My wife, 11 year old daughter and I ventured onward to Vina Del Mar and Renaca, Chile this past Christmas vacation of 2013. Due to rave reviews from friends/expats in the US, we have been talking about visiting here for quite a while. We were sorely underwhelmed by this place in the world, to say the least.
Let me begin by asking your reasons for wanting to visit the Vina del Mar area? If you have to go for business and the company is picking up the tab, well okay. There are worse places. If you are going to discover new culture, fine architecture, great beaches and interesting people, there are 1,000 better places. If you are from the US and taking a family vacation here, willingly, I would ask you to make an appointment with a neurologist.
There is nothing about Vina Del Mar, nor Renaca, that even remotely has an edge over the most basic of budget beach resorts at the Jersey Shore. All the beaches, in and around this area from Vina Del Mar all the way up and through Renaca AND beyond, are dumpy, dingy and dirty. Many as well reek of urine, either from the horse drawn carriages, stray dogs or homeless people in and around the area. They're just NOT at all pretty. You walk out on the rocks on the beach at Renaca and find trash and more urine smell, at one time so pungent I nearly vomited. Want to go swimming? We were there on the first day of summer, Dec 21, and it was pretty cold just to walk around. But even in the height of their short summer months, January and February, the water remains Ice-Cap bitter cold due to the area's proximity to the Antarctic. Beware as well that Vina Del Mar has both a homeless problem, and an incredibly LARGE stray dog issue. The dogs are all nice and appear to be well fed, but they are literally everywhere; street corners, main roads and especially on the beach. If you're a dog person you'll love it because they are all very cute and people friendly. But, they are dogs, and do what dogs do. Some early mornings you are woken by their territorial stampede as rivaling packs fight for dominance before the traffic gets too bad. They then calm down until the next sunrise.
This is NOT a family vacation destination, especially if you have US teens. Understand that Vina Del Mar is VERY third world, and certainly not the mecca of art, culture and beach swimming it is touted to be by people trying to sell you something. The restaurants are mediocre to good, but in some areas downright awful. There are 2 Starbucks in Vina thank God. You can not get a decent cup of Joe anywhere in this God forsaken country. We ordered a very mediocre lunch in a "café" on Liberdad (one of the main drags) with some Café con Leche. The waiter arrived with instant coffee, a pot of hot water and 2 milk cartons.......and if that wasn't comical enough, one afternoon we ordered omelettes and a cheese sandwich. We all received ham and "cheese of the day" sandwiches and the waiter ran away after placing them on our table. Yes, I do speak pretty good Spanish and ordered correctly, this is just an extremely odd country, and that being said, there is more................
A man came up to us as we were walking to dinner one night down 5 Norte, waving his hands at me as he got closer. Each hand contained a large nail. He was insisting I listen to something which sounded like the beginning of a zealous, inspired personal discourse on the death of Christ, and he waved the nails in my face for a moment before we all walked off. It took us a little while after some laughter to try and figure out what he was attempting to say. Did he want to sell us the nails for 1000 pesos? Why not? Various people walk around selling random band-aids, so why not nails? Perhaps he wanted a hammer? Help putting up some new shelving in his home? Nope, it was probably about some religious fanaticism, which breeds a somewhat puritanical and conservative air to the place. My 11 year old daughter wore typical US teen tights and a t-shirt one afternoon and the doorman stopped me, saying she was dressed inappropriately and requested she change. Whattttt?????!!! The same doorman hassled a younger woman for entering the building, wearing a skirt on the short side with boots. This, as an American, I found most bizarre.
In a nutshell, we were in Vina Del Mar as an American family for 8 days, and it was 8 days too long. It is old, smelly, and dumpy, lacking in character. One post I read before arriving there compared Vina Del Mar to Barcelona. What a farce! Barcelona is a beautiful European city and Vina Del Mar is a dump; an armpit comparatively to Barcelona.
Don't waste your time traveling to Vina Del Mar, nor its neighboring towns like Valparaiso or Renaca, which are even dumpier. Valparaiso is so old, decrepit and run down it looks like a hellish version of San Francisco in 1960 during a garbage pick up strike.
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