Chile demands far, far more than the three days we were able to dedicate to central Chile, much less to the full country. But since that’s all we had, we had to make the most of it. We spent only a day and a half (although we did have four nights) in Santiago and had to limit our wine experiences to two valleys (Maipo and Casablanca).
We did, however, manage to tack a very brief afternoon tour of two coastal cities—Valparaiso and Vina del Mar) to the end of our Casablanca Valley wine tour. Chris, our Santiago Adventures guide proved to be as adept at tracing the region’s history as he was at guiding us through wine country terroir.
Valparaiso, which was founded in the mid-16th century, used be a very prosperous city (the Pearl of the Pacific) until the Panama Canal eliminated much of its ship traffic. This provided a rich base of historic buildings, many of which have fallen into disrepair, in a city that still suffers from high unemployment and low incomes. A number of neighborhoods in the 400,000 person city have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This has brought some additional revenue and more interest in renovation.
Some of Valparaiso’s grand buildings, including, but certainly not limited to the Chilean Navy Headquarters, have been restored to their original grandeur.
Plenty of other individual residential and commercial buildings have also benefited from private investment.
Many of the most interesting neighborhoods are built on steep hills with some, like Artillery Hill and especially Conception Hill, becoming bohemian communities with brightly colored buildings and murals.
These hills offer stunning views of the city, the harbor from which it was born, and in the distance, the second destination on our whirlwind coastal city tour, Vina del Mar.
Vina del Mar
Vina del Mar is a resort community whose population leaps from 500,000 permanent residents to about 1.5 million in summers. They are drawn primarily by the casino, the resort hotels, the nightlife and the beaches. The city, as a result, is far more upscale than Valparaiso, with luxury hotels, upscale stores and restaurants and well-maintained parks.