First stop, Valparaíso. This hippy ocean-side city, is a hilly world of colour. Famed for its great nightlife, hipster vibe and phenomenal street art, Valparaíso is a must see for any visitors to the capital. Only an hour and half drive, there are numerous bus companies offering cheap transfers for day trips or extended stays on the Pacific coast. We however were blessed with our wonderful couch surfer who took us to the coast for the day free of charge. Parking the car underground we follow Leonardo’s personal tour, taking a little funicular up to the top of one of the many hills and weaving through the cobbled streets (only 100 pesos so around 12p would definitely recommend, those hills are steep!). Each turn emits a new explosion of colour; Valparaíso is renowned for its street art and we are not to be disappointed. Interactive, imaginative, and emotive, we dawdle through street after street. Leonardo pops into a bakery and comes out with a small pack of wafers filled with dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is basically sugar crack – a type of condensed milk it would appear every South American resident will spread it on almost anything. Munching our treats we finished our brief but satisfying tour of Valparaíso and head back to car.
Across the bay is Viña del Mar. We drove through and up around the headland to a local restaurant recommended by Leonardo. On route we stop at a rocky outcrop of the headland and scramble across boulders to Leonard’s favourite spot. We watched sea lions playing in the shore break, jumping off rocks and riding the swell back on again. Their playful charm transfixed us. On to the restaurant and we enjoy both delicious and incredibly unhealthy Chilean seafood. My selection, the crab pie, is essentially crab in creamy sauce covered in crispy cheese. Bargain lunch for only £12 for the two of us, stomachs engorged we head back to car and straight to our post lunch aerobics. Climbing the giant dunes.
Melting quickly under the afternoon sun, we reached the summit of the dunes, which offer impressive 360 degree views across Viña del Mar, Valparaíso and its neighbouring bays. We spent a while filling out shoes, pockets and ears with sand, jumping and flailing like toddlers.
Next and final stop is Viña del Mar. Weaken your focus and you could well be in a European sea-side resort. A popular destination for Argentina tourists there are sun-kissed bodies everywhere, a concert stage is assembled ready to entertain the amassing crowds, and out of control pedal cars veer into everything and everyone. We walk along the promenade and out across a man-made beach blocking the end of a disused estuary. Chancing it in the Pacific, I end up with jeans soaked to the knees. We head past a puppet show in the park and head into an ice cream cafe which offer ice creams filling bowls suitable for a small shark.
A dozy hour and half back to the city, we catch an early night ready for our final day. We head to Chile’s newest shopping mall, beneath it’s now tallest building. In preparation for our trip south Ste picks up a bargain pair of new North Face hiking boots (£67). This place is the shopsters dream. Each floor organised by demographic and function, we focus hard not to blow all of our well saved budget on shiny new things. Another nugget of knowledge (we only found out post shop) is that as a tourist you can take you passport and get a tax reduction on your goods. Probably best we didn’t know as this may have impeded our willpower.
Back to Bellavista and Riggo’s bar for a lovely sunshine lunch with Julian and Sophie, and after Leonardo drops us to the terminal. It’s a sad and grateful goodbye to our wonderful host; next stop Pucon, the heartland of the volcanoes.