Taltal, the beaches of northern Chile and the vagaries of guidebooks

The guidebook for our trip to northern Chile turned out to be a bit hit-and-miss. I don’t blame the authors or the publishers, guidebooks are supposed to be just that: guides. They aren’t definitive, they don’t know your personal tastes and, despite their best efforts, by the time they’re published they’re already a year or more out of date.

That disclaimer aside, in the vast wastes of the Atacama Desert to completely ignore one of the few points of civilisation entirely is pretty shoddy. To overlook a really nice coastal town with a lovely central plaza, decent restaurants, bars and very welcoming people is…well…unforgivable.

The coast at Taltal, Chile

The coast at Taltal, Chile

Taltal isn’t going to win any prizes as the most exciting place you can wash up in but I’m glad we did. In truth, we only stopped there because the prospect of driving another 300km to the next pinprick of life on the map was just too much to bear.

A walk along the front and a stroll through tranquil streets as the sun set brought us to the lovely main plaza and a bar with a 1920s ice cream maker. I was going to take a photo of it, but by that time we were involved in a ‘cultural exchange’ involving an indecent amount of alcohol with a group of Chilean miners who wouldn’t let us leave or pay. The night passed quite quickly.

Industrial heritage at Taltal, Chile

Industrial heritage at Taltal, Chile

The fishing fleet at Taltal, Chile

The fishing fleet at Taltal, Chile

Fortified by our previous nights exertions, we set off in the morning to explore the beaches of Chile’s Pacific coast. First on the agenda was a recuperative lunch on a fabulous beach about 30km from Taltal. Except for two slightly hungover gringos and numerous seabirds it was deserted.

Beach, northern Chile

Beach, northern Chile

You can take the boy out of…etc.

Slightly hungover on a beach, Northern Chile

Slightly hungover on a beach, northern Chile

The night before we reached Taltal we stayed in the much heralded Bahia Inglesa, which comes recommended by just about every guidebook ever written. We were expecting tranquil golden beaches and a relaxed vibe; what we found was a small town with crowded beaches that was over-priced and over-developed. This small disappointment was soon put to flight by the wondrous coastline that stretches 1000km north from Bahia Inglesa.

As we headed back north towards our ultimate destination of Iquique, we explored as much of this fantastically beautiful, remote and wild coastline as possible. After all, we’d be back in landlocked Bolivia in a few days so we needed to get our fix while we could.

The wild Pacific coast of northern Chile

The wild Pacific coast of northern Chile

The wild Pacific coast of northern Chile

The wild Pacific coast of northern Chile

Shells on the beach, northern Chile

Shells on the beach, northern Chile

We reached the eminently forgettable city of Antofagasta for the second time on our journey with only one thing in mind: seeing La Portada. Thanks to obtuse road signs on our way south we’d missed the region’s most famous natural feature; on our way north we were determined to see it.

Perhaps our desire to see it was at fault, or perhaps its the fact that photos of La Portada are used on just about every piece of promotional material about the  region, but yet again reality defied expectation. La Portada is still an impressive sight, just not the impressive sight we were expecting.

La Portada, north of Antofagasta, Chile

La Portada, north of Antofagasta, Chile

Pacific Ocean cliffs north of Antofagasta, Chile

Pacific Ocean cliffs north of Antofagasta, Chile

North of Antofagasta the coast road runs all the way to Iquique, it is a beautiful route where the wild coastline is occasionally broken by sublime beaches with precisely no people on them. Most of this coastline isn’t a holiday destination, at weekends local communities use the beaches but during the week you have them to yourself.

Beach, northern Chile

Beach, northern Chile

Beach, northern Chile

Beach, northern Chile

Playa Grande, north of Antofagasta, Chile

Playa Grande, north of Antofagasta, Chile

Birds take flight, Pacific Ocean, northern Chile

Birds take flight, Pacific Ocean, northern Chile

And finally…just to show there are no hard feelings, a photo of the sunset over Bahia Inglesa.

Sunset over Bahia inglesa, Chile

Sunset over Bahia Inglesa, Chile