Published on November 18th, 2015 | by Mark Chesnut
Rental Car Road Trip: Santiago de Chile to Valparaiso & Viña del Mar
Chile is an amazing vacation destination. Stretching more than 2,670 miles north to south, this South American nation offers an incredibly diverse array of travel experiences, from the arid, otherworldly Atacama desert in the north to the natural wonderland to the south, which is graced with fjords, inlets, islands and easy access to gigantic glaciers. But you don’t need to travel that far from the capital city of Santiago to add some extra excitement to your next Chile vacation. Indeed, you can rent a car in Santiago de Chile and within two hours arrive at two of the region’s most legendary coastal getaways: Valparaiso and Viña del Mar.
This feature is #sponsored by Alamo Rent A Car, which has rental locations around Latin America — but the content and Chile travel tips are all mine!
Rental Car Road Trip: Santiago to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, Chile
Getting there: Renting a car in Chile is a pretty easy experience for visitors from North America; you won’t need an international driver’s license, just your regular license, passport and credit card. Like any big capital city, Santiago has a decent amount of traffic, but it’s less stressful than in many large cities, and once you’re outside the capital, you’ll find that driving is even easier. Driving is one of the best ways to enjoy the nearby coast, as it gives you more freedom and flexibility to get around, see more sites and avoid hassles with taxis and mass transportation, which is more limited in Valparaiso and Viña del Mar than in Santiago.
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You should have already explored Santiago de Chile, of course — don’t miss the Cerro San Cristobal and Parque Metropolitano (Metropolitan Park), which offer great views of the city, and the Museo Chilean de Arte Precolombino (Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art). Visiting La Chascona, the former Santiago home of famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, is a good way to learn about this famed writer before visiting his home in Valparaiso.
It’s difficult to get lost when driving from Santiago to Valparaiso; a modern highway (route 68) makes the route pretty much a straight shot, with lovely scenery along the way. As in any part of the world, it’s a good idea to not leave valuables in sight inside the car when you park in public lots or on the street.
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What to do in Valparaiso
The historic city of Valparaiso, Chile’s second-largest metropolis, is a lovely, quirky gem on the coast of Chile. Some 45 hills look out on the ocean, with stunning vistas and colorful architecture from the city’s boom days closer to the turn of the last century (check out my photos of the city’s 19th-century architecture here).
Among the top most-see sites in Valparaiso:
• Ascensores: The hilly terrain in Valparaiso made funicular transportation a necessity in decades past, and in several parts of the city you can still board them for a scenic trip up or down. The funiculars named El Peral and Reina Victoria date to 1902, and Ascensor Concepción leads to a hilltop neighborhood filled with charming homes and cobblestone streets. The promenade called Paseo Gervasoni offers some of the city’s best views.
• La Sebastiana: This former home of the poet Pablo Neruda, named for the Spanish architect who began construction on it, has some of the poet’s own furnishings, as well as books and original manuscripts. It’s open to the public every day except Monday and some holidays.
• Museo de Bellas Artes: The Museum of Fine Arts is housed in the art nouveau Palacio Baburizza, which was built in 1916. The mansion is as much of an attraction as the collection, which includes European artwork donated by the home’s former owner.
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What to do in Viña del Mar
Set on the same bay as Valparaiso is Viña del Mar. It’s a quick trip to drive between the two cities, but the experience that awaits is very different. While Valparaiso is a quirky and Bohemian port city, with glimpses of its past decades of wealth, Viña del Mar is graced with elegant parks, neoclassical mansions and a beach lined with high-rise luxury residences.
Among the top things to do in Viña del Mar:
• Enjoy the beach: Viña del Mar is home to one of Chile’s most visited beaches, and during the summer months (which is winter in North America), thousands of people flock here to get their dose of sun and sand. Playa El Sol is the favored hot spot for beach vacations from December through March.
• Live the high life: For decades, Viña del Mar has been a preferred getaway for the rich and famous, with the country’s oldest casino, upscale hotels and great restaurants. So there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy some of the lush experiences here as well. Club Viña del Mar, housed in a neoclassical building that dates to 1901, attracts moneyed locals for games of snooker; non-members usually aren’t allowed inside, although during concerts you may be able to get a peek beyond the central hall.
• Go musical: The Viña del Mar International Song Festival is one of the biggest and best music festivals in Latin America. It’s taken place during the third week of February every year since 1960. The Festival takes place in the amphitheatre of Quinta Vergara, with more than 15,000 spectators, so planning ahead (both for the festival itself and for hotels) is crucial). Among the performers confirmed for the 2016 edition of the festival are reggaeton star Nicky Jam, Venezuelan pop star Ricardo Montaner, Spanish pop singer Ana Torroja, British singer Rick Astley and Spanish balladeers Alejandro Sanz and Pablo Alborán.