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Viña del Mar, Chile

An expansive beach, lush green spaces and old-meets-new architecture makes the “Garden City” an outdoor paradise.

Viña del Mar is two hours by bus from the capital city of Santiago and just 15 minutes from Valparaiso, the port town that we arrived from. While “Valpo” has a disorderly feel with its colorful buildings tumbling down the hills, Viña del Mar feels more slick with modern skyscrapers, wide boulevards and landscaped parks.

We had a few hours to explore this interesting beach city en route to Pucon. We began by walking through picturesque neighborhoods up in the cerro (“hills”) and then made our way to el Plan (“downtown”). The setting with its palm trees and cool ocean breezes reminded us of our time living in Santa Monica. Off Avenue Libertad, we walked past Museo Fonck, an archeology and history museum. Here, a Moai statue was on display right outside its entrance – the closest we’d get to Easter Island. Part of Viña del Mar’s charm is that many castles and old mansions that once belonged to the wealthy class have been transformed into museums and community centers for the public.

Across the estuary, we passed by art deco landmark, Hotel O’Higgins, the oldest hotel in the city and wandered through bubbling fountains and manicured gardens of Plaza Vergara. Having worked up an appetite, we stopped in Chacarero, a local eatery for a “lomito completo” – the infamous Chilean sandwich. From our time in Chile, we wisely chose to split the enormous pork-laden meal. 

Continuing on to the waterfront, Viña del Mar really came to life.

Sunbathers, strollers and a few wandering gypsies filled the white sand beaches. Walking along the boardwalk, we took in the scene. To our right, Miami-style high rise apartments towered above us. To our left, a variety of beach activities. A man creating elaborate sand sculptures. A group of fitness people doing calisthenics by the water. Kids squealing on a mini roller coaster at a makeshift amusement park. And of course, the occasional stray dog lazily napping in the sun. 

Before leaving the beach area, we headed over to Calle San Martin to check out the Viña del Mar Casino. While its Roman-Greek style construction is impressive from the outside, it’s more or less a typical casino once inside (complete with Indiana Jones slot machines.)

All in all, an enjoyable day trip from Valparaiso and a fascinating glimpse into the Chilean beach scene.

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