Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The coastal resorts of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso - Chile (3)

During our 2010 trip to Chile, we visited Valparaiso along with our guide. First stop enroute was Vina del Mar which in English means Vineyard by the Sea. Vina del Mar is best known as a tourist and beach resort destination, its white sanded beaches include "the be seen" Renaca Beach, Las Salinas Beach. A major attraction is its Vina del Mar Municipal Casino founded in 1930, one the oldest gambling establishments in South America.

Vina del Mar coastline

Two visitors from Europe and one from Easter Island
From Vina we continued on the short drive to Valparaiso.  Lonely Planet describes this city as "undoubtedly the most unique city in Chile".  It is widely known for its bohemian culture, brightly colored houses, and beautiful seaside views. In some ways the city is quite run down and many of the once "brightly coloured houses" are now faded but despite that, it is a beautiful place and deserves some more commentary from the travel writers from Lonely Planet (see below). We highly recommend arranging a guide to show you where to go, to make sure you see the best of what Valparaiso has to offer.

One of Valpo's funicular city lifts
Valparaiso - 'Valpo' for short - has long been one of the continent's best-kept secrets. Ignored by many Chileans, who prefer the more mundane charms of ViƱa del Mar next door, people are now beginning to catch on - especially since the city was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2003. From the flat city center ascensores (funicular elevators) creak at an improbable angle up to a very different city above. These tumbling chaotic cerros (hills), with their steep labyrinthine roads, crumbling mansions and kaleidoscopic rooftops, will have even amateur photographers snapping on every street corner. It's not just the stunning vistas that hit you as you look down to the busy working commercial and naval harbor below; it's the unique, faded grandeur of the town, and its spontaneous, bohemian charm. 

Valparaiso Port

For us the highlight of our trip was the visit to the home of Pablo Neruda, his house "La Sebastiana". For those of you not familar with Neruda, he was a Chilean poet and diplomat, in 1971 he won the Nobel prize for literature, he always wrote in green ink his personal color of hope. He had three houses in Chile all of which we visited during our trip. They are all quite unique showing his passion for collecting trinkets from his trips around the world, his love of the sea and his love of entertaining. All of the houses have a bar which hosted some legendary parties in their time. If you visit Valparaiso and only have time to visit one place, be sure and visit La Sebastiana.

La Sebastian - Valparaiso
When we arrived back in Santiago we were dropped at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal, San Cristobal's Hill, in northern Santiago. It is 880 meters above sea level therefore about 300 meters over Santiago. It was named after St Christopher by the Spanish conquistadors because of its use as a safe landmark. You can take a funicular railway to the top which in itself is fun, the view over the city is spectacular.

Cerro San Cristobal