Cross the Andes for a Whirlwind Weekend in Valparaiso

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Valpoweekend

Thanks to Cl@udi@ for this photo of Valparaiso.

Mendoza is often described as a quaint wine-producing city, snuggled up to the base of the Andes Mountains. Many fail to elaborate that the other side of that mountain range offers the perfect weekend getaway, and some singular sites. We crossed the border and took in a three-day, whirl-wind tour of Valparaiso and Santiago.

While the Mendoza airport has regularly scheduled flights to Chile, Preston, that’s my boyfriend, and I decided to forgo that convenience in favor of taking in some spectacular views (and avoiding the airport exit taxes and Chile’s tax reciprocity fee of $100), going by bus. Most buses leave Mendoza Terminal between eight and ten in the morning (or late at night), and travelers can choose from a variety of transportation options- large international companies such as Cata or AndesMar, regional operators such as O’Higgins, or small passenger vans.

Prices don’t vary substantially, so we decided to go with Cata, the most comfortable option given the eight hour ride. I highly suggest that you purchase a round-trip ticket in Mendoza (even if you aren’t sure of the dates), because the return price in Chile is roughly US$15 higher. We set off to Valparaiso, an historic port town whose bay cradles a perfect sliver of the Pacific.

It is well worth the effort to enjoy the trip during daylight hours. The road between Mendoza and Chile not only follows the very route that General San Martín took during his long march to liberate southern South America from Spanish rule, but it offers travelers glimpse of the dramatic landscape capped by Aconcagua, the tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas. In the span of just a few hours, travelers climb over 6,000 meters (nearly 20,000 feet).

The trip to the border takes roughly four and a half hours, and the crossing is nestled in a rock face just after the road crests the Andes. Even if the weather is sweltering in Mendoza, take a sweater to cross the border. Bus passengers need to disembark and stand outside, and the temperature is drastically different at lower altitudes.

The descent into Valparaiso is steep; it takes a mere three hours to reach the Pacific Ocean. Once we arrived, we climbed down from the bus, hitched our belongings, and took the twenty minute walk through downtown Valparaiso to our lodgings on top of a particularly charming hill, the Cerro Alegre, in the quaint Casa Leisel Bed and Breakfast.

Valparaiso is an old city that may be most familiar to visitors as the large Chilean city featured in the movie “The Motorcycle Diaries.” It is situated around Valparaiso Bay and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is built on a series of hills, or cerros, that are serviced by dozens of old, wooden elevators.

If, like us, you have just two days in Valparaiso, the best thing you can do is wander the city, and check out the impressive street art. Valpo (as the locals call it) is bursting with color- painted murals that cover nearly every free space in the city, many adorned with pieces of mirror, shards of artfully placed glass, or even television screens. The buildings are painted in bright pastels and bolds, and even public railings and fire hydrants are a vibrant hue. Music spills from open windows of long-standing buildings and bands perform in the city’s public parks.

There are a few museums worth visiting, be sure to check their hours. The Naval Museum is located at Condell 1546, and houses an impressive collection of items from Chile’s military past. Even if military memorabilia isn’t your cup of tea, the ascent up the hill offers spectacular views of the city. Valpo also houses the Casa of Pablo Neruda, the famed Chilean poet. While his Valparaiso house is not as popular as his island retreat, the museum has incredible views and rotating exhibits.

Of course, one major draw for the ocean-deprived in Mendoza is the Pacific. Valparaiso has a small stretch of unimpressive sand, but jump on a bus to Viña del Mar, located just 10 minutes away, and walk along the expansive boardwalk. A dip in the ocean, however, may be surprising- the currents, flowing from Antarctica, render the water icily-cold and uncomfortable to swim in. Valpo also offers a plethora of seafood; take a stroll around the Mercado Central for a display of the catch of the day, and for excellent fish to cook up for dinner. (There, we were able to sample some of Chile’s unique fruits, such as “pepino”- a mix between a cucumber and a melon). We also ate at an excellent restaurant, Coco Loco. It is an upscale, relatively touristy restaurant, but the views of the city (it is in a rotating tower overlooking the water), the food (the scallops and ceviche or surf and turf are recommendable), and the service is impeccable.

One of our surprises was the higher cost of living in Valpo and Chile in general. A few simple lunches cost nearly US$50, and everything from lodging to cabs to vegetables seemed to be reflective of US rather than Argentine prices. So, while three days may seem insufficient to experience such an amazing city a weekend trip to Valparaiso can at least offer a visitor a satisfying taste of the city.

8 Comments

chandler on April 11, 08

Thanks for this post, i’m planning a trip like this in a couple of weeks and i appreciate getting your tips.

[…] Cross the Andes for a Whirlwind Weekend in Valparaiso by Cameron Peake […]

Margi on April 15, 08

Wowie, was not on my list of places to go but now I have a goal and the path… thanks.

Tina on April 20, 08

I cannot find English websites for bus ticket prices. Approximately what will one way Mendoza – Buenos Aires cost in pesos or US dollar?

Emily Crawford on April 21, 08

Hi Tina,
Check out http://argentinastravel.com/584/buses-in-argentina-travel-like-trump-on-a-scrooge-budget/
for some more info on bus travel here.
I went by bus to Mendoza for Christmas but I can’t remember how much I paid for the ticket! I think, however, it was around $200US round trip but it could have been a little cheaper. I would suggest asking the question in the forums here: http://argentinastravel.com/forums/

Tina on April 21, 08

thank you for the website links, Emily

Cameron on April 21, 08

Hi Tina,

There are a few classes of ticket prices- buses that are “full-beds” (the seats fold to be entirely flat) cost about ARG $190 (about US$60), “half-beds” cost around ARG $160 (about US$50), and there is a third class, with even less bed-like seats, that I imagine are significantly cheaper. These prices are pretty consistent across all the bus companies that service the route. If you can splurge, the full-beds are definitely worth it.

Hope this helps! Buen viaje!
Cameron

Tina on April 21, 08

thank you

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