Only a short bus journey from Santiago, the port town of Valparaiso takes street art to a different level. Formerly the most important city in Chile due to its strategic location for sailing around the continent of South America. The city diminished with the opening of the Panama Canal and an easier route through the Americas.
As a result of this decline, Valparaiso was thought of as unsafe for a long time. However, the graffitied streets are now home to university students, artists and the scene that goes with them. Here is what you can expect while spending a few days in Chile’s most colourful city.
The city is now a hub for university students and that tends to mean cheap food, lots of bars and a crazy night life. Many backpackers will end up in Valparaiso for the street art and the party.
We weren’t in the mood for spending our time in party hostels, so we decided to use Couchsurfing. Our idea was to stay with locals and learn about life in the town, not just the bar scene. We ended up staying with an awesome Chilean couple who had recently traveled South America. Now back in Valparaiso their aim is to open up a hostel.
What to see while walking in Valparaiso
The town is nowadays renown for its artistic scene and its streets filled with graffiti and beautiful paintings. The best way to see all of the graffiti is to walk around and get lost, which is pretty easy !
Valparaiso is built by the sea and on the surrounding hills. The city’s network of streets is narrow and quite steep, making walking up and down difficult. Expect burning calf muscles and deep breaths. These streets have many small lane-ways which act as short cuts so you don’t always have to go down and around. This makes finding your bearings in the city difficult at first. In fact, we ended up walking many of the streets two or three times.
In each street, lane or stairs you will find art. Houses, shops and even schools are completely decorated by either known or anonymous artists.
You can also visit Pablo Neruda‘s house that looks like a boat, grab one of the cheapest beers in Chile or take a boat trip in the harbour for a unique view…
Our favorite spot
Atahualpa is our favorite lane ! We randomly walked through it and absolutely loved the work done here by the artists for each house/door. It worth going !
Other things to do in Valparaiso
Also worth a stop if you are interested in art is the Fábrika work shop. Run by a French artist, the workshop is in the heart of the graffitied filled streets. She uses the technique of screen printing in 2 or 3 colours to create unique posters representing the real Valparaiso.
With our host planning on opening his own hostel, he was keen to show us around town and refused to let us take a walking tour of the city. We later saw graffiti saying “don’t trust your tour guide”. Maybe the famous graffiti tour in town isn’t as amazing as we had heard?
The Cerros & Funiculares
There are over 40 hills, or cerros, offering great views of the city. Impossible to see them all, most visitors stick to Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción. These are where most of the sights are. Simply spending time exploring the streets of these two hills is enough to occupy a day or two.
On several of the hills are funiculares. These are basically single train carriages that travel up and down on tracks, helping to avoid walking the steep streets. There was once 16 in operation but today only a small amount remain. The funicular is a great, cheap, way of getting where you need to go and quite often they are graffitied, which makes it a bit of fun.
The best views from the Paseo’s
While walking the streets you should take the opportunity to find the viewpoints and Paseo’s around the city. We did walk those streets multiple times on purpose to see the views of the city during the day, at sunset and during the evening. We’d recommend doing the same as each moment offers a different, excellent view.
The best views are from:
- Avenue Alemania which is right behind Pablo Neruda’s house.
- Atkinson Paseo on Cerro Conception.
- Yugoslavo Paseo on Cerro Alegre.
- Paseo 21 de Mayo which is reached by the Artillería funicular.
As mentioned above we stayed with hosts in the city. For this reason we didn’t eat out much. Instead, we shared recipes each night in the apartment. We learnt how to make our own sopaipillas & granada porotos with mazamorra, a typical Chilean bean dish. For those on a budget, Valparaiso was the first place we really saw Menu del Dia’s everywhere. These are usually two or three courses meals with a juice and offers a great bargain. A great way to try local food.
If you plan on picking up food to cook, the best option is to avoid the supermarkets. Valparaiso has a huge market full of fresh produce. Also, the streets are usually full of vendors selling cheaper and fresher food than in the stores.
Empanadas & Sopaipillas
If you have been in Chile for a while, then by the time you reach Valparaiso you will probably be addicted to its two street food staples, empañadas and sopaipillas. Planning on heading north? It is worth noting that we didn’t see many sopaipillas after Valparaiso. Had we known this, we would have had much more before leaving.
There are crazy amounts of options for empañadas in the city so we won’t recommend any one place. You can choose from the traditional options from the little old lady on the side of the street, who all the locals seem to go to on their lunch break. Or you can go to a take away shop and grab one from a huge selection.
Try any of the seafood options for different tastes that you wont find in the rest of Chile. Just be careful with your choices. Potentially the very friendly empañada lady on the street may be responsible for both of us picking up a mild case of food poisoning…
We didn’t actually get to try this while in Valparaiso as we ate in each night. However, it’s another really popular Chilean dish. Basically carbs, it consists of a plate full of French fries topped with beef strips, eggs, and fried onions. What not to like about that?
Always on the hunt for speciality coffee, we were surprised we could only find one cafe in the city. The Third Wave* – Black & White is located at the base of Cerro Panteón, right opposite the tourist info centre, and serves up pretty good americanos and lattes.
* Note – it seems that the Third Wave – Black & White is under new management and is now called Café Astillero.
Viña del Mar
If you want to escape the craziness, a great option is to take a bus along the coast to Viña del Mar. In under an hour you will be transported from the edgy graffitied streets to an upper class beach resort, full of high rise apartment buildings. Filled with excellent bars and restaurants it’s a great place to relax a little.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to explore Viña del Mar very much as it was here our mild case of food poisoning kicked in. We got a bus back to Valparaiso just as a huge storm came in to town which turned the steep hills into city rivers and waterfalls.
Fires and Crime
While we were walking the streets with our couchsurfing host we noticed that many buildings where almost entirely burnt out. Due to the small, narrow and steep streets it can often take a long time for fire engines to reach a blaze. Also, due to the steepness of the hills it can be difficult to build new houses or repair old ones. A lot of houses in the city are made of wood and the cities power lines are crazy and exposed, with energy boxes often exploding. All of the ingredients you need to quickly set a house on fire. It is quite common to see burnt out shells.
Regarding crime, we saw none. Valparaiso once had a bad reputation, but this has changed alot lately. We did however hear stories of people out late at night and getting attacked in the smaller streets. Have sense, it is easy to end up alone in the maze of alleys and streets.
Cost and useful information
Exchange rate (as of April 2017): €1 = 714.20 CLP
Santiago -> Valparaiso (bus) : 3,300 CLP (€4.62) pp
Valparaiso -> Vina del Mar (bus) : 470 CLP (€0.66) each way / pp
Valparaiso -> La Serena (bus) : 6,200 CLP (€8.68) pp
Funicular: 200 CLP (€0.28) each way /pp
We were hosted by our awesome CouchSurfing hosts. Although free, we aim to cook dinners / breakfasts while staying with hosts.
Snack and drinks:
Sopaipilla: 200 CLP (€0.28)
Empañadas: 900 CLP (€1.26)
Coffee: 3300 CLP (€6.62) for an Americano and a Latte
** note that all the links we add are FYI. We are not remunerated by either the companies/organisations nor per click.
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