By the sea

Isla Negra: a hidden gem on Chile’s coast

The seaside town enjoys white sand beaches, a range of restaurants and Pablo Neruda’s favorite home.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013  
Isla Negra boasts an idyllic beach alongside Pablo Neruda’s famous house. Photo by rsepulveda / Flic Isla Negra boasts an idyllic beach alongside Pablo Neruda’s famous house. Photo by rsepulveda / Flickr.

 

Rough, deep blue, crashing waves batter the white sand beach speckled with huge rounded rocks. A little further inland, tall sea pines rise up steeply from the beach establishing the woody outcrops that dominate the immediate inland. Among the clumps of trees the beginnings of Isla Negra’s seafront houses overlook the picturesque views and enjoy the refreshing sea air.

This idyllic town is best known for one of its former resident, Nobel prize winning poet Pablo Neruda. To this day the enigmatic writer remains a huge draw and foreign tourists and Chileans alike flock to visit his house, now a museum maintained by the Pablo Neruda Foundation. Although Chile’s beloved poet had several houses across the country, he often called his Isla Negra home his muse.

Once inside the beautifully constructed and lovingly maintained house, visitors are able to wander across the many rooms gaining a sense of the man who once lived there. A great collector, Neruda’s house overflows with extraordinary items from across the world, each representing a different facet of the poet’s curiosity.

As you walk down a hallway, eyes watch from the collection of African masks that line the narrow corridor, while a little further along is a whole room dedicated to rare shells of crustaceans, molluscs and other animals, no surprise when you consider Neruda’s greatest passion: the sea. Figure heads gaze out into the middle distance and old naval maps dot tables and walls alike.

Ultimately, the most moving part of a tour of the house (request an audioguide to appreciate the history resplendent in each object) is the final part of the tour, a visit to Neruda’s burial site located in front of the house directly facing the vast pacific ocean that he loved so much.

Beyond the museum and the beach, the town retains its own quiet charm with its relaxed, friendly atmosphere and the many restaurants and stands offering work by local artisans. Reachable by direct bus in less than two hours from Santiago and one hour from nearby Valparaíso, Isla Negra is an easy day trip or, if you prefer to soak up the laidback atmosphere and take your time, several hotels and hostels are located near both the Neruda museum and the beach.

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