Valparaiso is only 1.5hours drive from Santiago, via route 68. Situated on the coast, Valparaiso is the largest port in Chile as well as the cultural hub of the country. Home to fishermen, the Navy, artists, students and of course Pablo Neruda, Valparaiso is both a working town with it’s fair share of dicey stories and bleak history, as well as an inspiration for the artistically minded and home to a large portion of the more alternative Chilean communities. As two females in our late 20’s/ early 30’s both with short hair and neither wearing make-up, we got more than our fair share of strange looks in Santiago (women actually stopped their conversations to look us up and down), however in Valparaiso no one even gave us a second glance. Bliss!
The town is made up of hills (cerros) that run all the way to the port or water’s edge. The main tourist hills are Cerros Concepción and Alegre, also called the heritage area. In 2003 the city was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List for it’s authentic display of late 19th-century architecture. The industrial-age style of development in the hills pays homage to the importance that the port-city has played in allowing South America to trade via sea. Valparaiso was the first port to open in South America and was a major asset to the country. The UNESCO listing means that there are restrictions on future developments in the some areas in the town, and that assistance is available to those who wish to refurbish abandoned houses and restore them to their former glory.
The town is currently fighting to stop a new mall being built on the waterfront. Unlike Santiago, Valparaiso thrives on small local stores and it’s soul comes from wandering the small winding streets and loosing yourself in the street-art, the individuality of each building and the small pockets of commerce that feed into each other. Santiago, by comparison, is very mall-centric. Small commerce besides mini-markets can be difficult to find in most barrios and most people would consider a day shopping in a mall a great day out. It is because of this that the Valparaiso locals are fighting so hard to keep this mall development out of their city.
Be aware that a day walking in Valparaiso is not for the faint of heart. The hills are steep and many; the steps are the only thing steeper than the hills. There are of course the famous funiculars to take you partway up the hills, however a few steep climbs are unavoidable. It is also for this reason that we suggest that if you are driving to Valparaiso you map out the route to your chosen accommodation before leaving home and (try to) stick to that route. Once you park your car, leave it where it is and walk or take a colectivo around the city. Do not try to drive around Valparaiso! It does not make for a relaxing vacation, what it does do is test the relationship between driver and navigator as no map (including Google maps) can match the insane gradient or curves of the streets. If you take nothing else from this article but this piece of advice, then we have already saved you a world of pain. If we were heading back for another extended stay, we would be taking the bus from Santiago.
*In fact, it would have actually been cheaper for us to take the bus rather than drive. A bus ticket is approx $20AUD per person return from Santiago on Tur Bus. We were lucky enough to be able to use a family car for free during our stay, so we only paid for petrol and toll roads. Petrol to and from Valparaiso was approx $30-$40AUD and the toll roads for the return trip cost $10AUD on weekdays and $15AUD from 5pm Friday to Sunday. We were lucky enough to not need to pay for parking in Valparaiso however you may also need to add that into your budget.
So what are you waiting for? Slip into some comfortable shoes and get ready to get lost in Valparaiso.
Recommended sightseeing / activities for two days in Valaparaiso
- Be sure to walk the heritage hills of Cerros Bellavista, Los Placeres, Baron, Alegre and Concepcion. Most hostels/hotels will have free walking maps in the lobby, and if not, there is free guided walking tours of the heritage hills that leave twice daily.
- For the literary or artistically inclined, be sure to check out La Sebastiana, which used to be Pablo Neruda’s House, and the Bellas Artes Museum also.
- For dinner try the historic Cinzano or local favourite J.Cruz.
- If you’re not worn out yet, hit up Subida Ecuador (street name) for some after dinner drinks, dancing and people-watching.
Additional recommended sightseeing / activities for longer stays in Valaparaiso
- Walk through the township of Valparaiso headed north and up Cerro Baron for a spectacular view of the heritage hills of Valpo.
- Jump in a colectivo and head to the neighbouring towns of Vina del Mar, Renaca & Con Con. These are the more up-market beach side holiday destinations which are enjoyed by thousands of Santiago-residents each summer. Vina del Mar is the largest of the these towns and is packed full of tourists on any given Spring or Summer day. It’s well worth a walk on the beachfront, which is much cleaner than the beach in Valparaiso, as well as a wander though the retail precinct. If you can, go and see the Botanical Gardens of Vina del Mar, they are stunning.
- In the warmer months, you can find the Valparaiso beach boardwalk overtaken by market vendors on the weekends. This is well worth a look, as is the local Central Market in Valparaiso.
Accommodation in Valparaiso
There is no shortage of hostels, hotels, rooms or apartments for rent in Valparaiso. The city is full of houses for tourists and students. During the summer holidays all the students in long-term accommodation go back to their family houses and these spaces are also rented out to tourists. You can find something to meet all budgets in Valpo, however beware. If you are looking to hear to Valpo in December or January, book early! The city has the best fireworks display in Chile for NYE and people claim their viewpoint days in advance and camp out (literally) to hold onto it. The roads are jammed and it feels like everyone in Chile is in Valparaiso for the celebration. There are also numerous summer and cultural fiestas in Valpo over December/January so expect the city to be full, prices to be inflated slightly and rooms to be booked well in advance.
That being said though, there is no reason to avoid the city in summer; there is after all a good reason that people flock there, its wonderful!
On this trip to Chile, we stayed in two different styles of accommodation in Valpo, the first was a rented apartment with a full kitchen so we could cook up our own meals, the second was only for one night so we rented a room in a small posada (rooming house). We would recommend both as clean, friendly and reasonably priced places to stay in Valpo.
The apartment was rented through Casa Verde Limon and was just on the fringe of the most ‘touristy’ section of Valpo on Cerro Cárcel. The apartment is an easy walk from Cerro Concepcion on one side and on the other a street away from the party-district of Avenida Ecuador. Casa Verde Limon is a hostel, which has two separate apartments a short walk from the main house. The apartment we stayed in had two rooms, a bathroom, fully equipped kitchen and dining room. Also provided was a heater (necessary in May) and free wifi. For approx $80AUD per night, three of us had clean and safe accommodation in the middle of town. We were very happy with this.
On our second visit, we stayed at La Posada de Maria on Cerro Baron, this is not a tourist hill. The surrounding houses and streets are not as well maintained/ refurbished as Cerro Cárcel, or Cerro Concepcion, however the location of Cerro Baron, being on the way out of Valpo heading towards Vina del Mar means that you have a stunning panoramic view over Valparaiso. I could have stood on the balcony and stared at that view all day and all night. It was nothing short of magical. It is also, closer to the city center and Cerro Cárcel is much closer to the beach than the historical district, so if your activities will primarily be during the day or you’re looking for a seaside escape, this side of town is well worth checking out.
La Posada de Maria is a recently renovated eco-house with 5 rooms of varying sizes and prices. From what we saw all rooms are basic yet clean and the vibe of the entire house is very communal and friendly. The house also boasts a music room downstairs and open-fire place that keeps the whole building toasty and warm. Be sure to ask when booking if there is an event on throughout the duration f your stay. We were attending a party at the house so of course did not mind the people dancing until 4am outside the bedroom door, however it may have been an unexpected surprise if we had not been attending the party.
A basic double room will cost you approx $50-$60AUD per night, with larger rooms for three of four people running at about $70-$90AUD per night.