Chile: Santiago, Valparaiso & Viña del Mar

Planning a trip to Chile? Check out this travel guide to Chile's greatest cities.
Santiago, with the gorgeous Andes Mountains as a backdrop, is a growing Chile travel destination.

Wine tours, ski resorts, fine restaurants, a vibrant nightlife, and some of the best museums in Latin America – all this, and more, is possible on a Chile vacation to Santiago. The capital city of Santiago de Chile, hosting one-third of the nation’s 17 million citizens, is the country’s bustling center of economic and cultural activity. A 2-hour drive gets you to the coast of Chile, where the coastal towns of bohemian Valparaiso and laidback Viña del Mar await travelers. Cosmopolitan urban life and easy access to beach & mountain adventures combine to make Santiago a top Chile travel destination.

From city tours of historical buildings to shopping to bohemian neighborhoods, Santiago’s many attractions are diverse enough to delight every taste. For culture-seeking travelers, the city boasts the premier collection of pre-Columbian art at the Museo Chile de Arte Precolombino. Another must-see for a deeper understanding of Chile under Pinochet is the Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos, recently opened in 2010 and dedicated to preserving a visual memory of the violation of human rights committed by the government between 1973 and 1990.

With the scenic Andes Mountains nearby, cultural explorations can be nicely complemented with adventure travel, either at Cerro San Cristobal, the large urban park in the middle of Santiago; or a bit further afield, travelers can head to any of the world-class ski resorts located within an hour of Santiago (including El Colorado, Valle Nevado, and Portillo) or to Maipo Valley for trekking, horseback riding, rafting, canyoning, and ziplining amidst a pristine mountain landscape.

Valparaiso & Viña del Mar

Given their close proximity to the Chilean capital, the coastal towns of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar are excellent additions to any Santiago travel plan.

A panoramic view of Valparaíso as seen from near one of the city's ascensores (funiculars).

Valparaiso is comprised of an estimated 42 hills. Ascensores (funiculars) were built to ease access from the lower to the higher part of the city; 15 of these are still in operation.

Valparaiso has a fascinating history and unique topography. From the sheltered half-circle bay, the city rises like a terraced amphitheater, climbing up steep hills and winding through twisting valleys. Its strategic location on the coast made this port town the principal commercial center in the South Pacific throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was from Valparaiso that Chilean wheat was shipped to fuel the California Gold Rush in the 1850s.  Economic opportunity also attracted a significant number of British, German, and other European immigrants as well as Chilean mestizos from the interior of the country. Today, the topographical and mixed human heritage of Valparaiso is reflected in the English Tudor, German Fachwerkhaus, and American balloon frame houses and other buildings that cling to hillsides, seemingly on the verge of sliding into the sea.

Viña del Mar is located 10 minutes up the coast from Valparaiso. Its name derives from a vineyard established by a large landowner in the Spanish colonial era. Today, Viña boasts tranquil seaside relaxation on beautiful beaches such as Reñaca and Las Salinas. In February, Quinta Vergara, the large park in the middle of the city, is the site of the annual Viña del Mar International Song Festival, one of the largest music festivals in all of the Americas.  Other historical attractions include Wulff Castle and the Paseo Arabe.

A beautiful sunset at Reñaca Beach – a ideal complement to a busy Chile vacation in Santiago.

A beautiful sunset at Reñaca Beach – an ideal complement to a busy Chile vacation in Santiago.

Santiago is also a central departure point for other Chile travel destinations, including San Pedro de Atacama, Easter Island, and Torres del Paine in Patagonia. Contact a travel expert at Latin America For Less to start planning your dream Chile vacation.