Cities by the Sea - Valparaiso and Vina del Mar - Chile

>> Thursday, October 25, 2012

Situated just an hour outside the hustle and bustle of Santiago, sits two adjacent towns that are literally merged together by the ocean, yet are both as different as you can imagine. Valparaiso and Vina del Mar not only draw in tourists from around the world but are also preferred getaway locations for locals as well. You really can experience everything from the corner dive bar to street vendors or fine dining and retail shopping.  

Valparaiso, an old shipping town, known for its colorful houses built upon rolling hills. Evokes the feeling of stepping back in time, especially when navigating the narrow passageways that lead from their main square up to the hilltops where the restaurants and bars reside. If you’re looking for an easier way to get around, there a many funiculars that transport locals and tourists alike, to and from each hill top to another. No matter where you turn, there are amazing pieces of artwork enveloping the walls done by local graffiti artists, which truly does bring a unique charm to the town.

When stopping in Valparaiso, I highly recommend stopping by Pablo Neruda’s famous Sebastiana home, one of the three houses owned by the famous noble prize winner. Positioned high atop one of the hillsides, the view of the house is unlike any other. Especially when designed with the poet’s love of ships and boats, you truly do feel like you’re navigating the ocean right there on land. You can also enjoy the many collections Neruda was known for, especially after you see his Isla Negra home. If you’re not busy, I highly recommend driving down or joining a tour to Isla Negra (the Black Island) to fully understand Neruda’s unique collections. It is in a category of its own because the poet gathers anything and everything he can find (ie. Ashtrays, goblets..etc).

Close by Sebastiana is also the famous cemetery of Valparaiso. There are two different cemeteries, one that houses the families that originated in Valparaiso and another that houses the souls of those who were lost at sea nearby. Here you get a great view of all of Valparaiso and you can understand why the cemetery was chosen on that particular hillside.

Wondering down towards the main square, there are many different eateries where you can find local seafood treasures like fresh made Chilean seabass ceviche. If you’re looking for something special to the region, I suggest the seafood stew. Everything from mussels, squid, shrimp to sea bass and scallops. You can’t go wrong with this dish. In the main square aka Plaza Sotomayor stands the Monumento a los Héroes de Iquique, which pays tribute to Chile’s naval martyrs. On the weekends you can find the Muelle Prat, near the harbourfront which sells different handmade crafts by the locals.

If you wander along the coast north you’ll slowly make your way to the modern resort town of Vina del Mar (roughly 5 mins by car), a stark contrast from the old town charm of Valparaiso. In Vina, you’ll find the large hotel complexes and many new high end restaurants catering to the tourists and resort goers of Chile. If you’re looking to do some shopping, there is also a 4 storey shopping complex (be sure to stop by the Xurro stand for amazing churros..especially with ice cream!) or if you’re looking to do some gambling, Vina has the only casino in the region.

Be sure to stop by the main Flower Clock that is at the entrance of the town. It is the most beautiful during sundown, where the light hits the clock at the perfect angle. If you wonder down a bit further you’ll see the famous Castle Wulff, which was built by British settlers in 1917. There are many beaches located along the coastline, so we enjoyed walking along until we found one that was a bit more quiet and secluded from the hustle and bustle of the town.

As for dining options, there is a whole array of restaurants to choose from in Vina, ranging from Japanese to Mexican and down home Chilean cooking. Since we’re right by the ocean, the sushi was some of the best that we had since it’s so fresh. We stayed at the Sheraton Miramar, which had an amazing location and view of the Pacific Ocean. All the rooms including the restaurants faced the ocean, so it was quite an experience waking up and enjoying breakfast right on the cusp of the Oceanside.

We also had the opportunity to dine at Erdiko, focused on serving fusion cuisine in a contemporary atmosphere. Dishes like sardines with apple and cucumbers with caviar or ribs with mashed potatoes encased in a candied coated shell. They also featured a great selection of local Chilean wine, which are grown in the Casablanca region approximately 30 mins away from town. You definitely have to try a bottle (or three) of the Carmenere, when in Chile.

There are so many highlights on this portion of our trip, it’s hard to summarize it all in to blog without it feeling like you’re reading an essay of my experiences. I truly did have a great time in this part of Chile and hope that anybody headed down to South America will find the time to stop by as well. You really can’t beat the ying and yang of old and new like Valparaiso and Vina del Mar and it’ll always hold a special place in my memories.


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