Chile’s Blue Coast

Nov. 5, 2018

Just an hour away from the chaos of Santiago, is Valparaíso.  A dingy and dirty bohemian city flooded with bright and beautiful street art.  It has become a must-see for most travelers, and a real highlight for Central Chile.  Exploring the steep and narrow streets drenched in art, one can get lost (literally and figuratively) and wonder if the city ever ends.

It does; at the ocean.  Valparaíso and the neighboring city of Viña del Mar are right on the Humboldt Current, meaning the coast has a lot to offer in bird and marine life.  Valpo, for short, is a great traveler’s destination and also a great destination for birders.

Our plan was to spend most of the morning birding along the coast near Concón and at the river mouth just north of the town.  My main goal was to get some good photos of Inca Terns.  From eBird lists, I found the perfect spot along the road where the terns perch/nest on the seawall that supports the road.  It’s right infront of the Edificio Terraza Pacífico on Avenida Borgoño.

Peruvian Boobies (Red-legged and Guanay Cormorants in the mix)

We caught the 601 bus from Errázuriz (the main coastal road in Valpo) north and hopped off at the Inca Tern spot, arriving at 9:25am.  Right away, we could see Inca Terns everywhere! While getting my birding gear out of my backpack, Stephanie spotted a Seaside Cincloides right next to us in the rocks! Great way to kick off the day, with a up close look at another Chilean endemic.

A quick scan of the water with the scope piled on the lifers as we saw Peruvian Boobies and Pelicans, Red-legged and Guanay Cormorants, and American Oystercatchers.

The Inca Terns were more than cooperative.  This was incredible! We spent about 45 minutes just watching these birds at close range and taking so many photos.  I remember first seeing photos of them years ago and wondering if I’d ever see one. Well, I sure did! We got our eyes full of the most beautiful tern species ever (in my opinion).

Walking just down the road, we got more and more looks at the various common Humboldt coast birds.  A feeding group of 400+ Guanay Cormorants made their way up and down the coast, swimming and diving after what I assume was huge schools of bait fish.  The Peruvian Pelicans and Boobies made occasional plunges too, which was a treat to see.

most of the road looks this beautiful!

After we ate our celebratory Blueberry muffins, we hopped on the 601 or 602 (I don’t remember, they both go to Reñaca) and rented 2 mountain bikes from Mudcycles.  They charged 17,000 pesos (or $24 US) total for both for 5 hours.

Riding back north along the road, I noticed a younger guy photographing something with a huge telephoto lens. Turns out, he’s a young birder, photog, and bird guide! I’m glad I stopped because right there is a small intertidal zone with a pair of American Oystercatchers and their young, Ruddy Turnstones, and a pair of Seaside Cincloides.

Seaside Cincloides
American Oystercatcher family

There is a huge rock just off the beach shore that had a bunch of birds roosting.  Both the Pelican and Booby, Red-legged and Guanay Cormorants, Kelp Gulls, Inca Terns and our first looks at Sea Lions. A nice surprise lifer was a Gray Gull that flew by right as we left!

Peruvian Booby
Peruvian Pelican
Blackish Oystercatcher

We rode up past where we jumped off the bus, and continued to Parque Ecológico La Isla where the Aconcagua River weaves around an island and enters the ocean.

view from the first platform looking downriver

The little park seemed pretty sparse, but maybe that had to do with the increasing afternoon winds and that it was 2:45 in the afternoon.  After a few minutes of scanning the river and reeds from one of the 4 boardwalk platforms, the birds started to appear.  A large flock of South American Terns feeding in the river was our first lifer of the park, followed by a flyby Cocoi Heron that Stephanie spotted!  Yellow-winged Blackbirds and a pair of Red-fronted Coots soon followed.

Red-fronted Coot

We walked down the small trail, passing a beautiful and tame Chilean Mockingbird, to the last platform.

Chilean Mockingbird

We found that the last platform had the best vantage point and the most birds.  Right away we were greeted by a pair of Chiloe Wigeons, a flock of White-winged Coots and a few Yellow-billed Pintails.  Stephanie pulled out another fantastic bird and pointed out a Great Grebe just scooting along in the river!  Lucky too, because it soon dove and we didn’t relocate it again.

Yellow-billed Pintail
White-winged Coots

It was getting windier and hotter, we were getting hungrier and thirstier and running out of our 5-hour limit for the bikes.  Scanning the huge flock of terns again, I said to my self that there is no way I could pull out a Snowy-crowned from the mess of birds.  Just then, as if I am making this up, a single Snowy-crowned Tern flew down river right past me! A perfect way to end the day’s birding!

Snowy-crowned Tern
Snowy-crowned Tern

A 50 minute bike ride in the heat and we dropped the bikes off with 5 minutes to spare.
Sunburned, hot, and hungry, we ended the day with 20 lifers and huge smiles on our faces.

eBird list for the coast:

eBird list for the river mouth:

Costs and Logistics

The bus to take from Valpo to Reñaca and Concón is the 601. You can pick it up anwhere along Errázuriz (the main waterfront road) in Valparaíso.

The Inca Tern spot:  -32.936976, -71.440774
5.2 Km

Barros Arana 4, Viña del Mar

Phone: +56 9 45057386

The big rock and tidal area in Reñaca:  -32.957875, -71.549474

Distance riding from Mudcycles: 2.4Km

Parque Ecológico La Isla: -32.918769, -71.504099

Distance riding:  12 Km 

Expenses are listed as total for 2 people

601 bus to the Inca Tern spot       $1,040 CLP           | $1.54 USD

601/2 bus to Reñaca                      $720 CLP              | $1.06 USD

Bike rental – Mudcycles                 $17,000 CLP         | $25.15 USD

602 bus back to Valpo                   $1,040 CLP           | $1.54 USD

Total spent not including food:   $19,800 CLP        | $29.30 USD

5 Replies to “Chile’s Blue Coast”

  1. Great photos. Had never even seen pictures of those Inca Terns before…beautiful. Surprised by all these birds being so close to Valpo too.


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