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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chile: Viña del Mar

This year Gran and Poppa booked a fantastic South American cruise with their (and our) good friends Rich and Ellen Ritter.  Their fantastic vacation evolved into a great reason for us to visit Chile and spend a few days with the cruisers prior to their departure from Valparaiso.  Chile is like many South American countries in that it charges a "reciprocity fee" upon entrance to citizens of countries that charge Chileans.  This means for us that while American citizens do not need a visa for Chile, there is a payment line at the airport that you need to visit prior to immigration to pay the entrance fee (currently US$160 per person).  This fee is valid for the life of your passport, so if you plan to go to Chile more than once, make sure your passport doesn't expire anytime soon.

Viña del Mar looking toward Valparaiso
Valparaiso is similar to San Francisco in more ways than one - the hills and winding streets, the cold Pacific rocky shore and the port's history as a product as the gold rush, it feels like a streetcar should be turning around every corner.  Ten kilometers north of Valparaiso is a town called Viña del Mar, which is a beach getaway for the thick-skinned, the water is cold, but that doesn't seems to bother the thousands of Chileans we saw fill the beaches.
We flew into Santiago, and though it is said to be a beautiful city, we decided to go straight to the coast.  We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel in Viña del Mar, thanks to the great folks at TripAdvisor that convinced me it was the best hotel in the city.  It was a great choice, beautiful building, perfectly located, spacious rooms and the most comfortable hotel bed I've experienced.  We had a great view of one of the public beaches from the window of our hotel room, giving us a chance to see the shear number of people that come out to brave the water during the summer months (Dec - Feb).  Gretchen loved this view so much that her nightly bedtime routine included saying good night to the beach.
Gretchen standing on our room's balcony
The Sheraton is located right on the water, to the point that the pool area is surrounded by crashing waves.  This made the poolside particularly interesting for the sunbathers, who at times received a sudden splash of freezing cold water from a rogue wave.  Gretchen loved it!

Viña del Mar is a neat town in the middle of a recovery period.  You can see where there are lots of missed opportunities to add restaurants, build up the waterfront and increase the overall appeal of the area.  That being said, if the town continues to prosper, it has incredible potential.  

We had a nice time walking from the hotel down the coastline to the Hotel del Mar, a large hotel and casino that looks nice but has a constant stale odor inside due to the fact that the casino allows smoking.  We walked through the hotel before the casino was open for the day and the air was still thick with cigarettes, I can't imagine that they could contain the smoke to just the casino, so I would think twice about booking a room.  

My father-in-law booked a city tour for our group so that we could get to know the town a bit better - the highlight for me being the incredible views from high up in the hills.

Once we were away from the water, the temperature rose by at least 10 degrees.

Gretchen chose the next tourist activity, a horse carriage ride.  It was a great way to end our day touring, and she was all smiles the entire time.  This little angel loves spending time with her grandparents, particularly when there are horse rides involved!

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