How cool is a Chilean road trip/literary tour combo! With three easy drives, you can explore different regions of Chile, visit Nobel poet Pablo Neruda’s three homes and taste some local flavors.
Swipe through the three maps below to see just how easy the route is.
You can repeat every stop on this route without speakIng any Spanish.
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, but his communist party affiliation forced him to cross the Andes mountains into Argentina on horseback to escape arrest in March 1949.
Neruda’s eccentricities are on full display in his three beautiful homes in Chile. He decorated his homes souvenirs he collected from around the world.
With the price of admission to each house, you get an audio headset to guide you through. Actors play the parts of different characters, giving the tour a theatrical flair.
Road Trip Lit Tour Combo, part 1: Santiago to Valparaíso
Valparaíso is 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. Rudimentary Spanish is enough to get by.
La Sebastiana, Neruda’s Valparaíso Home
Valparaíso is a UNESCO World Heritage site, 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 so, naturally, he fell in love with this house (below) by the architect Sebastian Collao.
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.
You can see Neruda’s love of the sea in the way he decorated each of his homes.
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.
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.
Road Trip Lit Tour Combo, part 2: 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.
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, so the caretakers have to hunt for eggs everywhere.
We bought fresh bread, jelly, eggs from the hens on the farm and craft beer in the tiny town of El Totoral. This is a great shopping experience if you’re staying in an AirBnB. Google Translate will help you through.
Neruda’s Isla Negra Home
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, but 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.
Road Trip Lit Tour Combo, part 3: Isla Negra to Santiago
We returned to Santiago in time for my cousin Saverio’s birthday. Saverio is a geologist working in Chile and his apartment was close to our hotel.
Before visiting the final home of Pablo Neruda, we went to Saverio’s apartment where I prepared a delicious breakfast for his friends who helped show us around Santiago.
La Chascona, Neruda’s Santiago Home
La Chascona is a Chilean word (from the indigenous Quechua language) which means a wild mane of hair. La Chascona was his nickname for his wife Matilde.
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.
But La Chascona 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.
Effortlessly see the country’s coast, to enjoy the local flavors and know Chile’s most famous personality
This easy road trip will give you a taste of Chile, beyond Santiago. It’s a fun route, no tour operators required and low cost. I recommend a night in Valparaiso because it’s a fun town to explore.