My Chilean friends all told me to go to Viña del Mar. My expat friends told me to avoid it. Because of the difference of opinion, I decided to check it out for myself.
What’s the verdict? The title of this entry says it all. Viña is a nice city, but there’s really nothing to it. I might as well be Orland Park, IL, with a beach. There’s not exactly much to see, nothing of real historical significance, no soul, very little culture, and lots of overpriced restaurants. Three hours were enough for me to see everything. The beaches, on the other hand, are a different story. Read my post on the beaches to learn more.
How do you get there? Very easy. Viña is a city adjacent to Valparaíso and their public transportation is linked. You have two choices from Valpo to Viña – bus or metro.
To use the bus, you can hop onto any bus in Valpo that has Viña del Mar written on it. Pay the driver (it’s less than CLP $500) and get off when you see the flower clock or at Plaza José Francisco Vergara. Those are the two places nearest anything worth seeing. To be honest, the bus is probably better because they are more frequent and you can get off at more convenient places.
To use the metro, buy a metro card at one of the stops in Valpo. The cost is variable depending on trip length and time of day, but CLP $1,000 should cover your trip both ways. You have to swipe the card on your way in and out. If you don’t have enough money on your way out, you can pay the attendant to top up the card. The ride is about 15-20 minutes one way. I would suggest getting off the metro at the Viña del Mar stop because most of the “sites” are near it.
To get there from Santiago, go to the Pajaritos metro station on the red line. Just outside the metro station, there are direct buses to Viña del Mar. I would suggest Pullman or TurBus. The trip is about 90 minutes.
Now that you’re in Viña, what’s there to see? Let’s start near the ocean. If you get off the bus at the Reloj de Flores (Flower Clock), you can stop for a few minutes to see the flower clock. It’s actually pretty nice.
From there, cross the street and walk towards the ocean. You can get a glimpse of the beach next to the Sheraton hotel. I wouldn’t recommend that beach.
Then follow the road along the ocean to see some really cool rocks on a small beach and the Castillo Wulff. It was built by German industrialist Gustavo Adolfo Wulff in 1905, and kind of looks like something out of a Disney movie with its position right on the Pacific. The house is open for visitors with temporary art exhibits, but there’s really nothing else inside to see. Next to the house is a small lookout that has some really nice views.
Follow the coastal road and walk along the river to the first bridge. Turn right and walk a couple blocks until you come to Av. Valparaíso. This is a nice street to walk along with a few shops and restaurants. To me, it’s not all that interesting of a street, but it’s as charming as Viña can get.
About 10 minutes of walking on Av. Valparaíso will take you to Plaza José Francisco Vergara, the main square in Viña del Mar. It’s a nice park with lots of action and a few historic buildings located around it.
A few minutes walk south of the plaza was my favorite part of Viña, Quinta Vergara. This is a large public park that was once the private garden of José Francisco Vergara, founder of Viña del Mar. His beautiful mansion built in 1910, Palacio Vergara, is located on the grounds, and houses an art museum. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation during my visit.
Back north of the plaza, across the river are a few more museums/historical mansions. The first one is Palacio Carrasco. It was completed in 1923 and is now a cultural center. There is a sculpture by French sculptor Auguste Rodin out front called La Defensa.
A few blocks away is the Palacio Rioja. It was built by tobacco baron Fernando Rioja in 1907 and modeled after Versailles Palace. Like the other mansions, it is now a museum.