Valparaiso Travel Guide: Chile's Most Colorful City
Less than two hours from the capital of Chile, Santiago, Valparaiso is the most colorful and one of the most relaxed cities in this South American country. Read our travel guide, on best things to see and do in Valparaiso, tips on where to stay, how to get there, what to pack, and how's the safety situation in this port city.
Valparaiso is a colorful city near Santiago de Chile which since time immortal attracted writers, poets, musicians, and painters, and thanks to it, although the city is still little rough around the edges, Valparaiso keeps its charm and atmosphere.
For many, the city quickly becomes the favorite place in Chile, and although it was not our case, it is for sure a pleasant stop on a Chile travel itinerary.
Honestly, we've read and heard many words glorifying Valparaiso, so our expectations were set high, but we were leaving Valparaiso not disappointed but a bit bewildered because we were not sure what is the thing or reason we are missing out. We love to explore, and although Valparaiso has pretty spots, especially many paseos on hills surrounding the city and unique street art, at the time of our visit, it probably was not enough for us to click with the place immediately, and the hippie backpackers atmosphere did not daze us.
That's being said, Valparaiso for sure is a place no traveler should miss when in Chile.
That's why we have created this guide on best things to see and do in Valparaiso with many useful tips on where to stay, how to stay safe, how to get to Valparaiso and what to pack.
OUR VALPARAISO EXPERIENCE
We arrived in Valparaiso early in the morning and suddenly found out there is something wrong.
We left capital Santiago where even that early morning temperature was hitting almost 30 degrees of Celsius, so we did not pack any extra clothes, Martin even traveled in his swimsuit, because we planned on visiting a beach as well.
No one had warned us that Valparaiso is much colder, like ten to fifteen degrees colder!
At the bus station, we asked a lady in the information center what are the best things to do in the city.
She was helpful but told us not to walk around Plaza Sotomayor because of a protest happening in Valparaiso that day (dock workers were protesting against bad working conditions). We took a map and set off to explore Valparaiso, which was pretty easy as the center and paseos are walkable, and almost everything is near the bus terminal.
The sightseeing was pleasant, but as I mentioned before, nothing exceptional.
On the way back, when we were getting near Plaza Sotomayor, we all of a sudden started to have a weird feeling in our throats and noses, and our eyes started watering. When we turned around the corner, we could see many people with scarfs around the mouth, and we understood that we inhaled tear-gas because we got too close to the protests.
We left the place and quickly jumped on the first bus going to the beach in Vina del Mar, and because it was much warmer now, Martin finally had a chance to swim in the sea.
Yeah, it was freezing cold.
Here you can see the best things to see and do in Valparaiso we had explored during this interesting day trip from Santiago.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN VALPARAISO
Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and although according to us it does not feature must-visit places par excellence, it is a pleasant city, where you can spend a half day leisurely strolling its picturesque paseos, admiring street art, enjoying views over the city from one of many hills surrounding the port and simply, have a nice day out without being rushed.
Here are the best things to see and do in Valparaiso, you should not miss, no matter if you are visiting Valpo on a one day trip from Santiago or if you decided to spend here a week to savor in the artistic atmosphere.
RIDE THE FUNICULAR
Walking streets of Valparaiso is not an easy task.
Most of the must-see things in Valparaiso are on top of the hills surrounding the city, and to make walking around Valparaiso a little bit easier and more comfortable for locals, a large number of lifts and funiculars were built in Valparaiso since 1883. Almost every hill out of more than 40 of them surrounding Valparaiso has its funicular, so if you want to experience the ride, you won't have a problem to find a lift which will take you for a small fee up.
The square close to the harbor, Plaza Sotomayor, is the meeting point in Valparaiso and also a point where strikes and protests often take place as we could experience first hand. The plaza is lined with many notable buildings, and in the middle, you can find a statue of commemorating men who lost their lives during the Pacific War between Peru and Chile.
VISIT PABLO NERUDA HOUSE
When you read all the time that Valparaiso is a place where artists, writers, and musicians gather, it cannot take you by surprise that Pablo Neruda, the most famous Chilean poet, and writer who won Nobel Prize for Literature owned his house here.
Perched atop Cerro Florida, La Sebastiana, how the house is called, is nowadays an open museum where you can for CLP 7500 take an audio-guided tour, and have a look how the interiors looked like when the writer lived here.
