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Beach Bumming in the Región de Coquimbo — “Turn Right, Third Cactus on the Left”

“It’s easy, really. Climb the hill with cactus all the way to the top. Then you’ll reach the Panamericana.”

Right, totally normal, really. I do that every day, hiking up a rocky hill dotted with cactus taller than me.

Everything is my fault.

This is what happened.

In the morning… okay, at noon, I walked from the cabañas to the main street, Francisco de Aguirre. This is basically the crossroad between the beach (left) and the city centre (straight). This is also where you’ll find plenty of colectivos, minibuses that work like a shared taxi.

“Playa, playa, PLAYA! Where are you going today, mi amor?”

I shrugged. “Not sure. The beach, I guess.”

“Try Totorallilo!”

“Is it nice?”

“As handsome as us!”

Ah, ah. Yes, I take travel advice from minibus helpers who spend their day on the sidewalk yelling destinations and filling buses. And yes, I decided to go to Totorallilo because the name sounded funny. No, I hadn’t had coffee yet.

I sat in the bus, quite happy with my spur-of-the-moment decision. For 2,000 pesos ($4), I would get to explore a new beach, 25 kilometres south of La Serena—sweet, right?

Of course, there was some waiting involved, because colectivos only leave when they’re full.

The driver collected the fare from all the passengers, which took another fifteen minutes, and turned the radio on. Everyone from the five-year-old girl to the old lady started to mouth the lyrics of Pedro Capó and Farruko’s summer hit.

Vamos pa’ la playa
Pa’ curarte el alma
Cierra la pantalla
Abre la Medalla

Todo el mar caribe
Viendo tu cintura
Tú le coqueteas
Tú eres buscabulla, y me gusta

And then we got stuck in a traffic jam, just metres from the bus stop.

That’s when I realized it was going to be a very long “short” ride. Ilha de Santa Catarina moment—on a hot and sunny Sunday, everyone is going to the beach at the same time and roads are jammed.

Shit. Next time, I’ll make random travel decisions after coffee.

Eventually, we arrived in Totorallilo, or rather at the top of a hill overlooking Totorallilo, which turned out to be a peninsula with a small beach on each side. There was a long, long line of cars ahead of us and an even longer one behind.

Lovely place, Totorallilo. Shallow water, picturesque boats… but also hundreds of Chileans enjoying a Sunday at the beach. I quickly understood there was no way I could find a spot, even sandwiched (pun intended) between families having lunch under tents. Since I wasn’t craving ice cream served in a pineapple shell (apparently the local snack) or ceviche, I decided Totorallilo wasn’t the right beach for me. I took a few pictures and looked for a bus to go back to Coquimbo or La Serena.

There were plenty of colectivos in the large parking lot, but they were all coming from La Serena and apparently, colectivos drivers only took the job because one of the perks is that you get to spend your Sundays at Totorallilo.

“Oh, mi amor, we only drive back to La Serena at 6 p.m. at the earliest!” one of the drivers explained.

“Ahem… is there another way to get to Coquimbo?”

“Of course! It’s easy. Walk all the way up the hill, the one with the cactus, and then straight. Eventually, you’ll reach the Panamericana. It’s a good hitchhiking spot.”

Dude, what have I done to you? You want me to end up impaled on a giant Chilean cactus, then killed while hitchhiking on the Panamericana? Solid advice, here.

Plan B?


So I did just that, I hiked up the hill and hitchhiked (I insisted to give the driver the equivalent of the bus fare).

He dropped me off in Coquimbo. Phew, finally a familiar and walkable place.

Except that, as I quickly realized, I was on the other side of Coquimbo, the south side, close to yet another popular beach, La Herradura.


How do I get to the north side? Across the hill, across the exact same neighbourhood I didn’t feel super comfortable exploring the day before. Oh, fuck it.

I eventually made it to the right side of Coquimbo and I was so happy to finally know where I was going that I followed the 11-kilometre-long stretch of beach all the way to La Serena—my final beach walk, before taking an early bus to Santiago the next day.

In the colectivo from La Serena to Totorallilo
In the colectivo from La Serena to Totorallilo
Trying to find a way out of Totorallilo
Trying to find a way out of Totorallilo
My first ever selfie with a cactus, I must admit
On top of the hill (finally!), Totorallilo in the background
On top of the hill (finally!), Totorallilo in the background
Trying to find a ride, walking on the Panamericana
La Herradura, on the south side of Coquimbo
Walking across Coquimbo
Walking across Coquimbo
Puerto de Coquimbo
Puerto de Coquimbo

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