Holidays in Valparaiso & Viña del Mar
Travel approximately 120km west of Santiago and you’ll find the beach cities of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. Both offer plenty of unconventional Chilean charm, but the contrast between the two is fascinated to see. ‘Valpo’, as it’s fondly known, is a chaotic maze of hilly streets and coloured buildings, while Viña del Mar offers a much calmer, greener experience.
With its bohemian culture and lively street art scene, the UNESCO listed seaport of Valparaíso has long been home to the creatives of the country. Comprising of 43 hills covered by ramshackle neighbourhoods frame the Pacific coastline and offer a gritty soul which can be hard to find in Chile. At the other end of the scale is ‘La Ciudad Jardin’ (‘The Garden City’) of Viña del Mar, located just 8km north of Valparaíso. This luxurious beach resort with its palm tree line boulevard and white sand beach is a popular weekend getaway for the wealthier residents of Santiago.
What to See and Do in Valparaiso
Valparaiso has a vibrant art culture, evident in the graffiti that can be seen on practically every street in the center. A walking tour will ensure you don’t miss the best pieces of street art, especially the Museo a Cielo Abierto which consists of 20 murals painted down the hill of Cerro Bellavista. A trip to the art galleries in Alegre, such as Casa E or Bahia Utopica is also a good way to experience the creativity of Valparaíso.
For a bird’s-eye view of the city head up to La Sebastiana, the former home to one of Valparaíso’s most famous resident artists, Pablo Neruda. It’s quite an uphill hike but the house itself is interesting to explore and there is a gallery and café up there too. At the top you’ll be rewarded with great views of the harbour. It’s worth taking a walk down to the harbour area as it’s the heart of the city and has a lively atmosphere of student bars and local restaurants. You can even do a boat trip around the port, and if you’re lucky you might spot a family of sea lions.
Viña del Mar
The clean beach and Miami-style boulevard are a highlight of the city, and this is where many of the best upmarket hotels and restaurants are to be found. At the far side of the bay is the German built Castillo Wulff which looks beautiful when lit up at night. During the day it houses art exhibitions, but the main reason to go is to see the colony of pelicans who nest on the rocks below.
A few blocks back from the beach you’ll find the beautifully landscaped gardens of the Parque Quinta Vergara, a great example of why Viña del Mar is known as ‘The Garden City’. Another green space worth seeing is the Reloj de Flores, a huge working clock made of flowers.
Dunas de Concon
Approximately 15km north of Viña are the sand dunes of Concón. This desert-like setting is a popular spot for sand boarding, wildlife spotting and watching the sun set.
Eating Out in Valparaiso
Being one of the most important ports of the South Pacific, Valparaíso’s cuisine is quite a mix of flavours. There is, of course, the traditional seafood of the region and the hearty, meaty dishes that are popular throughout Chile. However you’ll also find some European influences, lots of Italian and Spanish restaurants, and some French-inspired menus too.
Being the spontaneous, lively city that it is, there are also plenty of avant-garde restaurants such as Restaurante Alegre, and probably due to the large student population, vegetarians are often better catered for here than elsewhere in Chile.
Eating Out in Viña del Mar
The restaurant scene in Viña is similar to Valparaiso but with a more upmarket edge. The candlelit tables by the sea are the most romantic spots and for a 5 star meal there is so much choice. The seafood here is fantastic and you’ll find it served in a variety of ways from fresh salty mussels to a Chilean take on fish and chips, and even sushi!
Getting To Valparaiso and Viña del Mar
The closest airport is in Santiago and there are also regular inter-city buses to both Valparaiso and Viña del Mar from the airport and Santiago's main bus stations. Alternatively there are plenty of tour operators who organise day trips and private transfers from Santiago.
There are also long distance buses from Valparaiso direct to Mendoza in Argentina which are comfortable enough, although the journey takes around 12 hours.
Getting Around Viña del Mar and Valparaiso
A modern Metro runs between Valparaíso and Viña del Mar which is a safe and fast way to travel between the two. Alternatively there are local buses which run frequently and only take about 15 minutes.
Along with the Metro and buses (which tend to be incredibly busy with locals), there are Colectivos which are shared taxis that run set routes. Of course there are private taxis as well which are less common and more expensive.
In Valparaíso the funiculars are also a fun way to get up and down the hills, however they are old and sometimes unreliable. The Ascensor concepción is the oldest of them all, dating back to the 1800s, and definitely worth a ride.
Tailor-made Tours of Valparaiso
All our holidays to Chile are 100% tailormade, so if you'd like to customise your tour of Valparaiso, or indeed any of our holiday itineraries, then get in touch and let us know - we'll be delighted to help you plan your perfect holiday in Valparaiso!
Did you know?
Valparaiso is definitely a city of "firsts": it was home to the first stock exchange in South America, the first public library and football team in Chile, and the city's daily newspaper "El Mercurio" is the oldest continuously-published Spanish-language newspaper in the world!