Valparaiso or Viña del Mar?

 

Anyone who visits Chile will hear about Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. There are many day tours that go to these two ocean side cities. After touring the Atacama desert we opted for some R&R by the sea! We decided to stay in Viña del Mar and just visit Valpo (what the locals call Valparaiso). Here is our review of both cities with a little blurb about Concon, a nearby beach community.

Viña del Mar

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Looking across the water towards Viña del Mar

Viña del Mar is where we spent two nights as it is listed as the best place to stay when visiting this area. It has a beautiful seawall with painted rocks.

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An example of the painted rocks along the sea wall

It’s perfect for watching the sunset, eating seafood, and peace and quiet. There are many places to stay here for every budget. The roads are nice and the city is clean and attractive.

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Catching a sunset over the city

The only con I can come up with is that it is rather boring. There is not much to see or do other than eat out in nice restaurants and stare at the sea. By the way, these are great ways to spend your time, but sometimes you want more. Viña del Mar also lacks a good beach for sunbathing and you cannot swim. It is a place good for romance, fine dining, and relaxation.

Valparaiso (Valpo)

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The hills of Valparaiso are covered in colorful buildings

Valpo is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This city was once a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific until the creation of the Panama Canal. Valpo still remains a major port city and is now  a must see tourist destination.

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Looking down towards the port

There is an abundance of street art and colorful buildings as well as lots of fun stair cases and even a slide.

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I guess one could take the stairs!

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Many homes sit in areas that vehicles cannot reach. For this reason, many funiculars have been built and utilized throughout the years. Valpo has had up to 26 funiculars, but currently there are only 10 (or so) in operation. While these are definitely part of any tourist visit to Valpo, the funiculars are truly there for the use of the locals needing to get up the steep hills for their daily business. As such, they only cost around a quarter USD for most of them.

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One of the many funiculars 

This is a bohemian neighborhood. Art is everywhere. It is exciting with a lot to do. We visited Pablo Neruda’s house, La Sebastiana and did a walking tour of the city. The walking tour was excellent. By the time we got to La Sebastiana we were exhausted and the line to get in was long. For that reason we enjoyed Neruda’s house in Santiago better. Valpo is a cool city.

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There are also many restaurants, cafés, and coffee shops tucked into every corner, some with amazing views.

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Locks placed by lovers to show their devotion

So these are the pros of Valpo, now onto the cons. Valpo is a port city and as such can be a bit grungy. The buildings can be a bit shabby, there is trash in many of the streets, stray dogs are everywhere, and, in some areas, drug deals in back alleys and stair cases. Be careful and watch your belongings here – basically what we would suggest for any large city. Also, do a tour first and find out what areas to avoid. Overall, as long as you avoid these areas Valpo is a safe and wonderful destination to visit. The city is evolving from a port city to a colorful city worthy of their World Heritage status.

In Conclusion

Surprisingly, Valpo is the winner for us! We wish we would have stayed in Valpo instead of Viña del Mar. We wanted more time exploring the art venues. The grit and grime of the city has served to create some amazing art. Even the poor street dogs have their charm.

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Some strays that ‘adopted’ our tour group

While touring Valpo there were so many really interesting cafes and coffee shops we wanted to go inside. Also we wanted to visit the local art stores and museums. There just was not enough time.

Post Script – Concón

Now, to throw a wrench into this article, we spent one evening in Concón. It is an upscale beach town north of Viña del Mar. There is a yacht club here, upscale hotels, a lot of great seafood restaurants, and some pretty, sandy beaches that Valpo and Viña del Mar lack. The views of the Pacific as you drive around the jagged coastline are amazing.

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A well deserved break after the dry Atacama Desert

Also we saw sea lions hanging out in Concón – which made Dale happy!

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So, if you are looking for a beach stay Concon is a great option.