Prior to actually going to Valparaiso, all I knew of it was that Anthony Bourdain went there and ate some really good seafood. And that it’s an easy day trip from Santiago. Promise of good food + convenience = as good a reason as any to visit in our book.
We decided that just a day trip probably wasn’t going to be enough to explore the city, especially if there’s a lot of eating to be done. So we booked a little airBnB rental for 2 nights. Well, let me just kill any illusions now… this is definitely not a city for eating (unless you want to eat chorillanas and hot dog completos all day, then there are endless options). We ended up being sorely disappointed by the lack of decent food here. That and combined with a various of other factors made it a hard city for me to love.
Upon an initial look, the seaport city is disheveled and gritty. The streets are dirty, buildings look to be falling apart, and thick electrical wires run tangled overhead. Upon a second look and deeper exploration of the surrounding hills, little bits of uncharacteristic beauty began to poke through. In the forms of bright cherry houses, quirky street art, crooked windy stairways, salty ocean breezes…
Valpo continuously played with my emotions throughout the duration of our trip. I loved it, I hated it. It amazed me, it frustrated me. We talked about spending more time there, we couldn’t wait to be done with it. However, we both can’t deny that by the end of our 3 days, it was impossible not to be charmed.
While it is important to note that the historical quarter of Valparaiso is an UNESCO World Heritage site, the real charm of the city laid in its hills, or cerros, for me (where the city’s residents live). And because I can’t seem to find the right words to express my feelings, I have picked some pictures that I feel best describes my experience in the city.
Getting there from Santiago: This is not a problem. Tur-bus or Pullman both have daily buses going to/from Valparaiso, leaving every half-hour or so. We rode with Tur-bus out of the Tur-bus hub next to University of Santiago. We paid $1900CLP/person (or $3.41US) to go there on the regular-class coach bus, and splurged on the nicer double-decker bus back for $2500CLP/person (or $4.49US). The ride is approximately 1.5 hour.
Getting around once there: Your own two feet will be your best bet for exploring the town. To go further out, the Valpo metro was incredibly easy to take, but could be quite pricey. There’s only one line that runs parallel to the ocean, going from the far end of Valparaiso to Vina del Mar.
Things to do:
Ride the different funiculars around town. Each one will offer a different view of the city.
Visit famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda’s house, which sits atop Cerro Bellavista. We trekked up there (and almost killed ourselves) but didn’t go inside the museum as we thought the entrance fee was quite steep ($4000CLP). Nevertheless, the view from his patio is stunning.
Ride the metro to visit Portales and Vina del Mar, both of which we did (post to come).
- Take a scenic stroll along Avenida Alemania (a road up in the hills) to see many different views of the city and port. (The trek up there is brutal but worth it.)
- Eat lots and lots of Chilean pastries and cakes. There are lots of pastry shops in town. Valpo sure does dessert right.
And lastly, Valparaiso is currently suffering the aftermath of a recent fire that has killed 15 and destroyed nearly 3000 homes – one of the deadliest fires in the history of the city. We left in the afternoon of our third day, and by that night, Valpo was burning up. The fire did not affect the historical quarter, and stayed in the hills where the city’s residents live in densely stacked houses. While the UNESCO historical center was pretty cool to see, it was these hills -full of life and color and character – that really made me appreciate the city. I feel lucky to have had the chance to experience it before this fire, but so incredibly sad to see pictures of what has become of this beautiful city. There is not much I can do to help, especially as it seems that it’s difficult to donate to the Chilean Red Cross with a foreign account, but I have found an independent fundraiser that I’ve donated to. I hope it will help in some way to rebuild what was lost.
Date of visit: April 10-12, 2014