Chile — 15 January 2017

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Why Don’t Chileans Swim?  

People are afraid of the current here and they say the water is too cold.  So almost no one swims.  95% of the people will go no deeper than knee deep.   99% will not go deeper than chest deep. Yet, the water is comfortable for swimming and there is no current from Playa Las Salinas to Playa Abarca. There is plenty of dangerous current in the bay at Pichilemu and other areas of the Chilean coast.

It is cold. But it is not the arctic, although the Humboldt current flows from there.  The water in summer (Dec-Feb) is 61-65 F (16C -18C), which is cold. But the secret is not minding that it is cold.  Either that or go to The Dominican Republic.  But there is a lot to be said for swimming where you are standing.

When I go to beach, I am usually the only one swimming beyond the breakers. In South Carolina, where I am from, the ocean would be filled.  Here in Viña del Mar, sometimes another person will swim out.  And there are a couple of groups of people who exercise together and swim out into the shipping channel.

It is only dangerous when there are marejadas (high tides and tidal storms that march across the Pacific) or when there are fragatas portuguesas (man of war jellyfish) in the sea. (They should be flying a yellow flag on the poles at the beach that say “apta para bañar” or no.) In the marejadas (which really just means tide) the waves get large and splash into the streets.  Viewed from the water, the breakers get frighteningly large.  Do not swim in the marejada.  As always when a wave approaches you dive under it so it does not crush you.  Do not let it knock you down.

Water Temperature and Viña del Mar Climate

It’s summer here in Viña del Mar. It is a cold 65F (18.3C) and water 61F (16C) today (15 Jan 2017).  But in the sun the weather is like San Diego: spectacular and comfortable to sit in the full sun without getting hot.  Often it is cloudy or foggy here.  We have the same weather as San Francisco, but with 30% fewer sunny days.

Swimming Advice and Sources of Safety Information

Here is some information about swimming in the beaches in Viña del Mar and where you can swim safely. First, here are some useful links:

Weather
Water temp
Ships in harbor
Marine forecast
UV Radiation
Emergency Information from Minister of Interior
Wave conditions (Spanish)

Safety Info

In short, the beaches of Viña del Mar are safe for swimming.  Read below for details.  BUT DO NOT SWIM IN THE MAREJADAS (storm surge).  These are deep ocean waves that travel from far across the ocean.  You know when the marejada waves are here because the waves will break about 4 to 5 times further offshore than normal and the surf will be all foam.  You can check the marine forecast here (in Spanish) and if it says “marejada en bahia” then you should not swim at all.  Even the best swimmers are advised not to swim in the marejada.

The only other danger is the Fragata Portuguesa (Man of War Jellyfish).  These colorful jellyfish appear in large numbers or not at all.  The Navy will close large sections of the coast if those appear.  They are the most dangerous of all jellyfish with the worse sting.  Put wet sand on the sting and call the ambulance if you get stung.

chile fragata portuguesa man of war jelyfish

Here are the emergency phone numbers. For the police, dial 133.  For marine rescue, dial 137 on your cell phone.

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Which Beaches are Safe

In Spanish it says “apta para bañar” (safe to swim) on the post where they put up the red (no apta para bañar) or green (safe) flags.  If the flag is red you can swim anyway. Just swim like you won’t drown and the lifeguards, where they have those, will not bother you like the do in the USA, unless you swim really far out and look like you do not know how.  I swim far off the beach and around the rocks.  They do not bother me because, having grown up at the beach in a boating family, I am a strong ocean going swimmer. A large part of Europeans and Americans I think would be too.  Chileans have fewer swimming pools than Americans.  So many do not know how to swim.

Playa Abarca

The beach next to the Sheraton is apta para bañar.  It is roped in and there is a guard.  It is the working glass people who go here and not the quikos (upper class Santanguinos.)  Fine beach.  I swim out to the ropes, far off the beach.  Other people do that. One time a gung-ho concessionaire who takes people out in a jet ski came to check on me and another guy swimming at the rope, way out there.  He ran into to me.  I told him to go away.  He carried the other guy back on the jet ski.  But there is no current. It is not deep.  It is safe. It is a bay, with large waves, but without ocean currents.

Playa Las Salinas

The beach in front of the Naval College is the most sheltered, safe, and is small.  Get off at the bus stop right in between the college and the big rock on the coast and it is a little harbor with rocks on two sides, thus there is no current.  Safe for kids, if they are not too little.

The Playa Acapulco

This is in front of Starbucks and north of the casino.  It is not apta para bañar.  But that is silly because there is no current and the water is not deep.  The whole bay of Valparaiso is safe to swim, except Renaca faces the open ocean.  So the waves are bigger there.

Con-Con

The beach at Con-Con is the point where the Aconcagua River enters the sea.  It is more of a shallow bay that beach.  But it is fine for swimming.  Lots of surfers there.

 

swimming vina del mar beaches

Why are there no boats here?

There are no boats in the water here too, although it is legal and you can get a fishing license (I have one).  You need to take a test to get a license to pilot a private boat.  You take classes from the Navy in Valparaiso.  I signed up for that.

The only recreational boats you see here are sailboats.  Once I saw a jet ski.  Once.  In San Diego you can walk across the bay without getting your feet wet.

In truth, the beaches of Viña del Mar are safe for swimming for anyone who swims well.  There is no current, since the region from Renaca to Valparaiso is a bay, shielded from ocean currents.  That said, the beach at Renaca faces the prevailing winds and the waves there are too large for children and people who are not strong swimmers. Any other place anyone who can swim should feel safe doing so even if no one else is swimming (or practically no one, as some people do swim, a very few).

There are lifeguards.  They wear yellow vests. They might blow the whistle if you are playing near the rocks. They do not bother anyone like they do in the USA.  Some are handsome blond argentina guys talking up the girls in bikinis.

 

 

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