The sun is shining on the main drag in a small tourist town, while tattooed surfer-types are donning flip-flops and board shorts from Quicksilver and Billabong. There’s a sushi joint on seemingly every corner. While this may sound like a scene from southern California, this is actually what you’d see walking around Pucon, Chile on a Saturday afternoon in December.
It might not be obvious when you’re thousands of miles away, but Chile has a distinctly West Coast feel, and you might even call it South America’s California…or, to be a good international citizen, why not we just say California is North America’s Chile? Whichever side of the equator you’re coming from, here’s a look at how Chile and California are blurring equatorial lines:
Surfer Culture, Sushi Culture…
When half of the country’s perimeter is a coastline, it’s no surprise that Chile is a global surfing destination. From top to bottom, you’ll find a place to hang ten (though the necessity of a wet suit increases the further south you go). While not as renowned as Brazil or Costa Rica (at least for now), Chile is gaining notoriety, with the same big waves that tend themselves to SoCal, with surfers of all experience levels coming from all walks of life. Pichilemu, the country’s premier surfing destination and a stone’s throw from wine country, plays host to international surf competitions, while landlocked towns in the Lake District like Pucon and Puerto Varas give off the vibe of a hip ski town. Extreme sport culture is everywhere you turn in this country.
Relatively speaking, Chile is a young country compared to its South American brethren, so there’s a dynamic that gives it room to grow culturally. The food scene is a perfect example of how quickly trends can become a part of the norm here. Case and point, sushi is on the rise in Chile, much like in trendy metropolises from San Fran to London. Again, no surprise given the proximity to the beach. If you’ve got the craving, Santiago is your spot, where sushi is now the #1 most common business around town, with over 600 established locations as of this past summer.
A Geography the Lends Itself to Adventure
If you thought California was paradise, and has some of the best variety of landscapes, Chile takes it a few steps further. Beaches, mountains, national parks, desert…it’s all there. True, you can live in LA and be 2 hours from catching a big wave or shredding some fresh powder in the same day, but Chile will take you all the way to the ends of the earth (literally). Don’t believe it? How about a little battle royale in a few categories:
- Yosemite National Park vs. Parque Nationales Torres Del Paines – Yosemite may have Half Dome and some of the tallest redwoods you’ve ever seen, but when you can find the jagged peaks of the Torres, expansive lakes, the breathtaking greenery of the French Valley, and a massive glacier in the same park, it’s no competition. Winner-Torres Del Paines
- Mojave Desert vs. Atacama Desert – Depends what you want to compare here. Are you looking for some famed national parks and gambling in Vegas? That hardly sounds like a desert. Maybe you’re looking for something more traditional, like, I don’t know, THE DRIEST NON-POLAR PLACE ON EARTH!? Something relatively uninhabitable with the upside of sandboarding? Now that sounds more like a desert! Either way, there are too many variables to make an accurate comparison on this one. Winner-Tie
- Sierra Nevada vs. The Andes Mountains – It’s almost unfair when you pit the longest mountain range in the world against any other range. Both have prime areas for hiking and skiing, but the shear size and unmatched ruggedness of the Andes (not to mention a few active volcanoes) make this one a quick KO. Winner-The Andes
- Malibu vs. Vina Del Mar – Awesome beachside homes, condos, and resorts line both coasts, but how many pop songs have you heard about California Lovin’ and Surfin’ USA? With give the crew in Cali this one. Winner-Malibu
- Napa Valley vs. Chilean Wine Country – We’ll settle this one down below…
Chilean Wine, and a Budding Craft Beer Scene
The Pacific coast provides an environment perfect for growing even the most delicate grapes – a temperate climate, cool coastal breezes, etc. – so it should be no surprise the both Chile and California have used this to their advantage to create some of the most established wine regions in the world.
But beer? Craft beer for that matter. In Chile? Who knew?
Folks that have ventured around other parts of South & Central America are probably more accustom to finding a more limited selection of cervezas throughout their travels. Each country seems to have a few staple beers, usually along the lines of a basic lager – be it Gallo in Guatemala or Pilsener in Ecuador. Not Chile. For a country with a fair amount of German influence in the south, beer has had a place in Chilean culture that dates back centuries, with an increased attention in recent years.
Kross is just one of the craft breweries on the list that has seen it’s share of national recognition, with flavorful and distinct brews including their flagship Kross 5 and a stout that could go head-to-head with anything coming out of North America. Others like Kuntsmann excel in their pale ale, though more specialized offerings like the Honig Ale pack an almost-too-sweet honey punch.
For a more thorough look into Chile’s emerging craft beer subculture, check out Nicholas Gill’s article Chile’s New Craft in DRAFT Magazine.
Pride in its Trademark Natural Disaster…to a Fault [Line]
Unfortunately for all parts of the earth that just seam too beautiful to be real, there are thorns to this rose as well. Yes, Chile and California both lay right on top of massive fault lines, and are both very earthquake-prone. But, just as the US city of New Orleans has embraced it’s most treacherous natural disaster – the hurricane – and turned it into the town’s most lethally-intoxicating beverage, so too has Chile. The Terremoto: Spanish for “earthquake,” this beverage consists of pipeno (fermented wine) with pineapple ice cream, and is properly served in a 1-liter glass. Yowzah! Push the wine [and craft beer] aside for at least one round, and do not leave the country without getting a taste of this killer cocktail that will definitely leave you with a drunken aftershock.
Chris is a professional businessman, amateur blogger, and all-around adventure junkie with a passion for spreading the word of cheap international travel. He is celebrating the 1-year anniversary of his first trip to Chile, while recovering from his recent visit to California.