Valparaiso is a Port City about 2 hrs west of Santiago. It sits along the coast between two favourite beach towns, Plata del Mar and Algarrobo. A rather run down dirty place, Valparaiso redeems itself with colourful street art and multihued homes that climb the steep hillsides from the harbour. So steep are the streets that there are many funiculars to help the locals move up and down.
Valparaiso is a great walking place and with a good map and good shoes you can wander the busy narrow streets that zigzag up and down the hills. Crowded with tourists, shoppers, diners and vendors there are plenty of shops selling art and various types of memorabilia, each sporting a bright coat of paint. The city has made such an effort to make itself attractive, it has been named a UNESCO world heritage site.
Again we were able to find a flat that was high above and streets and gave us a good view of the ocean and the city. The Chilean Navy is evident in Valparaiso and it is a major port for goods coming and going on large freighters. It is also a cruise ship port with a long malecon but there aren’t any really nice beaches in Valparaiso itself. We discovered a tourist map, outlining all the major sights and we were able to follow the map and see what we wanted to see in one day.
Having a car made it easy to drive north along the coast to Vina del Mar. We were hoping for a beach day but it was cool and foggy and instead we enjoyed a road trip. Vina del Mar is pretty swank compared to Valparaiso. There are huge new developments and shopping malls and high end looking bars and restaurants. Vina as it is know in Chile has long been known as Chile’s tourist capital but the wide boulevards, lined with palms and mansions might make it glitzy and exciting but it also looks like many other places in the world and their is little to none of the character and charm that you find in less frequented places in Chile.
A third day saw us driving down the coast to the city of Algarobbo. Here we found the beaches of the “people”. In spite of the lack of sunshine and a chill in the air we were able to walk the beaches and enjoy the crowds who lay expectantly in the sand as if the sun would appear any moment and as the day wore on and the fog wore off they were rewarded for their patience.
We discovered Pablo Neruda, Chiles favourite poet in Valparaiso, and when we were in Isla Negra we wanted to visit his house but it was closed. Neruda wrote “Ancient night and unruly sea beat at the walls of my house.” Neruda was a collector and his houses, three that I know of, were all stuffed with interesting memorabilia.
We took boat tour out to a sanctuary for Humboldt Penguins which are small but cute and plentiful. The island was home to many other types of birds as well, including the ubiquitous pelican. Several small bays shape the coastline and as January and February mean summer vacation for families it was very crowded. There are huge complexes of apartments and condos for vacationers and so many activities and adventures to be had.
Food on the coast was good and we had several nice dinners out in restaurants that ranged from family style to fine dining. Of course we found many seafood dishes but we also tried some local specialties. Although our “beach” vacation failed to materialize out of the fog and chill we found the area in and around Valparaiso to be well worth a visit no matter the weather.