Bahía Inglesa is a tiny village located near the port of Caldera in Chile that’s home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Only a few hundred locals inhabit the town, with Bahía Inglesa becoming a tourist mecca in the holiday season. We were there in early January just before the crowds and had no problem securing real estate on the sand and at the restaurants overlooking the clear aqua water. And if there’s one thing the people of Chile know how to do, it’s food. Little old men and women wander up and down the beach selling hand-made deliciousness in the form of traditional pastries, chocolate stick rolls and the toffee apples of your dreams. But the local treats won’t be the only thing keeping you on the sand. The desert temperatures may sit at around 35°C in the shade, but the ocean is like ice. Spend more than five minutes in and you’ll feel an aching, almost numbing feeling deep within your bones.
If you’ve got time, continue north up the coast and you’ll find hundreds of world class surf breaks between Arica and Iquique that can only be reached by 4WD. Most people don’t realise that Chile has super consistent surf that is almost entirely untapped by surfers. The fact that the waves break close to the shore in cylindrical barrels that slam onto shallow reefs full of urchins might have something to do with it, making many breaks only suitable for bodyboarders or super skilled surf dudes.
The long drive back to Santiago gave us a chance to reflect on our time in the Atacama Desert and if there’s one piece we can give fellow travellers it would be to check that your GPS works before you leave the hire car place and don’t get anything smaller than an SUV.