When I decided to visit Santiago in 2013, I came with few expectations except that I wanted to get a feel for the city and think about moving to Chile (which I eventually did!). My friend Francisca took charge of my initial explorations and brought me to many of the most interesting neighborhoods of Santiago, including Bellavista, where we visited Pablo Neruda’s home, La Chascona, on a rainy day in August. When we headed to Valparaíso, we obviously had to visit the beloved Chilean poet’s other home, La Sebastiana, perched on the hill of Cerro Alegre.
After taking in the quirky style preserved in these houses-turned-museums, I knew I had to visit Isla Negra, Pablo Neruda’s biggest and most beautiful home, located a couple of house south of Valparaíso on the Pacific coast. This was one of the top items on my Chile bucket list, so when Sara came to visit, I took advantage of our coastal adventures to get to Isla Negra.
Despite its name, Isla Negra is not actually an island. If you know anything about Neruda, you know that he was fascinated with all things nautical, so he built his home in the shape of a boat, with views looking directly out to the ocean. Standing in his bedroom and taking in the views of the crashing waves from his bed was incredibly moving for me.
The Fundacion Pablo Neruda does not permit photography inside any of the poet’s home, so you will have to head there yourself to get a sense of the extensive collections housed within its walls. It is totally worth it just for the views, inspirational in their own right.
I wouldn’t mind sitting at Neruda’s desk and spending a few hours a day writing, looking out towards the ocean every times I needed a break. Nor would I mind sitting in the breakfast nook and having a cup of tea, or sharing several bottles of wine with a large assortment of friends over his massive dining room table.
For craft fans like me, the museum also celebrates the embroidery of a women’s embroidery collective that Neruda supported. Their creations are intricate and gorgeous, if beyond my budget, and if you’re interested in their techniques, the museum sells starter embroidery kits.
Loving the Ocean in Isla Negra, Chile
Even though Isla Negra is a popular tourist destination, it seems most people arrive by car, and I found it a bit challenging to find information on how to get there. You can get there from either Valparaíso or Santiago, and it is worth the journey for a pleasant day trip. I would suggest going earlier in the day to enjoy some seaside empanadas or spend some time on the beach. Below, I’ve listed my other suggestions as well as tips on how to get to Isla Negra on public transportation.
If you weren’t such a fan of the houses in Bellavista or Valpo (like me), Isla Negra is a completely different experience. If you can only visit one of Neruda’s houses, make it this one.
Recommendations for Isla Negra, Chile:
- Buses leaves for Isla Negra from the Valparaíso bus terminal, located by the Congreso. I did not see a posted schedule but they seemed to leave every hour. Make sure you tell the driver you want to get off in Isla Negra. The bus cost $4000CLP on my visit during busy winter vacation.
- If you are staying in Viña del Mar, as we were, you will have to take a local bus to Valparaíso and then leave from there. There no buses from Viña to Isla Negra.
- If you would like to head to Isla Negra from Santiago, this is totally possible! Pullman has a bus route through the Casablanca Valley that passes right through Isla Negra. The buses leave from the Pajaritos and Alameda bus terminals, both located on the Metro Linea 1 (red line). If you’re taking the metro, you might as well just go directly to Pajaritos as it is a brand new, beautiful terminal and the buses will go there after passengers board at Terminal Alameda. (It’s also a little safer, in my opinion.) Buses leave every 15-30 minutes and you’ll need to buy tickets before boarding.
- We caught a direct bus back to Santiago from Isla Negra, right on the main street. There is a Pullman office in the center of town which offers luggage storage, which is a great option for those travelers like us who were just passing through but still had our luggage.
- You can see more about the Pullman Bus routes here, but remember that you won’t be able to buy tickets online because these are regional buses rather than long-distance buses.
- The Isla Negra museum has luggage storage in the form of free lockers, and we were able to get our medium sized backpack and suitcase into them.
- Try to visit the museum on an off day. The number of visitors allowed into the house at a certain time is restricted and on weekends, holidays, or vacation weeks, this can mean an hour or two wait and a very crowded tour. Even though the tour is with an audioguide, you still move through the house as a group and it can feel a little clausterphobic.
- Take some time to walk down to the beach and browse the artisan wares being sold along the beach path.
- Entry to the museum costs $5000. There is an on-site cafe and gift shop, and if you are lucky, there will be a table selling the intricate embroidery from the artisan collective. Even though it is pricey, it is well worth a look to admire the detailed work.