A Black Bear Abroad: A weekend on the coast in Vina del Mar and Valparaiso

Coastal Chile’s memorable architecture.

Two weekends ago, as part of the program in Chile, we took a day trip to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. These two cities are on the coast of the country, about an hour-and-a-half away from Santiago. Our first stop was a man-made sand dune on the coast of Concon. The dune was created when officials did not want to deal with sand coming into their city, so they piled it all up to try to get rid of it. It was quite a hike to get to the top, but it was completely worth the view.

After visiting the sand dune, we went to Vina del Mar to go to the beach and get food. The beaches there are super nice, but because Chile is on the Pacific coast the water was too cold to spend a lot of time in. Surprisingly Vina del Mar was the one place here where I have heard a significant amount of English being spoken. They had many restaurants featuring burgers, which I haven’t seen much in Santiago.

After Vina del Mar, we went to Valparaiso, which is a city that many people compare to San Francisco. It has the same hills, architecture and atmosphere as San Francisco, so at times while we were there it felt just like we were back in the United States. There we got to walk around and look at some of the street art that is all over the city. Unlike the graffiti in Santiago, the graffiti, or street art, in Valparaiso is actually beautiful and meaningful. There was so much that it was hard to know what to look at as we walked around the city. We finished the day with a boat ride around the harbor.

The port at Valparaiso is super important to Chile and all of Latin America’s economy as it is one of the largest ports in the area. The harbor was full of fishing boats, shipping boats and some Chilean Navy boats.

After the tour of the harbor the day ended for some people, but there were 13 of us who rented a six-person Airbnb together. The first problem with this was that the location that was on the website was not where the actual Airbnb was. We ended up being picked up by the homeowner and driven about five minutes to where the house actually was. The next problem was that the house that supposedly had six beds actually had three beds and two couches. Somehow we all fit into the house and had a great weekend.

Vina del Mar and Valparaiso are known for their great seafood. One of the nights we were there, we went to a seafood restaurant. Personally, I don’t eat seafood, but the food that everyone else ate looked delicious. Ceviche was one of the dishes that was particularly popular.

Although Vina del Mar and Valparaiso are primarily known for their beaches, they are also great cultural hubs. Pablo Neruda, a famous Chilean poet and political activist, has one of his houses in Valparaiso. There are also many old elevators or “funiculars” that are on the sides of hills and give the city a different feel. They are basically just boxcars that will transport you up the side of a hill. These seem a little sketchy at first glance, but after riding in one, I realized that they seem pretty stable and make exploring the city even more exciting.

Another great thing about Vina del Mar and Valparaiso that was particularly nice is that since they are on the coast they were cooler than the city had been. At night, I was comfortable wearing pants and a long-sleeved shirt, which was much different from the 90+ degree temperatures that we have been having in Santiago lately.

All in all, it was a great adventure to the coast that gave me an idea of what other parts of Chile there are outside of the metropolitan area of Santiago.

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