An introduction to Valparaiso
Valparaiso is a little rough around the edges, it is a major port city and has long been one of Chile's poorer cities. So why visit, you might be wondering? It is colourful, culturally fascinating and historic, full of houses cascading down hillsides, and an engineering marvel set with the glistening Pacific Ocean as it's backdrop.
Reasons to go to Valparaiso
History & Architecture
Valparaiso, or Valpo as the locals call it, in its heyday was the richest, most modern and forward thinking city of Chile if not, Latin America. For example, it is home to the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world, it has Latin America's oldest stock exchange and housed Chile's first public library. The historic quarter gained UNESCO status in 2003 and has since been undergoing restoration and now houses a wonderful range of boutique hotels, great restaurants, art museums and workshops. Although the city sprawls over 44 hills (cerros), the main historic areas are concentrated on just two: the Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion.
It is impossible to visit Valpo without noticing its graffiti and street art or murals. From small tags to huge building sides, intense faces and political messages, Valparaiso has it all. Many of Chile's most famous street artists are born and raised in Valpo and are now famous world wide. If you fancy a city tour with a difference or would actually have an interest in learning more about Chile's street art history and current trends then there are graffiti and street art tours available - some even give you the option to try your hand at your own mural.
With the oldest funicular dating from 1883, Valpo originally had 29 funiculars - 16 are still fully functioning, transporting people up to the cities many hillsides. Try the Artilleria for great views of the city and El Peral, Reina Victoria & La Concepcion (currently closed for restoration) for the best access to and from Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion.
Valpo has undergone a food explosion in the last 5-10 years with new restaurants popping up: incredible seafood, chef taster menus, roof top views and cocktail bars sit side by side with the city's traditional restaurants in the port area.
For many, the main reason to visit Valparaiso and the surrounding countryside is the possibility of visiting the homes of Chile's own Pablo Neruda, the 1971 Nobel Prize winner for Literature. He was a prominent political character, eccentric in his style of living and the author of some truly beautiful poetry. Many of his poems talk of Chile and Valparaiso - there is something quite special about reading a poem describing the port city, whilst looking over it, from the very desk at which it was written. The city also has many budding poets eager to share their latest pieces.
As you drive from Santiago towards Valparaiso, the last valley you pass through before making your final descent to the port is the Casablanca Valley, famous for its white wines and Pinot Noir. There are plenty of vineyards you could visit on route or even use Valpo as a base to spend the day visiting a number of the premium wineries in the area.
Photos of Valparaiso
There are some fascinating novels set in Valparaiso at the turn of the century (Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende is one of them) - they really set the scene for how the city was in its hey day. We would highly recommend picking up a copy before visiting.
Trips in Valparaiso
At sunset, find a rooftop bar and order a pisco sour and watch as the bay glows pink and the twinkling lights of the city turn on - it really is quite a view!
Sally Dodge Patagonia Specialist
Where to stay in Valparaiso
Much of the accommodation of Valparaiso is based on the UNESCO hills in lovingly restored wooden homes. Regardless of your budget, you will find a boutique hotel to suit you.
How to get there
Valparaiso is just 2 hours from Santiago or 1.5 hours from Santiago airport - the easiest way to arrive is by a private transfer, door to door from your hotel, but if your budget can't quite stretch to this there are plenty of regular public buses from Santiago's central bus station. If you do arrive by public bus, we would recommend to hop straight in a taxi on arrival as the area around the bus station is a little edgy and best avoided.
FAQs about Valparaiso
Valparaiso does have its edgy side down around the port area and high up on some of the hills; it is best to check at your hotel reception for any 'no go' areas, just be on the safe side.
We would recommend to have two nights as a minimum to really soak up the city, get a little under its skin and make sure you get a chance to sample the delicious food.
Valpo is a one and a half hours drive from Santiago - a little less if you're coming from the airport. We highly recommend coming by private transfer but if this is a little too pricey, there are plenty of public buses.
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