9 Best Sights in Viña del Mar, The Central Coast

Museo de Arqueológico e Historia Francisco Fonck

Fodor's choice

A 500-year-old stone moai (a carved stone head) brought from Easter Island guards the entrance to this archaeological museum. The most interesting exhibits are the finds from Easter Island, which indigenous people call Rapa Nui, such as wood tablets displaying ancient hieroglyphics. The museum, named for groundbreaking archaeologist Francisco Fonck—a native of Viña del Mar—also has an extensive library of documents relating to the island. Other fun but freaky exhibits include shrunken heads, insects, and all sorts of stuffed birds and animals.

Playa El Sol

Fodor's choice

Just north of the rock wall along Avenida Peru and flanked by the old Muelle Vergara is a stretch of sand that draws hordes of people from December through March. This is Viña del Mar's main beach, and it goes by many names the longer you walk: Acapulco, Blanca, Los Cañones, Marineros. It's great for swimming and people-watching as well as for exploring the artisan fair nearby. Amenities: food and drink; parking; showers; toilets. Best for: sunset; walking.

Casino Viña del Mar

Built in 1930 in a neoclassical style that wouldn't be out of place in a James Bond movie, Chile's oldest casino has a restaurant, bar, and cabaret, as well as roulette, blackjack, and 1,500 slot machines. It's open nightly until the wee hours of the morning most of the year. There's a 3,500-peso cover charge, and keep in mind that people dress up to play here, especially in the evening.

Av. San Martín 199, Viña del Mar, Chile

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Las Salinas

Just north of town a white arch announces the tiny family-friendly Balneario Las Salinas beach area, a crescent of yellow sand that has the calmest water in the area. Amenities: food and drink; parking; toilets. Best for: sunset; swimming; walking.

Palacio Rioja

This grand palace, now a national monument, was built by Spanish banker Francisco Rioja immediately after the earthquake that leveled much of the city in 1906. It contains a decorative-arts museum showcasing a large portion of Rioja's belongings and a conservatory, so there's often music in the air. Performances are held in the main ballroom. You'll find a nice café in the back with seating under the trees in beautifully landscaped grounds.

Playa Caleta Abarca

One of Viña's most popular beaches, smack in the center of town, Playa Caleta Abarca's golden sands are crowded with sun worshippers in midsummer, making it a great place for people-watching. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards. Best for: swimming.

Avenida España s/n, Viña del Mar, Chile

Plaza José Francisco Vergara

Viña del Mar's central square, Plaza Vergara is lined with majestic palms. Presiding over the east end of the plaza is the patriarch of coastal accommodations, the venerable Hotel O'Higgins, which has seen better days. Opposite the hotel is the neoclassical Teatro Municipal de Viña del Mar, where you can watch a ballet, theater, or music performance. To the west on Avenida Valparaíso is the city's main shopping strip, a one-lane, seven-block stretch with extra-wide sidewalks and numerous stores and cafés. Some of the city's stateliest mansions lie on the streets just back from the plaza.

Quinta Vergara

Lose yourself on the paths that wind amid towering araucaria and other well-marked trees on the grounds that contain one of Chile's best botanical gardens. An amphitheater here holds an international music festival, Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar, in February. There is also an arts-focused kids’ museum, Museo Artequin, which is highly interactive.

Reloj de Flores

Built for the 1962 World Cup, this functional flower clock has been tick-tocking away for six decades. The botanical landmark is not only one of the most photographed sites on the Central Coast; it's helped Viña del Mar foster a reputation as La Ciudad Jardín ("The Garden City").