Of Chile’s 4000km-plus coastline, the brief central strip between Rocas de Santo Domingo and Los Vilos is the most visited and developed. Known as the Litoral Central, this 250km stretch boasts bay after bay lined with gorgeous, white-sand beaches, and a string of coastal resort towns.
Valparaíso and Viña del Mar sit next to each other near the middle of the strip. They are geographical neighbours, but poles apart in appearance and atmosphere.
Viña is Chile’s largest beach resort and one of its ritziest. With its high-rises, casino, and seafront restaurants, as well as the beaches and clubs in nearby Reñaca, Viña typifies modern hedonism.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Valparaíso, on the other hand, has far more personality, with ramshackle, colourfulhouses spilling chaotically down the hills to the sea (but no decent beaches). “Valpo” is Chile’s principal port and naval base, and also perhaps the country’s liveliest and most vibrant city. The nightlife and excellent seafood attract much of Santiago to its bars and restaurants at the weekend, as does the nearby beach resort of Viña del Mar. For stretches of sand, you’ll need to head south or north.
Closest to Santiago, via the “Autopista del Sol” (Ruta 78), are the resorts south of Valparaíso, which are busier and more developed. The one spot besides the beaches where you might want to spend some time in Viña del Mar is the lovely Quinta Vergara park, where the manicured grounds are home to a vast array of exotic imported plants. It is located a couple of blocks south of Plaza Vergara behind the Metrotrén Estación Viña, with the futuristic-looking Anfiteatro, home to the annual music festival, as its centrepiece.