Exploring Chile’s Viña del Mar

Viña del Mar, Chile – July, 2015

A weekend exploring coastal Viña del Mar uncovers dance groups, a castle, and several surprises.

The original plan was to try and hit both Viña del Mar and Valparaiso on the same weekend. I was a bit disappointed at the decision to see only Viña, but after arriving in the city I realized that a weekend wasn’t nearly enough to explore both.

I would be crashing on my girlfriend’s best friend’s bedroom floor, using the futon cushions as a bed.

IMG_2674After dropping our bags at the apartment, we made a beeline for Plaza de Armas, the traditional Spanish colonial square that originally featured the town’s government buildings and Cathedral. Nowadays,  it is full of palm trees, sculptures, and dance crews with boomboxes.

We went slightly uphill and reached Parque Quinta Vergara, named after one of Viña del Mar’s founders. This beautiful park features statues of important Chilean figures, a memorial to Chilean authors Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, and many walkways lined with palm trees.

At the far side of the park is an outdoor auditorium dug into the side of a mountain. It seats over a thousand people and is used sparingly for public gatherings and city celebrations, plus the occasional music performance.

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After paying 200 pesos (30 cents) to use the bathroom, we left for the beach. As Viña is built partially in a canyon, much of the main road and buildings are cut out of the mountains. There is some street art here, although the city has surprisingly little compared to its neighbor Valparaiso.

After 15 minutes we arrived at the Reloj de Flores (flower clock), a hillside working clock formed by a flower garden. It adorns most postcards and T-shirts from Viña del Mar.

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That night we found ourselves at a bar with friends. We ordered  Chilean bar food, which is typically french fries topped with sausage, salsa, and eggs. Tonight was no different. Four pounds (no exaggeration) of fried potatoes was soon served, topped with a heaping serving of sausage, chicken, mayonnaise, and two fried eggs. A stray dog wandered throughout the bar unmolested, because Chile.

The next day we set out to explore what we had missed. We started at the beach near Reloj de Flores and headed east. We followed the coast along Avenida Peru for a couple of hours, soaking in the sights, sounds and people.

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IMG_2813One of the highlights was the art painted onto the rocks above the ocean. Roughly one third of the displays were bible verses, with the others being split between poems, memorials, quotes meant to be inspirational (The purpose of life, is to be happy!, and other sixth grade wisdom), and pictures.

Other art along the beach featured elaborate chalk drawings and sand sculptures.

IMG_2810Next was meeting up with a friend at El Guatòn (The Gut), a popular local burger & hot dog joint. I nearly finished my half of the burger and couldn’t eat until noon the next day. My friend, all 5’2″, 100 pounds of her, finished most of her completo (pictured next to her arm).

We then made our way back towards the center of the city, stopping to admire an ocean front mansion built for a German immigrant. (Free advice: don’t question a South American’s view of the massive wave of Italian and German military officer-aged immigrants into South America during the waning months of World War II.)  Incidentally, the man who tried to rob our hostel via a prostitute a month prior had used the castle architect name as an alias, but that is another story and shall be told another time.

Nearby the mall was a group of roughly 100 people, dressed in traditional outfits and dancing, while the crowd sang and chanted This is our culture along with the dancers, a perfect ending to the day’s wandering.

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