LOOK FOR STREET ART
Valparaiso is one big outdoor gallery.
No matter where you turn, you will sooner or later find a colorful mural wall. Street art and graffiti cover the city from the bottom to the top, and if you don't fancy graffiti and paintings on walls and houses, visiting Valparaiso can be a bit of shock for you.
To find the street art in Valparaiso, you don't need any map or a guide, you will simply find it when walking around the city with your eyes wide open, but if you want to know more about the art, where it came from, and hear stories behind the best paintings, you can take a guided tour.
When you do not feel like walking uphill, take a funicular instead, but we recommend you to walk back otherwise, you would have missed unique stairways, leading from paseos back to the sea level. One of the most picturesque stairs is the Appolo Stairway or Piano Stairway.
But when walking around the city, you will stumble across many nameless staircases you will need to capture.
RELAX ON VINA DEL MAR BEACH
Vina del Mar is a city only 8 kilometers from Valparaiso, where you can quickly get by public transport from Valpo.
Rather than a different city, Vina del Mar reminded us of a bit upscale and more modern outskirt of Valparaiso.
Vina del Mar has several city beaches, where you can relax for an hour or two before your bus back to Santiago leaves. When we visited Valparaiso, the weather was not that warm, but Martin was already walking in his swimsuit all day, so we had no other choice that head to the beach, so he won't look like a fool. We won't lie to you, the sea in Chile is cold, so it is not great for swimming, but the beach was quite pretty, and overall it was a pleasant way how to finish our visit of the city.
To get to Vina del Mar, you can take either a train, but because you need to buy a plastic rechargeable card first, it is much cheaper to jump on a bus on the main avenue, and ask to be dropped off at the beach you want to go, we chose Playa Caleta Abarca. The ride cost approximately CLP 500.
Valparaiso has several lovely paseos which could be translated as streets or walks.
Often paseos are picturesque and beautifully designated paths around the city lined with costly villas with well-taken-care-of gardens, corners where street artists try to capture the city, artisan shops, wine bars, and benches, where you can sit for a while and soak in the atmosphere.
The most well-known paseos such as Paseo Yugoslavo, Paseo Atkinson or Paseo Gervasoni are located atop hills, and offer great views over the port.
GET A VIEW OF THE PORT
During the 19th century, the port of Valparaiso was one of the most prosperous ports of embarkation in South America, and although the glory during centuries has faded away (especially because of construction of Panama Canal), it is still a significant place for Valparaiso's and Chile's economy.
Higher you climb better views of the port you get, so you can either walk to one of the paseos we mentioned above, or you can use a funicular to get there faster and much effortlessly.
Many historical buildings in Valparaiso host small temporary exhibitions or permanent museums, so if you cannot imagine visiting a destination without some quality museum time, you won't feel cheated here in Valpo.
One of the favorite museums here is Museo Maritimo National, where you can learn about Chile’s maritime history. But for art lovers, the must-see place is the Open-air museum alias Museo a Cielo Abierto, which is essentially a well-established circuit on Cerro Bellavista with many picturesque murals painted by famous Chilean artists.
In all honesty, we think we saw much better street art in Valparaiso all over the city and did not have to come specifically here, but if you have enough time, it is another thing you should put on your itinerary.
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CERRO CONCEPCION AND CERRO ALEGRE
Valparaiso lies by the sea, and from the water, the city sprawls up more than 40 surrounding hills.
You can imagine every hill (Cerro) like a separate unit, an area of the city which has its own architectural style, street art, vibe, and an attractive paseo with lively restaurants, artisan shops, excellent views over the city and quirky coffee shops. Two most visited Cerros you should not miss when in Valparaiso are Cerro Concepcion, where you can get by the oldest funicular in the city, and Cerro Alegre.
Although you might have noticed that we are not big fans of hipper places where is nothing else to do but drink coffee in supposedly cool coffee shops, we enjoyed walking this part of Valparaiso, because it has its charm and is incredibly photogenic.
SPLURGE ON FOOD MARKET
Sometimes I have a feeling that only we can return from a one-day trip from Valparaiso to Santiago with four large bags full of fruit and one watermelon holding in arms.
