One of my must-sees for my time in Chile was Isla Negra, the favorite home of Nobel Laureate poet Pablo Neruda. Of his three houses, the others being La Chascona in Santiago and La Sebastiana in Valparaíso, Isla Negra is the best-preserved and the most interesting, and is definitely worth the trip from Santiago.
Isla Negra is about 90 minutes from Santiago. To save time and make things easier, I took a tour provided by Turistik. At CLP $49,500 (about $90), it wasn’t cheap, but they dropped us off near the house, took care of admissions, and even took us to a vineyard on the way back to Santiago. Admissions alone added up to CLP $20,000 (CLP $4,000 for Isla Negra and CLP $16,000 for the vineyard).
A service bus picked me up at 8:15am at Patio Bellavista in Santiago (they offer hotel pick-ups as well). It took me to a central Turistik bus depot where everyone on the bus joined their tour for the day. I ended up sleeping the whole way to Isla Negra, and I don’t think the guide was too happy about that.
The bus stopped on a small road, and we walked five minutes to the house. When we arrived, it was busier than expected, so our group waited in the café overlooking the Pacific Ocean until it was our turn. The views were amazing, and I could immediately understand why Neruda chose this as the setting for his home.
When it was time for our group to start, we were given individual audio guides and one hour to finish the tour. As in the other Neruda homes, I was able to see a collection of artifacts Neruda acquired from his travels. Each artifact was meticulously placed in a certain spot by the poet for a reason. In addition, each room was designed specifically to mimic the feeling of being on a ship, or in a rail car. He even positioned his bed so that the sun would rise at his feet. Listening to every detail was entertaining and interesting. Unfortunately, photography is forbidden inside the house.
One of my favorite parts of the house was a small boat fixed on a rock on the outside. He would sit in the boat with friends and pretend to be a captain on the sea. He loved to entertain guests and never ate alone, so I could only imagine how fun it would be to have a dinner at any of his houses.
In the last few rooms of the house, I was able to see some of Neruda’s most prized possessions – a model of a horse he had wanted to buy as a boy (and finally did 50 years later), his favorite writing desk, and his seashell collection. The tour ended with a visit to his grave, where he had wished to be buried with his lover, Matilda Urrutia:
“Friends, bury me in Isla Negra, in front of the sea I know, close to every rugged area of stones, and of waves that my lost eyes no longer may see.” (Disposiciones)
After we finished the tour, the bus took us to lunch. It pulled up to a building with absolutely nothing else in sight with lots of different flags hanging outside and in the dining hall. I could only describe it as a literal tourist trap. The food was terribly overpriced and portions were tiny. I paid CLP $9,000 for a ceviche that I could get for under CLP $5,000. As if the tour wasn’t expensive enough! The cost of the lunch was the only negative thing about the tour.
On the way back to Santiago, we made a stop at Viña Matetic, a biodynamic vineyard in the Casablanca Valley. It was founded by a Chilean family of Croatian heritage. We had a tour and explanation of their winemaking process by a very knowledgable guide, followed by a stop in the cellar.
We finished the tour with a wine tasting of their premium Equilibrium line of wines – 2 reds and 2 whites. I liked one of each, but don’t remember exactly which ones. We had a Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and a Syrah.
Overall, it was a good tour. It would have been impossible to do both Isla Negra and the vineyard by bus, and more expensive by renting a car. If anyone decides to take this tour, don’t be shocked at the price of the lunch. You’re better off packing your own snacks and saving the money.