“Open Beaches” Law in Chile anything but waterproof

SANTIAGO – A law has come into force in Chile, stating that no one can prohibit people access to beaches. But Chile wouldn´t be Chile if some legal loopholes in the law make it possible for land owners to still close off their land for outsiders. And so, some public beaches are only public if you pay.

If you follow the scenic coastal road from the town of Penco to Tomé in Bíobío region, you pass a steep path that heads toward a beach, called Punta de Parra. Some 2 km before the beach, you´ll find a gate. And in front of that gate you´ll find a cantankerous lady charging CLP$ 5,000 during weekdays, and CLP$ 9,000 during the weekends per vehicle for entrance. That is nearly US$ 14 to enjoy the beach with your family.

Not because Punta de Parra beach is someone’s private property, but because in front of the beach lies a restaurant where the owner charges everyone for parking their car. Asking for official paperwork, stating he is the rightful owner of this entrance, won´t help you: the mentioned nag won´t show you anything.

You have three options: turning back, paying the exorbitant fee or passing through without paying. If you choose the latter, the lovely lady will threaten with calling the Carabineros – something they never end up doing, in the experience of the writer.

The “Open Beaches” Law

The case is illustrative for the national situation – although extreme. Punta de Parra is among the beaches in Chile where the charge of an entrance fee for a public beach has been denounced the most. For the government time to design a law, a law that has come into force this month, bearing the name “Open Beaches” Law.

Those who prohibit free access to the beaches, whether they lay on the ocean, on rivers or lakes, can receive penalties up to CLP$ 4,900,000. But still, it does not mean that people like Mrs. Punta de Parra, now have to withdraw. Because the “Open Beaches” Law isn´t waterproof – it is open for interpretation.

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Legal Loopholes

One of the biggest loopholes is found in the government´s definition of a beach. On the website of the Ministry of Public Works, according to Article 13, “owners of land adjacent to sea beaches, rivers or lakes, must provide free access for tourism and fishing purposes, when there are no other ways or public roads to the beach”.

That last part of the sentence is key. Anyone who has travelled outside Santiago knows that the roads in the interior or on the coast often offer a bumpy road, sometimes only accessible for those in possession of a four-wheel-drive.

Back to the example of Punta de Parra: a paved road – now blocked by the lovely money-charging lady – leads right to the beach in less than five minutes. Those who refuse to pay and still wish to access the beach must in this case continue their way to the Bellavista beach in Tomé and from there follow a bumpy road, that takes at least half an hour. Not to mention the obstacles elderly, handicapped people or those without the resources to buy a 4×4 face.

Anyone in Chile, being the owner of a direct and decent entrance road to a beach, can under the “Open Beaches” Law still charge an entrance fee. Because if there is another way to the beach – even if this path takes you an hour extra and leads you over the worst roads – you still have your access. And hey – it is even free.

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