of precarious towers of black pottery and local pig banks accidentally being smashed come to mind). But if you do pop in, it is one of those towns where one person had a great idea and now 50 shops have the same great idea. I bought a pizza stone there that I love and use almost every week and it performs just as well as my five-times-the-cost Pampered Chef one.
But my favourite shop does a slightly different take on the black look and they paint their work in beautiful colours and they also offer workshops and classes. Taller Barros Pomaire is on the side street as you enter into town. I love my little salt pot from them and wide-mouthed mug. I took a pottery class from them with my knitting group and we made yarn bowls. They are a lovely couple and their work is unique for the area.
They recommended to eat at San Antonio which is further towards the town square. They brought a steaming pottery bowl on squat little feet to the table and it was full of coals in the bottom and layered levels of different meat inside. It was amazing! I went there in our first month in Chile, so what did I know about quality? But the people I was with have lived in Chile for decades and said it was the best BBQ they have had.
Continuing on to Pichilemu we arrived and drove through town and down to the water. Having just moved from the UK we had visions of Cornwall dancing in our head and Pichilemu is more of South American coastal town vibe. It has a lot of small shops selling ice cream sandwiches, shells, plastic beach gear and cheap toys to amuse the children on the beach. You can also watch them load up their trucks with the local delicacy, cochayuyo, a rubbery seaweed that our eldest likes to chew like a local and he calls it his ‘gum’.
The beach is a mixture of rocks and warm black sand. The surf was so beautiful! We had decided not to stay right in Pichilemu, but rather a few kilometres down the road in Punta de Lobos and we were really happy with this decision. If you want to see what it looks like check out Jack Johnson’s Breakdown video as it was filmed in Pichilemu/Punta de Lobos.
Clearly if it’s good enough for Jack Johnson, it’s good enough for us! So we decided we all had to take surf lessons. I think our middle son got about as far as getting into the wet suit. Then he happily played in the black sand all morning. I went out and even with the full wet suit on, man, that water is cold! I’m from NS so I know cold water and we lived in the UK so we know how cold the English Channel is but wow, Chile is chilly! The water felt like knives on my hands. And also, surfing is really hard! I did manage a few hops up but after about half an hour the instructor said to me, “You don’t work out, do you?” After that, I decided I would be better watching the children on the beach. My husband and our eldest (8 at the time) took about four lessons and really enjoyed it.
I can highly recommend Elvis Munoz and his Escuela de Surf as he and his crew were great with the children and really communicative about the best time (for the waves) to arrive and have a lesson. Wet suits and gear are provided as well.
I was never so happy to get back to our self-catering cabin. We booked in at Loica and had wonderful views out to sea and a wood stove to keep us warm. It was the October/November long weekend so there wasn’t a lot of people in town or on the roads and it was a great time to go. We hung out with a friend-of-a-friend who lives there and he told us in the high season (Jan/Feb) the 10-minute drive from Punta de Lobos to Pichilemu could take an hour in the summer.
Loica Cabins has a playground in the centre so you can pretty much see it from any cabin. It was made from an old dinghy as well as playground equipment and the children loved it. My husband loved that Loica is also conveniently located across from a Belgian who brews and sells his own beer.
Driving from Pichilemu towards Punta de Lobos there is a strip mall on the right and it has a wonderful selection of child-friendly cafes. We had fish and chips at one and pizza at another. There is also a small shop selling almost everything you would need for lunch/supper.
What we liked about Punta de Lobos was it was really quiet and we could walk along the beach and not see many people. From our cabins we walked to Hotel Alia and had a wonderful Pisco and light supper and watched the sun go down. There is a skate park and climbing wall for children at the hotel. It would also be a great option for families to stay.
We also enjoyed a day drive out to Cahuil (12 km from Pichilemu) to see salt production and buy salt. It is four kilometres inland, but due to an estuary and the rise and fall of the Pacific, they have created stepped salt flats to slowly drain, collect and then harvest the salt. Due to this process — which has been practiced for over a 100 years — it is rich in minerals. You can stop by the flats and watch them work the salt as they stand in it up to their shins and work the salt and you can even watch for herons.
We bought a massive bag and are still working our way through it a year and a half later.
On our way back we stopped in Pañul where they also make local pottery but this isn’t black like Pomaire, it is a cream colour. I bought a nice dish that is perfect for making my friend’s famous cheese and bean dip! It bakes and holds the heat beautifully.
In the town of Pichilemu we enjoyed the Casa Verde pub with a nice menu and draft IPA. It’s not right on the beach but it has a great view, is fun and had food that both adults and children will enjoy.
When to go:
We went for the four day October/November long weekend and we were wearing a combination of t-shirts and two layers of wool sweaters. So pack layers! You are on the beach so it will be cooler than in Santiago. We had sunny days and cloudy ones as well, really variable weather. We had the beaches to ourselves and the traffic was really light.
You could easily combine Pichilemu with Pomaire.
You could combine this trip with a stop to another favourite beach, Mantanzas, but that is more out of the way.
You could also have Pichilemu as a detour on the way to or from Santa Cruz, if you had sufficient time.