Today we took another day out of Santiago and busy city life to visit the coastal town of Viña del Mar, which came highly recommended by everybody from Chile that I spoke to before travelling. It was another long and exhausting day, just like Saturday when we went to Valparaíso, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Viña del Mar is close to Valparaíso, in fact when you are in one town you can see the other on the far side of the same big bay, and they also share a tram network but they have completely different atmospheres. Valparaíso, as I described in my previous blog post, is a good place to visit if you are looking to learn more about Chilean culture and history, see some street art, learn more about the Chilean government etc and Viña is the place you go if you want to take in the coastal way of life and visit the beach, although it does have museums and is the location of the world famous Viña del Mar music festival so you can take in plenty of culture there.
We decided to take a different coach company today as the prices with the company we travelled with to Valparaíso, Tur Bus, were a bit more expensive to Viña for some reason. This meant leaving from a different bus terminal a few minutes walk away from the main one, but the journey time was no different. Overall, as long as you don’t take one of the ultra-cheap companies, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between coaches. Both Tur Bus and Condor had comfortable seats, with plenty of leg room, left on time and seemed efficient. Steven says there are plenty of budget coach companies who have various levels of service, punctuality, and safety so it’s probably best to stick to the bigger operators where possible.
After arriving at the bus station in Viña del Mar we headed straight to the town’s most iconic and recognisable sight, the Reloj de Flores (Flower Clock), which as its name suggests is a working clock but with a face made up entirely of flowers. Here you will find locals and tourists alike taking photos and selfies while enjoying the sun and the atmosphere, and of course we followed suit taking some photos of ourselves. This seems a good place to start if you are visiting the town by bus as it is very close to the beach, bus station and a number of shops / restaurants.
The beach was our next stop. Unfortunately, there have been some storms out at sea caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon so the sea was unsafe to swim in, in fact there is a large part of the coast in the town that is completely closed off due to large waves which have been causing flooding and even overturning cars. We decided to walk north along the coast road to this area, near the casino, to take a look at the waves and while the conditions are much better than they have been in recent days they were still powerful enough to get us wet while we were watching from a high vantage point.
Since I would not be visiting Easter Island on this trip one place I definitely wanted to visit while in Viña del Mar was the Museo Fonck. This is a small museum within an old colonial house with two main sections, one dedicated to Easter Island and another dedicated to natural history, which while small is well worth a visit. Like many of the smaller museums in Latin America some knowledge of Spanish is definitely helpful, in the case of Museo Fonck they had attempted to translate a number of information boards into English but appear to have done so using an online translator so some of it I couldn’t understand and I just read the original Spanish text instead. We spent some time looking at the exhibits and learning more about the history and culture of Easter Island, and visiting has definitely renewed my interest in travelling there during a future trip.
The natural history section upstairs is fairly boring and standard but it did have a large collection of deadly spiders and various bugs, as well as a two-headed sheep, and it’s possible to waste some time here if you need to before going to your next destination. Overall I found the Easter Island exhibits, and the Easter Island statue in the grounds outside, much more interesting.
Empanadas were on the menu for lunch today, as they have been many times since I arrived in Chile. In The UK the thought of having pastry repeatedly wouldn’t seem like a good idea but they are a convenient traditional Chilean snack, generally of good quality, affordable and quick to eat. However, the main reason we chose them today was because I read online that one of the best Empanada cafes in the region was in Viña del Mar and so I wanted to try them. Overall they were nice, and they were definitely the best I have had so far on my trip, but I wouldn’t say that they were “out of this world” or any other similar catch phrase.
Viña is one of those towns where you can easily people watch and soak in the atmosphere and so we decided to rest our feet and regain our energy at the local Starbucks near the casino. Starbucks in Chile is a similar price to Starbucks the UK so by Chilean standards it’s extremely expensive, but as is the case with most international brands it is always really popular and so there has been a queue every time we have stopped at one. The atmosphere in this town is really nice and, although it is very touristy and full of gypsies, I would highly recommend a visit here if you are looking for a break by the sea for the day or a weekend. Chile has a very long coast line so there will be areas which are more pristine but Viña is very close to Santiago so is convenient if you won’t be in the region for long.
We didn’t want today to be too rushed and so spent most of the rest of the day just walking around and taking in the sights before relaxing in the Quinta Vergara, home of the famous music festival that I mentioned earlier. It is a nice place to relax, go for a walk, have a picnic or just to get out of the sun and I enjoyed my time here waiting for our coach. It was definitely a lot more preferable than waiting in the coach station for an hour. There is a little train that does tours of the park so it must also be very popular with children, although most of the people there when we visited were older.
Tomorrow begins part two of my time in Santiago, and the final stretch before I unfortunately have to return home.