There are only eight kilometres between Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, seven metro stations from Puerto to Miramar, but the two cities are a world apart.
Valparaíso is a colourful mess, Viña del Mar is a monochromatic grid. In Valpo, grass is smoked, in Viña, it’s watered and trimmed to perfection. In Valpo, you’ll stay in an old two-storey house with hardwood flooring, in Viña, you can enjoy a functional apartment in a modern condo. In Valpo, you’ll grab a handroll from a guy standing at a busy street corner with a cooler, in Viña, you’ll eat at McDonald’s or in one of the many franchised restaurants.
Even Viña del Mar’ streets were named prosaically—“Puente Casino” for the bridge leading to, you guessed it, the casino, or “1 Norte” for the first street north. As for beaches, you have the choice between “Playa Acapulco” or “Playa El Sol”—serious brainstorming here, guys.
Oh, right, Viña del Mar has beaches! Clear winner here, Valpo is a dirty port.
Ah, ah. Beaches looks great in pictures but if you squint hard enough, you may be able to read the “no swimming” advisory. Not that you’d want to swim, the water is cold and kind of dirty with the port being so close. Chileans aren’t exactly beach bums, anyway. Most people just keep their clothes on. I saw a few Brazilian tourists just rolling their eyes and silently judging the lack of atmosphere and glamour.
The funny thing is, Viña del Mar tries to be classy but it ends up being… tacky. Some resort cities can be, like Balneário Camboriú, but at least this one embraces tackiness—I mean, the giant Jesus holding a light which shines and change the colours!
Right before taking the light-rail train back to Valparaíso, I bought five magnets on the street. The guy had quite a pop culture selection, from Trainspotting posters to superheroes with funny quotes. “You know what,” I said, handing him a green 1,000-peso bill. “I think your magnets are the most interesting thing I saw today in Viña.”
He couldn’t stop laughing (the joint he was smoking probably helped as well, my comment wasn’t that funny…)