Road Trip In Chile: Visiting The Three Homes of Pablo Neruda

Chilean Nobel poet Pablo Neruda was a celebrity in his time, known for his poetry, his time as a Chilean diplomat, his communist beliefs and his lavish eccentricities. His communist party affiliation forced him to cross the Andes mountains into Argentina on horseback to escape arrest in March 1949.

His eccentricities are on full display in his three beautiful homes in Chile. These homes are decorated with souvenirs he collected from around the world. We were lucky to visit all three houses. The price of admission to each house includes an audio headset to guide you through. The audio tours are well done with actors playing the parts of different characters.

Santiago to Valparaíso

Our first stop was Valparaíso, about a 90-minute drive if you don’t stop along the way, but part of the fun of a road trip are the spontaneous detours you make when something catches your eye.

It’s fun to remember the flavors and aromas of your trip when you arrive back home.

La Sebastiana in Valparaíso

Valparaíso, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is built on the slope of a steep mountain. This is a bohemian town with graffiti-art decorating the houses. Unesco cleverly describes the town around it as an amphitheatre-like setting, since it rises from the seaport on all sides.

The views of the colorful houses and the ocean are breathtaking from the top. Neruda loved the sea and he wanted a home with this view. He fell in love with this house (below) by the architect Sebastian Collao.

The decoration of each of Neruda’s homes is heavily influenced by Neruda’s love of the sea.

La Sebastiana is actually a small, tall house with narrow stairways. The curved wall on the fourth floor full of large windows makes the house resemble a ship. All three homes are full of souvenirs from Neruda’s travels when he served as an ambassador. These include old maps and portraits, a carousel house, and food and liquor from around the world.

Neruda designated each space of the house with a purpose: there was his writing area, his bar, a living room, etc., and you entered a space for a specific purpose.

When Neruda invited guests for dinner, they gathered in the dining room, waiting for Neruda to make his appearance. He enjoyed making a grand entrance to greet his guests.

Guards on each floor are posted. You are not allowed to take photos in the house. When he realized we weren’t going to sneak one past him, he offered to take one for us.

Neruda told his friends about a particular house below where he claimed always watched a woman sunbathe naked. His friends spent hours looking out his window but they never saw her.

Valparaíso to Isla Negra

Valparaíso is just a 70-minute drive to Isla Negra if you drive without stopping, but who wants to do that.

Surrounded by eucalyptus trees, we grabbed a bit for a natural fragrance for the car!

El Totoral is a tiny town with a church, a farm store, even a museum and a few scattered houses.

Wherever you look, you find eggs that the hens laid, including in some of the flower pots. The caretakers have to hunt for eggs everywhere.

Bread straight out of the oven and into our mouths 😋

Fresh bread, jelly, eggs from the hens on the farm and craft beer are just some of the things we bought in the tiny town of El Totoral.

Isla Negra

Isla means island in Spanish but this property is just a strip of land along the coast. The home at Isla Negra is just one floor with the rooms connecting one through the other. The narrow house stretches from north to south, just like long, narrow Chile.

Throughout the house, the windows look out over the Pacific Ocean. Neruda loved the sea and said that this was the house that most inspired him to write.

Neruda and his wife, Matilde, were buried here at Isla Negra, but their remains were moved to Spain in 1992 for lab tests to determine if the famous poet had been poisoned to death by the dictatorial government of Pinochet.

Isla Negra to Santiago

We returned to Santiago in time for my cousin Saverio’s birthday. Saverio is a geologist working in Chile.

Before visiting the final home of Pablo Neruda, we began the day at Saverio’s apartment where I prepared a delicious breakfast for the group: Cesar, a Peruvian who can talk to you in-depth and intelligently on a wide variety of subjects; Manuel, so accommodating that he was disappointed that we didn’t have time to travel to his hometown in the south of Chile; Ramon, a Chilean who fell in love with Venezuela years ago.

Using the fresh ingredients we bought in El Totoral

The breakfast consisted of the fresh ingredients we bought during our road trip and a few items we bought at Santa Clara, a supermarket around the corner.

La Chascona in Santiago

La Chascona is a Chilean word (from the indigenous Quechua language) which means a wild mane of hair. This was his nickname for his wife Matilde.

The home is located an a bohemian section of Santiago and it would be easy to walk past the entrance without even realizing it.

La Chascona is like the other houses in its dedicated spaces, its worldly souvenirs and its naval touches. The audio tour was just as wonderful as those of the other homes. Still, it was our least favorite of the three, without the beautiful sea in front and, perhaps being #3 of our visits, we were fatigued from so many excesses and eccentricities of this poet.

We recommend all three homes since Neruda was such an important figure in Chilean history. The short distances between the houses makes it easy to visit all three in just a few days. If you plan on driving, like we did, the routes are simple and the roads are good.

20 thoughts on “Road Trip In Chile: Visiting The Three Homes of Pablo Neruda

  1. This was such a beautiful text; I really really enjoyed reading it.

    Neruda definitely knew how to live his life.

    I found these very interesting:

    Loved the sea and wanted a home with a view to it. Who can blame him?

    Enjoyed making a grand entrance to greet his guests – just like Dali. Many great artists definitely have a big ego.

    Eucalyptus trees ( I love the fragrance, but I don’t think I have ever seen the trees. They look amazing!)

    His remains were moved to Spain lab tests to determine if he had been poisoned to death by Pinochet’s government – I know about it but don’t know the outcome. Do you have some inside information. It has taken them very long.

    Last but not least, lots of my friends from South America have sth in common – everybody, regardless of where they come from, would like to live in Chile one day, saying it’s a very nice and safe place. Is that true?

    1. Thank you so much, Bojana, for liking my post. You just put a big smile on my face.

      As for the findings of Neruda’s cause of death, the labs in Canada and Denmark (not Spain 🤦🏽‍♀️) say he didn’t die of cancer, as the death certificate says, but of a bacteria. They say they can’t pinpoint where the bacteria came from, though (

      As for living in Chile, that is definitely one of the countries we’re considering, but we still want to visit Uruguay and see more of Argentina. These countries are much safer than many other parts of Latin America, even though we’ve considered Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica, too.

  2. My husband lived in Chile for a few years after being born in Colombia. He has been back a few times, lots of family in Santiago and surrounding areas. We hope to visit in a couple of years. Beautiful and interesting narrative!

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Terri.

      As your husband can tell you, Chile is a beautiful country with a lot to see. Since your husband has family in Santiago, I’m sure you’ll love it!

    1. Thank you, Julie. Yes, the bread was delicious, especially because we were both hungry. We also had that warm bread smell in the car all the way to Isla Negra.

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