This is Chris relaxing at the sparkling wine bar at Viña Casas del Bosque in the Casablanca Valley. Chile, because of its unique geography (Pacific on the left, Andes on the right) and climate (sunshine, sunshine, sunshine), is a great place to make wine. In fact, it’s the fifth largest exporter of wine worldwide. We’d heard these facts, but could not be satisfied until we’d tasted it ourselves right from the source.
We had a great splurge day, with a tour, tastings and lunch. But what’s even better is that we didn’t have to pay USD$400 — the average cost for two people for a wine tour. Splurge and save? Yes.
Like most wine regions, Casablanca Valley is rural so it’s not easily accessible except by car. And everything we’d read said that Chile is not as lax as the U.S. when it comes to driving after a taste or two, which leaves organized tours. The kind where you’re herded around from winery to winery with people too scared to try to speak Spanish. We read on TripAdvisor that it’s possible to do a do-it-yourself tour of the Casablanca Valley, so we went for it.
1. Pick up bus in Valparaíso. At the main bus terminal in Valparaíso, you can pick up a bus through Buses Casablanca. I don’t know how often they arrive/depart, but we only had to wait five minutes. The ride took about 40 minutes and was beautiful. Since we are in Viña del Mar, we took a quick metro ride to Estación Barón and walked three blocks to the terminal. Cost per person: USD$0.75 for metro and USD$2.25 per person for bus
2. Grab a taxi in Casablanca. Your bus ride will end in the town of Casablanca, at the Plaza de Armas. There’s a big church, some stores, and taxi stands. The taxis are black with yellow roofs. Just tell the driver which winery you’d like to go to. Ours offered us his card so he could come pick us up when we were done. Taxi fare: USD$3.75
3. Enjoy the winery! We took a brief tour followed by a generous tasting, grabbed appetizers in the outdoor sparkling wine bar, and splurged on big gourmet lunches with wine at the restaurant. While the food at the restaurant was great, in hindsight we would have picked up one of their picnic baskets with wine and found a spot in the vineyard — we always forget that lunch is the big, heavy meal here. I had the mahi-mahi with a sauv blanc and Chris had the lamb with cabernet. Cost for tour, food and wine per person: USD$60
4. Ready? Reverse! So we called our taxi driver…and his phone was off. So we went into the wine shop and the girl called the cab company…but there was no answer. Eek! This is when we thought our grand DIY plan failed. But after standing in front of the winery for two minutes, someone else pulled up in a cab so we were able to take theirs. Success! He dropped us off right at the bus stop at Plaza de Armas, and we made our way back quickly and efficiently. Same costs as above in steps 1 and 2
Total cost for two people: USD$139.50
Savings compared to organized tour: USD$260.50
Now, many of the organized tours go to two or three wineries, so add on some extra taxi fare and tasting fees if you really want to recreate the experience. But honestly, it was nice to just spend a chunk of time at one winery and take in the view. You can even rent a bike for an hour so you can explore the far reaches of the property on your own.
And honestly, that’s the best part of any trip — exploring on your own.