Destination

Valparaiso/Viña del Mar, Chile

Trip Background

March 22nd, 2018. A day like any other. Except on this day, a deal came up on The Flight Deal (which  is my go-to source for good deals). This one: $772 for a round trip ticket from San Francisco to Santiago.

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Country #39 is a big one, considering I’m one away from the big 4-0 (countries…not years). Hmm. I guess it really isn’t that big. But it has been several years since I was in South America and it felt good to blend in with all of the other Chinese people speaking Spanish. … Yeah okay that also is not true.

Let’s get to the trip. Ahem.

 

TL;DR

  • Stay
    • Sheraton Miramar Hotel & Convention Center, Avenida Marina No. 15, Viña del Mar, Chile
      • A lovely escape by the sea, with sweeping views of the coastline. Service was excellent and if you’re fortunate enough to get a suite, you will love this place even more.
  • Eat/Drink
    • Fauna Restaurant, Paseo Dimalow 166, Valparaíso, Región de Valparaíso
      • Try a local beer, a fresh salad served on top of flatbread with prosciutto, and a risotto served with fish. Served with a side of stunning hillside and water views.
    • Restaurant La Concepcion, Papudo 541, Valparaíso, Región de Valparaíso
      • The view when you step out onto the terrace is breathtaking. The food will leave you similarly stunned. Try the tuna crusted with sesame seeds.
    • Casa Cervecera Altamira, Av. Elias 126, Valparaíso, Región de Valparaíso
      • Could be the best beer I’ve ever had. If it’s still on tap, try the grapefruit hefeweizen (might be a seasonal).
  • See
    • Plaza Sotomayor, Prat, Valparaíso, Región de Valparaíso, Chile
      • A central gathering location from which many tours start.
    • La Escala Galería, Cochrane 553, Valparaíso, Chile
      • A lovely gallery near Plaza Sotomayor with stunning art.
    • Tours4Tips – 3 PM Valparaiso Highlights Walk, Meet at Plaza Sotomayor
      • Took this tour and it was an enjoyable exploration of the local area. Tips are expected in lieu of a paid ticket and I left the staff with a C$7000 (USD$10) tip at the end.
    • Palacio Baburizza, Monte Alegre 132, Valparaíso, Región de Valparaíso, Chile
      • A gorgeous mansion turned art museum sitting atop a hill
    • La Sebastiana, Ricardo de Ferrari 692, Valparaíso, Región de Valparaíso, Chile
      • One of Pablo Neruda’s three homes (the others being La Chascona in Santiago, which I visited, and Isla Negra) and probably the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in a stranger’s home. Eccentric furniture is only outmatched by the stunning sweeping views of Valparaiso and the water
    • Museo de Historia Natural, Condell 1546, Valparaíso, Región de Valparaíso, Chile
      • Free to the public, it’s an easy respite from the streets of Valpo but probably not the best option for most travelers. The café in the front is super charming though.

NEW Feature for my posts: For a Google map of all of these locations, please click here.

 

Day 0 (June 4, 2018): Delays

Ehhh. This trip began as some do – with a delay. But to spare you from that, I’m gonna take you straight into the trip.

 

Day 1 (June 5, 2018): Smooth Sailing

Landing at the Santiago Airport is a dramatic sight, to say the least. As you descend, you see the Andes rising to the east of the city and the jarring contrast of beautiful mountains and a modern, clean Latin American capital make for a beautiful vision – especially at sunrise.

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Landing in Santiago

But I did not want to get distracted by Santiago’s beauty since I was supposed to spend my first two days in Valparaiso – a gorgeous seaside city that Santiago residents typically flock to in summer.

My first mission was to get from the Santiago Airport to the Pajaritos bus station. To do this, I took the Tur Bus which cost C$1,800 Chilean pesos (USD$2.59 at the time of publishing). Once you leave customs, you’ll see a couple companies outside asking if you want to ride with them. Tell them “yo quiero ir a Pajaritos” (“I want to go to Pajaritos”) and they’ll point you in the right direction.

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On the Tur Bus heading to Pajaritos station

It’s a short ride to Pajaritos, which is not only a major bus station but also a major line on the subway. The bus options there are plentiful but I chose the Pullman Bus because I’d read online that the experience was easy and convenient. I didn’t need to reserve anything in advance because the buses to Valparaiso leave so often and there are so many of them. You’ll want to go inside and buy your ticket and if you buy a round trip (“de ide y vuelta”), you’ll get a small discount. It cost me C$5,500 (USD$7.92) for my round trip ticket from Pajaritos to Valparaiso – what a price! I’d recommend grabbing a coffee and a snack at the coffee shop in the station before you leave and then it’s a quick 90 minutes from door to door.

