Surf and culture

Coast of Poets

The most popular beach towns along Chile's Central Coast have also been home to some of the country's greatest poets and artists. Here we look at 10 towns with 10 different identities.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 Category: Beach - Museums
Isla Negra, where Pablo Neruda had his most famous home. (Photo: juanbdj/Flickr) Isla Negra, where Pablo Neruda had his most famous home. (Photo: juanbdj/Flickr)

Just to the south of Valparaíso on Chile's central coast, a string of beach towns have held a special place in the hearts of Chile's best writers, artists and creative minds for decades.

Known as the Coast of Poets, this stretch of beachside towns once counted Pablo Neruda among its residents, is currently home to Nicanor Parra and for decades has been the final resting place of Vicente Huidobro. There must be something in the water. Or just something about the water, given the area's spectacular views of the vast Pacific Ocean extending out to the horizon as far as the eye can see, and beyond.

Conveniently located close to Santiago, Chile's central coast is a popular summer getaway that is marked by sun-drenched, sandy beaches and hidden coves, as well is its bohemian tendencies.

Heading south from the nation's “cultural capital” in Valparaíso, the first town you come across on this route is Mirasol, with its long, sandy beach, placid water, evocative palms and exquisite sunsets. The quiet town is separated from the beach by a winding path, lined with blackberry bushes while a cliff to the north of the beach is popular with paragliders.

Bordering Mirasol is the larger city of Algarrobo whose biggest claim to fame is the huge swimming pool found at the San Alfonso del Mar resort. At 1,000 yards, the man-made, salt-water lagoon is recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest of its type in the world.

The small bay of El Quisco once served as a hiding place for English corsair Sir Francis Drake, when the Spaniards pursued him as a pirate. It has since become a popular resort town and was a favorite of Chilean writer and poet, Clara Solovera,whose ashes were scattered in the bay following her death in 1992.

Perched above the wild sea, the town of Isla Negra was the site of Pablo Neruda's eccentric home of the same name, which is now a popular museum. The Nobel Prize-winning poet had a strong love of the sea but sea legs he didn't have, so he built this home on a fort-like headland overlooking the crashing waves. The small town, which has an attractive craft market, is still popular with intellectuals and artists today. 

If it's beaches, you're after, look no further than El Tabo, which has plenty to choose from. Two of the most popular are Playa Chepica with its easy access and family-friendly waves, and Playa Larga, which is popular with joggers and walkers during the morning and evening. El Tabo has also drawn attention for its archaeological riches, with the discovery of ancient middens and cemeteries around the town.

Famed antipoet Nicanor Parra calls the villa of Las Cruces home, but he's not the only interesting resident. Just south of the town, the Laguna El Peral is teeming with marine and bird life, including the rare black necked swan. Atop a prominent cliff, the Punta del Lacho lookout provides great views of much of the Coast of Poets.

The main attractions of nearby San Sebastián are the large, traditional houses in town and the grey sand dunes on the beach.

In the hills surrounding neighboring Cartagena lie the remains of Vicente Huidobro, the Chilean poet who founded the Creationism movement in the first half of the 20th century. After spending much of his life in Europe, Huidobro was killed in the struggle to liberate France from the Nazis at the end of World War II. The epitaph on his tombstone reads: “Open this grave, at the bottom, you can see the sea”.

With a strong fishing tradition, the city of San Antonio is today a major port that actually handles more freight than the more famous port of Valparaíso. Down by the harbor is a growing collection of high quality seafood restaurants, while the hills overlooking the city center have some excellent viewing spots.

The last major beach town on the Coast of Poets, Santo Domingo has built up a reputation as an exclusive tourism destination, popular with wealthy holiday makers. It is also starting to earn a name for its exciting nightlife.

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