Visiting the fruit and vegetable market was probably the highlight of our trip to Valparaiso. Overall, we found food pretty expensive in Chile, especially when we just crossed borders from Bolivia, one of the cheapest countries on the continent, so we could not resist not to buy anything when it was much cheaper than in Santiago.
We are not sure if this market has a name, but we found it by accident when walking from the bus terminal to the left, then we emerged on Argentina Street, and turned right. The market is between car lanes.
IGLESIA DE SAN FRANCISCO
The Catholic Church of San Francisco sits atop Baron Hill, and because it is so well visible from a distance, apart from religious purposes, the church served as a lighthouse in the 19th century for ships arriving in Valparaiso from the open sea. This function is not used anymore, so the church is nowadays admired only from the architectural point of view.
Iglesia de San Francisco often suffers from fires, but none of them was luckily fatal yet.
This house from the early 20th century looks a little bit out-of-place in Latin America, maybe because it was built by an Italian architect, who brought his European style to Valparaiso. It is a former house of a rich Croatian businessman Pascual Baburizza, which gave a name to the house. Palacio Baburizza stands in Paseo Yugoslavo, and you can get there for example from Plaza Sotomayor via Ascensor El Peral.
Palacio is at the moment home of Valparaíso's distinctive fine-arts museum.
WHAT TO PACK FOR VALPARAISO
When traveling from Santiago only for a day, make sure you will pack a warm layer, because Valparaiso is significantly colder. On the other hand, you can jump into the ocean. We recommend you to pack five following essential things when traveling to Valpo.
Ultralight Packable Daypack | You don't need to carry heavy backpack all the time, try this light foldable backpack instead.
SteriPen | It is not possible to drink tap water in Chile, so in order to keep your plastic waste to minimum, buy this useful travel gadget.
WHERE TO STAY IN VALPARAISO
Valparaiso does not need to be only a one-day destination from Santiago. Many travelers enjoy the city's gritty atmosphere, decide to stay here even longer, and we have good news that you can find many accommodation options in Valparaiso for every budget.
Budget | Hostal Licanantay - The best pick for every traveler looking for a cheap place to stay, is this hotel offering both private rooms and dormitories, a friendly atmosphere and tasty breakfast.
Mid-range | RC Deco Art Hotel Boutique - Great value for money is, in short, what can you expect here. Comfortable rooms, outdoor terrace, and friendly owners who go the extra mile.
Luxury | Hotel Casa Higueras - One of the best hotels in the city has perfectly appointed rooms, a splendid terrace overlooking the port, sauna and outdoor pool.
If you plan on visiting Valparaiso only on a one-day trip from the capital city, search for accommodation in Santiago here.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
SAFETY IN VALPARAISO
Valparaiso has a reputation for some crime, but don't let fear to spoil your experience, it is better to be precautious.
Pickpockets are pretty common in places with many tourists, so watch your valuables and do not show off expensive electronics.
We did not experience any issue, but it is true that after we walked a pretty busy street leading from bus terminal to the city center, we found out that a pocket on our backpack was open, although we were 100% sure it was closed before.
Fortunately, we had had the pocket empty.
Valparaiso is often a center of protests and strikes, so when you arrive on the Valpo's bus terminal, ask at the information kiosk if there is an area you should avoid that day.
When walking to the viewpoints a bit away from the city, do not take any valuables with you, because muggings can occur. We met an elderly couple who were robbed at gunpoint when walking alone.
Again, use your common sense and watch your surroundings.
HOW TO GET TO VALPARAISO
If you want, you can get to Valparaiso by a direct long overnight bus from San Pedro Atacama, but we believe most of you will need to get to Valpo from Santiago.
In Santiago, you need to get by metro to the station Pajaritos Terminal from where frequent buses run to Valparaiso, you should not wait for more, than 30 minutes. It is necessary to say that when walking to the station, we were stopped by several touts offering 'very cheap' tour to Valparaiso, which should have been even cheaper than a bus.
That's, of course, nonsense, carry on to the cashier.
Many bus companies run between Santiago, and Valparaiso some are cheaper than others, you only need to ask around.
We secured return ticket (open ticket) for CLP 5000 per person, but the ride can cost up to CLP 7000 per one way.
If you've rented a car, drive west on Ruta 68 and follow Valparaiso or Vina del Mar signs.
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