The central coast of Chile is simply stunning. Only a two-hour drive from Santiago, two days is just the right amount of time to experience the best of what the coast has to offer. Spend one day exploring Viña del Mar and visiting the Concón sand dunes, and spend another day exploring Valparaíso. From the serene beaches to the bustling port city to the indescribable allure of the dunes, you'll feel like you have traveled across the country.
Below are a few of the reasons that make Viña del Mar the perfect base on the central coast.
Viña del Mar is a gorgeous resort town right on the beach. It’s known for being a little more luxurious and safer than neighboring Valparaíso, and the location is prime for exploring the surrounding attractions. You can take a subway to the cultural hub of Valparaíso in just 15 minutes, drive to the sand dunes in 20 minutes, or even drive to see the Humboldt penguins in an hour.
Concón sand Dunes
The Concón sand dunes are a remarkable natural wonder. Standing atop them you feel as though you’ve been transported to the Sahara – or at the very least to the Atacama desert. If you’re in Valparaíso, you can spot them across the bay. When you drive into Concón, you can’t miss them towering above the streets. Park your car on a side street, grab a snack (or drink!) from the grocery store Jumbo, and walk towards dunes. You can climb up anywhere. When you get to the top you’ll be rewarded with sweeping desert and ocean views. My husband and I visited at sunset and the lighting was magical. If it’s warm enough, I highly recommend bringing a bottle of wine and a picnic dinner to watch the sunset. The dunes are truly a can’t miss destination if you’re in the area. They are worth the short drive from Viña del Mar or even Valparaíso! I'll leave you with just a few pictures if you're not convinced.
Valparaíso is reminiscent of San Francisco and Lisbon. The city is built on steep hills and is characterized by colorful buildings and an abundance of street art. Scattered across the hills are multiple ascensores, funicular railways, that will save you from heart-racing climbs.
There are three great ways to see the city. The first is by taking a boat tour of the harbor from Muelle Prat, the main port. The ride is inexpensive and lasts about 30 minutes. While you may not be able to hear or understand the guide describing the city, it’s worth the trip just to see the city from out in the bay. Plus, you'll get to see some sea lions! Though a bit unorganized, boats seem to leave about every 15 minutes. Just get in line by the steps leading down to the harbor.
The second great way to see the city is by taking a ride on the Ascensor Artillería. After riding up a very steep incline, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of both the harbor and city. There isn't much else to do at the top other than soaking in the views. The Ascensor Artillería is only about a ten-minute walk from Muelle Prat.
The third, and probably best, way to see the city is to hike or ride up to Cerro Alegre and have a meal or drink on the rooftop terrace of Fauna. My husband and I had pre-dinner drinks there and both agreed that their view had no competition. While I would recommend Cafe Turri if you want great food along with a view, you must at least visit Fauna for drinks. Before or after, you can wander around the Cerro Concepcion and Cerró Alegre area. The steep, winding streets are bursting with color and art and there are many shops and restaurants to explore.
Finally, if your goal is pure relaxation, look no further than Viña del Mar’s beaches. The city has three main beaches, in addition to numerous options in the neighboring towns of Reñaca and Concon. From the central Playa del Sol, the trendy Playa Reñaca, and the secluded Playa Negra in Concon, there is a beach for everyone.
Visiting Viña del Mar is a great way to see more of Chile in a short amount of time. And if you have an extra day, visit a few wineries in the Casablanca Valley on your way to or from the coast!