Thursday, June 6, 2013

Valparaiso and Vina del Mar II: Opposites Attract

I ended the first essay on Valparaiso and Viña with our visit to the Flower Clock, the attractive entrance to Viña.

With its population close to 300,000, Viña is Chile’s fourth largest city (after Valparaiso at 3rd, and Santiago, and Concepcion). As of 2010, Concepcion is the second largest city of Chile. The Universidad de Concepcion, founded in 1919, became the first private university in Chile. Also, the neighboring harbor of Talcaluano is the site of the largest naval base in Chile.

Viña was founded on December 29th, 1974, by engineer Jose Francisco Vergara Echevers, Viña is Chile’s most luxurious beach resort town and attracts visitors from all over the world.

We drove the entire length of Reñaca Beach, which, we were told by Sabastian (our guide), is divided into 6 areas: 1) for families, 2) old people,3) children, 4) gentlemen, 5) surfers, and the sixty area is for watching and being seen.

The beach ends at Michael Jackson Rock, which Sabastian (our tour guide) said is because "it used to be black but now is white." What turned the rock white? Bird droppings. Ordinarily, the rock is covered in sea lions and different kinds of birds. You can see a picture of it covered in sea lions at the web site:

This rock at the end of Reñaca Beach is very picturesque, and we parked there briefly to have a good view and to take pictures.

We were at Viña on a Saturday around noon, and the entire beach area was parked full. Just in front of the cars, all parked perpendicular to the beach and close together, were joggers, people walking, bicycling, pushing baby carts, and carrying surf boards. When we were there, the sun was out, the sky was blue, there was a slight breeze, but we were told the water was icy cold—as always.

Following our ride along the beach on Avenida Peru, lined with restaurants, shops, hotels, condominiums, apartments, and some expensive homes on the side away from the beach (and some just above us with a beautiful view of the bay area), we drove to the Municipal Casino, founded in 1930—one of the oldest gambling establishments in South America. Carlos Ibáñez del Campo authorized the creation of a casino, and it has secured the future and touristic character of the city.

At , I found this review of the Municipal Casino:

Casino Municipal has a classical facade, with remodeled interior and an adjacent hotel complex. It may be located on the beach, however, you can't plod in wearing a bathing suit, and even wearing jeans won't give you access to all of the interior spaces. There are some low bid tables and slot machines for the budget traveler looking for some action. There are art exhibits on the second floor as well as bars for nightlife entertainment.

Just one month after the Casino opened, the Presidential Palace was inaugurated in Cerro Castillo (Castle Hill) as a summer residence for the Chilean President.

From where we were along the main thorofare next to the Casino, along the Pacific Ocean, at the mouth of the Marga Marga river, we had a great view of the castle called Castillo Wulff, built in Gothic style in 1906 by a wealthy mining magnate.

Wikipedia describes Castillo Wulff:

Castillo Wulff, iconic building of the commune, of neo-Tudor style, built in
1906. Strategically located in the coastal border between the mouth of Marga Marga and Caleta Abarca (Avenida Marina N° 37). Was built by Don Gustavo Wulff Mowle (1862–1946) businessman and philanthropist of Valparaíso. The building was designed in two floors connected to a torreón through a medieval-style bridge. In 1995 it was declared a national monument, but today houses the offices of the headquarters of the Heritage Unit of the Municipality of Viña del Mar.

In addition to Cerro Castillo, and Castillo Wulff, the third castle we saw, overlooking the Playa de los Enamorados (Lower Beach), is now the Arabian Club—a military officer’s club.

While discussing castles, I should mention Palacio Vergara (the neo-Gothic Palacio, erected after the 1906 earthquake) which is a mansion that was home to the city’s founding family—the wealthy Vergaras. It is now an art museum (Museo de Bellas Artes)—housing a the family’s collection of baroque European paintings as well as oil paintings of Chilean VIPs during the 19th and early 20th century.

Before leaving Viña, we visited the central square—Plaza José Francisco Vergara. The square is lined with palms. At one end of the Plaza is the 80-year-old Hotel O’Higgins that has 250 rooms. Opposite the hotel is the neo-classical Teatro Municipal de Viña del Mar, where ballet, theater, and music performances take place.

When passing the square, we looked down Avenida Valparaiso, the city’s main shopping strip—a one-lane, seven-block stretch where extra-wide sidewalks provide easy access to numerous stores and sidewalk cafés.

At the Central Square—Plaza José Francisco Vergara—we saw something we saw in no other South American city: horse-drawn carriages. At (Chile’s official website) , the carriages are described:
The horses and buggies waiting at Viña del Mar’s Plaza Colombia is a likewise [in addition to the ascensores] anachronistic transport for such a modern city, but the sight of the gray horses and black carriages outside the ultra-modern Enjoi casino is somehow pleasing to the eye. Carriage rides take you along the waterfront and generally last an hour.

It was at 1:00 p.m. (After about 3 hours of our 6-hour tour), we left Viña heading directly east toward Santiago. In a mere 12 minutes, we were on the Pan American Highway.

There are a number of dramatic transitions that take place when leaving the Valparaiso-Viña area heading for Santiago. These transitions make traveling along the Pan American Highway interesting (and because of our guides) informative. One other thing that is dramatic is the change in climate, too, as you head inland—away from the Ocean.

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The area guide to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar ( has a delightful number of links to everything in the area.

The images for Valparaiso and Vina del Mar are remarkable:

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Copyright June 13, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

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