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Boarding the Pullman bus to Valparaiso

The Pullman Bus dropped me at Terminal Rodoviario Valparaiso. It was at this moment that I realized I had booked a bus to Valparaiso — but I was staying in Viña del Mar. A momentary panic set in before I realized I could Uber from the bus station to my hotel for a mere C$3580 (USD$5.16). Huzzah! And if this happens to you, just know that they’re not super close but getting to and from either place is really quite easy.

I pulled up to Sheraton Miramar Hotel & Convention Center and was very pleasantly surprised by the experience I had over the next couple days. Check-in was super easy and they informed me they’d upgraded me to a suite. Not knowing what to expect, I walked into this:

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The suite life

This suite was ridiculous. And I can only imagine how amazing it must be when the weather is stunningly clear. I went for a quick walk in the area to see what was around the hotel (the answer – not much, except for a cool looking castle). The hotel is technically located in Viña del Mar but in reality it’s a walk to any of the touristy attractions of the town.

I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Valparaiso and took an Uber to the Plaza Sotomayor. I arrived before my 3 PM tour, so I decided to explore the local stores and came across La Escala Galería, a splendid little bohemian studio a block from the Plaza Sotomayor. I was tempted to buy many of the pieces but knowing I did not have a way to transport them back, I settled for a small magnet and many pictures.

At 3 PM, I went back to Plaza Sotomayor to join the English tour of Tours4Tips. It’s a super easy way to see part of the historic city, and it begins with a ride up the Ascensor El Peral that takes you to a balcony with a sweeping view of the water and a number of the lovely colored buildings that dot the hillside. Walking by the Palacio Barbarizza, we began our exploration of the best street art I’ve ever seen.

A stop for an alfajor (a small cake-like sandwich traditionally filled with dulce de leche that is a tasty afternoon treat) was a delightful break from the slow-paced walk, and you’ll quickly understand why artists from all over are drawn here – and why guests like me love their public work.

We ascended and descended a number of streets and hills and the tour ended back at their office where they gave us a small tea and sent us on our way with some local recommendations.

I set out in search of dinner and in addition to finding even more gorgeous street art, I learned a key lesson: some of Valparaiso is closed during May and June because it is the low season.

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Things are closed in Chilean winter!

As a result, I wound up at Fauna Restaurant, which my friend had recommended to be in advance of this trip. Besides lovely views down into the winding streets and charming hills of Valparaiso, Fauna provided a lovely meal and drink selection, of which I opted for a local beer, a fresh salad served on top of flatbread with prosciutto, and a risotto served with fish.

Oh, in case I don’t mention this enough. There are a LOT of amazing seafood options in this town. And microbrews. Prepare yourself. Jeez. I almost forgot. Chilean wine too. Good lord. After dinner, I took one of the many funiculars back down the hill – and if you have a fear of heights, I’m going to advise you to not take this route.

To get back to my hotel, I normally would have taken an Uber. But for some reason, I found myself being more adventurous that normal and I took the bus back to Reloj de Flores (the Clock of Flowers, a really distinct landmark park of beautiful colored flowers). The bus rumbled loudly, with rolling stops and occasional hard braking. But it was cheap (C$400, ~(USD$.60) and got me back to within a block of my hotel.

My evening ended with a lovely surprise from the hotel – a wine bottle and cheese/meat plate. Thanks #SPG!

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Day 2 (June 6, 2018): Stunning sunshine and lots of blue skies

It truly is amazing how a city transforms when bathed in the glow of golden sunshine and blue skies. The previous day, Valparaiso seemed muted by dark gray clouds and drowning in boredom. But on this day, the entire town sprang to life – and with it some of the best street art I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

My morning began with breakfast, which immediately made me realize how spoiled I was on this trip. The hotel breakfast included an omelette station and a plethora of food options, ranging from potatoes and bacon to pastries and smoked salmon.

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As soon as I was done with breakfast, I set off to explore. I took an Uber from my hotel and immediately headed for Palacio Baburizza, a mansion once owned by a Croatian businessman that was eventually sold to the Valparaiso government. The building now serves as a beautiful museum with not only his collection of art but also stunning views of the water and the city hills. The C$4,000 (USD$6) cost of admission is well worth it and includes an audio tour.

