Cachagua is just 3km south of Zapallar, mostly characterized by thatched-roof houses and it’s long, expansive beach. The flat beach is one of the popular places for a nice walk, perfect for taking off your shoes and walking. Going to the north from the beach is an easy walk on a rambla that takes you past an island with colonies of Humboldt penguins and on to the picturesque little beach of Las Cujas.
Cachagua has an equestrian club where polo matches are played during the summer and at times during the winter. There is a beautiful seaside golf course; be prepared for quite a trek up and down the fairways. It’s beach is one of the popular surfing spots in the area. And there is always the normal activities at the beach.
Maitencillo & Marbella
13km south of Zapallar is the village of Maitencillo. It is spread along a coastal road, perfect for bicycling except maybe during the crowded summer afternoons. Maitencillo has many restaurants, fish markets, and, in summer, craft fairs. On the hill above Maitencillo is the resort of Marbella, complete with a club house of Mexican architecture and a 27-hole golf course.
32km south of Zapallar is the coastal town of Horcon. This very colorful little fishing village is a little bit lost in time. There are colorful buildings, colorful boats, colorful people. It is a wonderful place to go for people-watching, for the grizzled, old faces of the fishermen are precious. During the summer, the is an artesan fair at the far end of the town.
Just south of Horcon is the secluded little beach of El Tebo. Follow the signs out of Horcon towards Cau Cau. You’ll pass the good seafood restaurant Los Duendes and there is also a restaurant on the beach at El Tebo.
11km to the north of Zapallar is the township of Papudo. Less exclusive than Zapallar or Cachagua, Papudo is a small and unpretentious seaside town with great walks on an expansive beach. Many times when Zapallar has a cloudbank hanging over it, one can find sunshine just down the road in Papudo. The town has many restaurants; the restaurant Casa De Cesar on the main square is a good one for seafood.
30km north and inland of Zapallar, La Ligua is a small town whose real claim to fame is the dulces (sweets) baked and sold there. You will see woman waving white towels along the road; they are selling the Dulces de La Ligua. The town is also a great place to go to buy clothing (sweaters), inexpensive and of good quality. The neighboring town of Valle Hermoso has even a better, less expensive selection of clothing. The town of Placilla just towards Zapallar has a good seafood/shellfish market (on the left after turning next to shop Don Nico). The seafood is good, and the prices are lower than Zapallar and even Maitencillo. You can get frozen shellfish that you can’t easily find elsewhere, like Camerones Equatorio (Equatorian Shrimp that are bigger than Chilean national shrimp).
La Campana National Park
La Campana National Park is 80 km southeast of Zapallar. The park has a wilderness habitat that is considered exceptional for its biodiversity. This park is dominated by the La Campana peak, 1900m high, popular with climbers, and by one of the last remaining Chilean Palm forests. There are two entrances to the park; one from the north at Ocoa off highway 5, and the other from the south at Olmue.
From the Ocoa side of the park is where you will find the large Chilean Palm forest, one of only 2 forests left in Chile with wild palms. There are over 60,000 palms in the forest. A sight to behold.
There are several hikes to choose from this side of the park. There are hikes of 15-30 minutes (each way) through a landscape dotted with Quisco Chileno cacti to reach view points where the palm forest is spreads before you. There is also an all day hike to a waterfall as well. All hikes having the towering La Campana Peak towering over them. These hikes require that you bring sufficient water and sunscreen, and can be quite hot in summertime.
Entering through the Olmue side of the park, you have the opportunity to take hikes in dense forests of natiive Chilean trees, but the main attraction on this side is the hike up to the top of La Campana Peak. This is the same hike Charles Darwin took on one of his trips through Chile. The hike is 5 hours to the top, about 7 km; the last third of the hike is more of a climb than a hike. Upon reaching the top, one is afforded a view of the Andes range to the east, including the Aconcagua (the third highest mountain in the world), and a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Viña del Mar & Valparaiso
Viña Del Mar and Valparaiso are seaside cities, side-by-side, about 72 km south of Zapallar. Viña is one of the popular seaside destinations for tourists, Its beaches, along with those of Reñaca and Con Con to the north, attract people internationally as well as Chileans. While definitely bigger and more crowded than the Zapallar area, it offers things like the casino and other more varied nightlife. The Viña Del Mar Festival is a big thing in summer, attracting such people as Elton John.
Neighboring Valparaiso is a hillside city that reminds one of San Francisco, only very poor. Once the capital of Chile, it is the busy main port for international shipping and the base port for the Chilean navy. The downtown architecture is varied; take note of the building where they have constructed a new building up through the center of an old historical one. One restaurant recommendation in Valparaiso is Puerto Vieja near Plaza Echaurren.
On the hills above downtown Valparaiso, mainly on Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion, redevelopment is along the lines of small restaurants, boutiques and small hotels. One can access the cerros (hills) by going up and down on the old funiculars (ascensors); these trams are spread along the base of the hills. Go up one, walk the streets of the hills, and take another down.
Many of the buildings on the hills don the creativity of the local artists. Go to the area for the day or spend a night. A side trip to the Casablanca area offers the opportunity for wine tasting. The old whaling town of Quintay is south of Valparaiso.
Portillo is a ski resort nestled atop the Andes mountains about 180km (3.5hrs) east of Zapallar. Spectacularly located at 10,000 ft above sea level, the trip to Portillo offers you a chance to leave the beach and experience a little bit of the mountains. Go for the day (get going early) or spend a night in the hotel on top.
The road up is a very curvy mountain road, so take it easy and enjoy the experience. The ski resort is very popular in winter, while in summer it is very often like a ghost town. Enjoy the mountain silence and take a hike around the lake Lago Inca. While up there, keep your eyes open and you might just see some Andean condors.
The pass through the Andes from Portillo goes into Argentina and past the Aconcagua, the third tallest mountain in the world. You can travel down this side of the Andes to the little town of Uspallata or on towards the wine country of Mendoza. If you want to go into Argentina with a rental car, be sure you have received the papers that will allow you to go through the border crossing.