A place that has long inspired poets and writers, Valparaiso is (in the words of famous Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda), a wonderful mess! It’s maze of Cerros (hills) with winding, steep and narrow streets; dilapidated and quirky architecture; endless staircases; and a gritty bohemian vibe makes it a must see stop on any visit to Chile.
While many people visit Valparaíso on a day trip from Santiago, you can easily spend 4-5 days here exploring the stories hidden in its amazing street art, staircases, funiculars and buildings. The colour in this place will blow your retinas, from brightly coloured painted homes to the wildest street art you’ll find anywhere in the world.
The street art here is prolific, particularly in the winding streets of it spectacularly chaotic and faded Cerros (hill-sides). Not only is it everywhere, including on the local garbage trucks, but each piece of art tells a story. From history, popular culture, politics and global issues you could spend months absorbing this syncopated city.
The best way to experience Valparaíso is to simply wander. It’s crazy maze of one way streets that never run parallel to one another, combined with its lack of traditional signage just adds to its appeal, craziness and charm. Choose your footwear wisely as most paths are steep and streets often cobbled.
Don’t miss a trip on one of Valparaíso’s 15 funiculars. Built between 1883 and 1916, these babies will save your legs and get you up those hills in a flash.
While a lot of the focus today is on Valparaíso’s heritage listed Cerros, don’t forget to explore the port district; where tourists, sailors, dock workers, fisherman, artists and prostitutes collide. Here you’ll get a real feel for the city’s seafaring side. There are also some stunning historic buildings here too, including the headquarters of the Chilean navy which is definitely worth a photograph.
While a bit touristy, try and take a boat trip from the harbour. Not only do they provide a fabulous view of Valparaíso’s spectacular Cerros, but you get to see the biggest, fattest and happiest seals ever! For just a few dollars you’ll get a 1 hour crowded boat trip complete with a crazy Chilean entertaining the crowd. Brush up on your Spanish as no English translation is provided. While at first we were a bit apprehensive, it was super funny - needless to say, we loved it!
If you are looking to party, there’s no better time to visit Valparaíso than New Years Eve. We arrived alongside 1 million Chileans! You’ll be guaranteed to be soaked in sparkling wine and you’ll be sure to make lots of Chilean friends. They’re a friendly bunch!
No visit to Valparaíso would be complete without a visit to La Sebastiana, the home of Valparaíso’s most famous resident - poet and politician Pablo Neruda. Getting to the house is a mean effort with a murderous uphill hike, but certainly worth it - even if just for the view. Just be sure to arrive early as it does get busy.
“Valparaiso, how absurd you are......you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you” Pablo Neruda.
Valparaíso is about 1.5 hours from Santiago in Chile.
Getting there is easy with buses leaving every 15 - 20 minutes from Santiago’s main bus station.
We stayed at Via Via, a small beautiful Art Deco house on the hill-side of Cerro Alegre. Run by a friendly Belgian - Ecuadorian couple and right in the heart of the action, this place was certainly a find with some of the city’s best street art, cafes and restaurants close by. Check out viavia.world/en/south-america/valparaiso for information.