After my 90-minute exploration of the galleries, I decided to stay in the garden to read my tour book on Valparaiso, to unwind and do some sketching. After a half hour of soaking up the sun, I called an Uber and went to La Sebastiana, the home of famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. While I have not read Neruda’s work in many years (since my high school Spanish classes), I had heard from numerous people that the eccentric beauty of his home could not be understood without viewing this place for myself. The C$7000 (USD$10.45) cost of admission is a no-brainer. As I watched the video detailing his life, I began to learn just how much Neruda loved life and his country. Each floor revealed his love for color, quirky furniture, and intriguing collectibles. And on top of that, I can imagine how much inspiration and relaxation he derived from those stunning views.

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La Sebastiana near sunset

I decided not to take an Uber to descend the hill and instead simply start walking. Google maps indicated that the route was not particularly onerous and given the sunny, blue skies, I thought I could handle a few more steps. I was pleasantly surprised to discover some cute touristy shops, some outstanding art and murals on the sides of buildings, and another charming alfajor shop. I won’t say much else – I’d rather let the art speak for itself!

At the bottom of the hill sits the Museo de Historia Natural (Natural History Museum) – and unfortunately there’s not a whole lot there. If you’re a resident and looking for a place to learn about the natural species and some of the physical history, it’s interesting. But as a tourist, there are better places to spend your time.

 

As I continued exploring the city on foot, I came back to a painting vendor whom I had seen the previous day. As I explored his paintings for sale, I came upon one that I completely fell in love with. It represents the hillsides of Valparaiso with a gorgeous nighttime sky. C$15,000 (USD$22.39) later, I was the proud owner of the painting – and the painter even took a pic with me. 🙂

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The beautiful painting which is now displayed in my living room

As it had been a busy day, I decided dinner was the next prudent option. I looked at what was available nearby and upon passing Restaurant La Concepcion, the menu was compelling. What I did not expect was the view when you step out onto the terrace. Remember when I said this is a lovely city of seafood and sea views? Describing the view in one word: breathtaking. The food similarly left me stunned. Try the tuna crusted with sesame seeds. As I spent the evening reading and eating, I wound up chatting with a nice couple from Chicago (Nicole and Tarik) who were on the tail end of their honeymoon. As we finished our dinners, I told them I had planned to check out a nearby brewery and invited them to join me.

We walked over to Casa Cervecera Altamira and I had a grapefruit hefeweizen, which might be one of the best beers I’ve ever had. Slightly sweet and just a little sour, it reminded me of what I traditionally think of June evenings: summer. Obviously that’s not the case in the southern hemisphere, but it was a nice momentary fantasy. I did attempt to bring home a growler of said beer but logistically it would have been a pain in the butt to haul that to Santiago and then onto a flight back to the states (especially since I was trying to avoid checking bags). Nicole and Tarik surprised me to end the night by buying my beers and I bid them both a farewell, with a promise to take them out for drinks if/when I moved to Chicago (which as some of you may know now, we eventually did!).

 

Day 3 (June 7, 2018): Reading on the deck and off to Santiago

I woke up later than I had planned (~9:30 AM) so I decided to abandon any ambitious plans of wandering the streets of Viña del Mar and just relax. I went down to the lobby restaurant where I presented the little card I had received at check in (good for one sparkling wine) and asked them if I could have that with my breakfast.

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My wonderful server looked around cautiously.

“Normally we can’t, but I will make an exception for you,” he said with a smile and a wink.

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My breakfast beverage arrived a few minutes later, which I decided to enjoy from my room terrace. I proceeded to spend the next couple hours reading from my balcony while sipping my sparkling wine (it did not last nearly as long), and while the cool crisp air would have been nicer as a warm breeze, I was in no position to complain.

When the time came to check out, I took a quick Uber ride back into Valparaiso’s bus station and boarded my bus. But as I sat there waiting for our departure, I saw a man outside with a cooler selling sandwiches and realized I was about to have an hour and a half long journey ahead of me. C$1000 (USD$1.49) later, I was the proud owner of a soon-to-be demolished cheese sandwich – I believe it was pimento.

The door closed and soon I was headed back to Santiago.

For the rest of this trip, please see my post on Santiago, Chile.

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