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The Coastline

Just south of the Marga Marga, the whimsical Castillo Wulff, with its Bavarian-style turrets, is quite the architectural anachronism. Built for coal baron Gustavo Adolfo Wulff in the early 20th century, the Maritime Museum that was housed here for many years has been transformed into a cultural center; it's worth taking a stroll around inside to view the eccentric interior. Just south, Playa Caleta Abarca beach is in a protected bay near the entrance to Viña del Mar, next to the town's poster-child "flower clock," a meticulously landscaped flower-bed complete with working dials and flanked by exotic palms. On weekends, Playa Caleta beach is an animated scene, with groups of friends and families setting up shop for the day with picnic tables, barbecues, and boom boxes.

In the northeast, fronting rows of terraced high-rise apartment buildings, you'll find Playa Acapulco, Playa Mirasol, and Playa Las Salinas (the latter is near the naval base). The sea here tends to be too rough for swimming. These beaches also see throngs of vacationers and families in the summer. Reñaca, just 6km (3.7 miles) up the coast, is the coastal hot spot. The first stretch of the beach is popular with families, while the end is the "cool" spot frequented by the young for its sleek cocktail bars and ebullient discos. There are several glass-enclosed beach cafes along the principal road here for a snack and plenty of cheap seafood restaurants. Because Chileans party late into the night, you won't see many people on any beach until about noon. To get here, take a taxi (about $4-$7/£2.70-£4.70 one-way) or a bus (nos. 1, 10, or 111 at av. Libertad and 15 Norte).

It's also worth taking a drive north for 10km (6.2 miles) to Concón, for splendid coastal views and a chance to see fat sea lions sunning themselves on the rocky shore. Follow the coastal road Avenida San Martín until it becomes Avenida Jorge Montt, and continue along the winding, two-lane road as it hugs the shore. When you tire of the drive, simply turn around and head back the same way. This run-down fishing village, overlooked by smug, pristine villas and mansions, makes for a fascinating contrast to the airs of Viña. It's worth strolling down to the frenetic quay here, La Boca, where marisquerías purvey über fresh fish, shellfish, and crustaceans.

Special Events -- Every second or third week of February, Viña plays host to the Festival de la Canción, a weeklong gala event held at the Quinta Vergara Park amphitheater. It's Chile's largest music festival, drawing nearly 30,000 spectators nightly. Apart from national and international Latin acts such as Daddy Yankee and Fito Paez, past festivals have booked such wild cards as Tom Jones and Franz Ferdinand as part of the lineup. Viña bursts at the seams during this event, and hotel reservations are imperative. During the second or third week of October, Viña hosts the acclaimed Festival Cine Viña del Mar film festival (www.festivalcinevinadelmar.cl). Nearly 90% of films showcased during this event are of Latin American origin and in Spanish and Portuguese only.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.