While the city of Viña del Mar itself isn’t all that great, the beaches are pretty good. They aren’t always safe for swimming (the red flag was up every day at each beach), but if you’re into surfing or sunbathing, you’re in luck. But be warned – the water is freezing.
To get to the beaches from Valparaíso, take any bus labeled Reñaca or Concón. These buses will definitely pass by all the beaches. It could take up to an hour one way because of traffic in Viña, so make sure you work in that factor. Jump on the bus, pay the driver (less than CLP $500), and sit tight.
Let’s start with the first small beach near the Sheraton. It might be the fastest to reach from Valpo in just 10 minutes, but it doesn’t look that great. Skip it.
On the north coast of Viña del Mar is a very long stretch of sandy beach. It’s not bad. There are a few sections set aside for beach volleyball and other beach activities. It was also cleaner than I expected. If you get hungry, food vendors walk up and down the beach with snacks, drinks, and ice cream. Other than that, there’s absolutely nothing around for food. It was a nice day and I had a good, relaxing few hours here. You can get off the bus at pretty much any point of the beach. I chose the northernmost section, Playa Los Marineros.
My favorite beach is about five minutes past the very long stretch of sandy beach, and it also happens to be the most popular – Playa Reñaca. It was a great beach to be on. The beach was crowded (I usually like quiet beaches), but it was very clean and relaxing for the amount of people on the beach. There are lots of tents set up for promotions, beach activities, sand art, and just a few minutes walk from the beach there are several restaurants and fast food outlets. Get off the bus when you see the big Reñaca sign.
A 15 minute ride past Reñaca is Concón. It looked much more relaxed and less crowded, but not a nicer beach. We decided to go back to Reñaca.
A note on safety – I was warned by Chileans about theft. I had my iPhone and wallet, and there were lots of families on the beach. It was very safe. Take normal beach precautions for theft and don’t take anything you aren’t willing to lose.
Another very important point is that you absolutely need to wear a sunscreen with a high SPF. I usually wear between a 4 and 15, but in Chile, the sun and UV rays are much stronger. If you have darker skin tones like me, use no lower than a 30, otherwise go as high as you can. I got a slight burn on some parts of my chest and stomach after a few hours on the beach, and that’s never happened to me before using a 15.