Back in 2013, when I was visiting Chile in order to get a sense of whether I might like to move here, my friend Francisca took me to all the main tourist destinations around Santiago, including a whirlwind tour of nearby Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. On my first visit, we stopped at the Museo Fonck so I could see the Easter Island exhibit, then followed that up with some empanadas and a walk on the beach before continuing onward to Valpo.
That quick visit left a good impression on me, so I put a return visit to Viña on my Chile bucket list. When my friend Sara decided to make the journey south to Chile during my winter vacation, I saw a good opportunity to return. Since she arrived in the middle of winter (and being from Boston, neither of us are desperate to see more snow!), we decided to stay on the coast. Sara headed to Valparaíso on a solo adventure and covered so much territory in her explorations that it made more sense to visit Viña del Mar together.
Viña del Mar is an attractive coastal city with plenty of beach to wander at any point of the year. The climate is mild even in winter, and even on cloudy days the sun manages to peek out, as you can see in my photos. We caught a Viña bound bus from the Pajaritos terminal and enjoyed the comfortable ride to our next destination. After checking in to our AirBnB close to the beach, we headed out to wander along the coastline.
Once we reached the beach, I realized that I already knew this stretch of sand, captured in one of my favorite photos of myself. It was a little surreal to recover the same ground as two years before, with a completely different perspective on Chile.
Thankfully, Sara is a relaxed traveler and was equally content to wander along the coast and get a sense of Valpo’s sister city. While the botanical gardens were too far away for a short off-season visit, I wanted to make sure we took in the Castillo Wulff (Wulff Castle) and Reloj de Flores (Flower Clock), two distinctive characteristics of Vina del Mar.
Posing in Front of Castillo Wulff, Viña del Mar, Chile
Castillo Wulff was built by a businessman of German heritage back in 1906, and is still a popular spot with tourists due to its great vantage point and distinctive architecture.
Inside the castle, there is small gallery with temporary exhibits, run by the municipality of Viña del Mar. On my visit, the gallery displayed intricate embroidery by local artists, which was perfect for me as a huge fan of textile art.
Combined with the amazing folk art exhibit in the Centro Cultural La Moneda in Santiago and the artisan collective at Isla Negra, I am pretty inspired to keep learning more techniques in embroidery.
After visiting the castle, we continued along the coast, taking in the views over the ocean right from the sidewalk.
The seabirds circled above, leading me to catch some pretty nice shots of the ocean in the late afternoon sun.
After crossing some major streets, we reached the Reloj de Flores, a touristy but attractively landscaped clock located by the one of the entrances to the commerical district. I was particularly intrigued by the plants in the little plaza, which appeared to be kale or cabbage, quite eye-catching in their own right (maybe even cooler than the clock, if you ask me!).
Mission accomplished, we headed back along the coast in search of an affordable and hopefully delicious dinner. The late afternoon mix of sun and clouds led to some pretty beautiful skies.
We ended up getting pizza at Diego Pizza, a restaurant I was drawn to due to its clean design. Happily, they had the best pizza I’ve had to date in Chile, made even more flavorful by its roasted garlic and onion. We added in a big fresh salad for balance.
After eating, we hurried outside to catch the tail end of an amazing sunset. That is one of the best things about staying blocks from the beach; the sunsets are all the more accessible.
The next morning, we enjoyed a delicious American-style breakfast at our AirBnB before beginning our journey to Isla Negra. While I would probably want more time in Viña during the warm, sunny summer, this was a perfect overnight trip during my winter break and I feel like I got to know the city a little better this time around!
Recommendations for Vina del Mar:
- Direct buses to Viña del Mar run from Terminal Alameda and Terminal Pajaritos in Santiago. If you are heading to the bus terminal on the metro, you may as well head directly to Pajaritos as the buses stop in both locations. You buy your tickets from the kiosks inside the newly remodeled terminals. On a holiday during winter vacation, a one way ticket cost $4000CLP.
- We ended up taking a taxi to our AirBnB, but be aware that taxis are very expensive in Viña and the city is pretty walkable from the bus terminal.
- Local buses cost $400 per ride, and I found both strangers on the street and bus employees to be quite helpful with helping us get to the bus terminal and to Valparaiso.
- We stayed at the Speakeasy Guest House, which we booked through AirBnb. The location is excellent, near the shopping mall, the beach, and a number of restaurants. The owner, a Chilean-American, provides an excellent large American-style breakfast in the morning. He’s a trained chef so it’s worth it just to enjoy the breakfast!
- I suggest spending some time around the colonial buildings downtown, including Museo Fonck, enjoying empanadas at an open air restaurant, checking out Castillo Wulff, and the Reloj de Flores. Viña is also known for its botantical gardens.