Once you set foot in this UNESCO World Heritage Site (2003), it’s easy to see why many fall for this old port town.
A 90 minute bus ride from Chile’s capital of Santiago via Ruta 68, the edgy town of Valparaiso will likely stay with you forever. “Valpo” will have a magical hold over you and she will not let you leave until you have found that inner poet or artist deep within. She will make you wander the graffiti-filled streets and leave you breathless…literally!
“…spectacular faded beauty of its chaotic cerros (hills), a maze of steep, sinuous streets, alleys and escaleras (stairways) piled high with crumbling mansions, and it’s clear why some visitors are spending more time here than in Santiago…” (Lonely Planet)
Ok, clearly I’m no poet. But Valpo did welcome us in her arms for 10 unforgettable days. One of the most memorable trips so far and I’m here to give you enough WOW factor to convince you to add Chile’s second largest city to your travel bucketlist.
The historic quarter of Valpo has a history of being ravaged by fires (1906 being the deadliest) and earthquakes, more recently a major fire in 2007 and major earthquakes in 2010 and 2014 (click here for photos). But did you know that earthquakes are just as common as tourists here?
We stayed at The Yellow House Bed & Breakfast in Valpo during the New Year season of 2012/2013 and I remember Martin and Lissette Turner (owners) recalling a couple of earthquake stories that almost made me want to pack my bags and jump on the next bus back to Santiago. They also said that very minor earthquakes are so common, that locals hardly bat an eyelid.
Why am I telling you this?
Despite these tragedies, this old seaport has stood its ground and has remained intact. When you weave in and out of the streets and climb the cerros, you will be astounded at how much this city has taken a beating from mother nature, and your admiration level is sure to go up a notch knowing that it’s still standing strong and proud.
So how can I convince you to add this to your travel bucketlist? Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words:
1. Funicular railways (Ascensores de Valparaíso).
2. Explore the harbor and admire the cerros (hills). There are 42 in total.
Valpo, it seems, is like a natural amphitheatre. Thanks to its many narrow, uneven streets and 42 hills.
3. There’s a 100% chance you will get up close and personal with these marine mammals.
Beware: These cute blubbers do stink. A lot.
4. Get a history lesson in this one spot.
5. See this stand out blue-grey building, dominating the Plaza Sotomayor.
The Edificio Armada de Chile (navy building) was built in 1906 after the disastrous earthquake and is the headquarters for the Chilean Navy, the edificio de la Primera Zona Naval. Be careful taking photos here as it’s quite easy to mistake the footpath from the road as it kind of merges without warning.
6. The smell of urine adds to this town’s character.
What we did notice when wandering around the streets is the unmistakable smell of urine. And as much as I hate to say it, after a day or two, you won’t even notice. You become so rapt up in Valpo’s charms, that even the stench of urine becomes part of the air you breathe.
7. A view from every angle.
No matter where you are, whether day or night, Valparaiso promises beautiful views that you won’t want to stop admiring her beauty.
8. Experience and learn about Chilean cuisine – cook it yourself.
9. Who is Pablo Neruda?
I must admit, I’d never heard of Pablo Neruda until 3rd January 2013, when we enlisted the services of Michael the German Pirate who took us on a private tour around the Pablo Neruda Museum, Casablanca Valley and coastal towns to get a glimpse of fisherman life.
We also visited this private house filled with collectors items and for the life of me, I can’t remember the man’s name – I will update this once I dig out my travel diary from storage!
Due to New Years celebrations lasting 3 days, I was quite ill on this tour. So Michael if you’re reading this, please forgive me for vomitting at each stop. I really did enjoy your tour – it wasn’t you, it was all me!
10. Wine tasting at Casablanca Valley
Casablanca Valley deserves to be explored for at least a couple of days. But seeing as we only had a few hours, we managed to only squeeze in Viña Indómita and Viña Mar.
Worth noting that Boris from the Chilean Cuisine Cooking Class also now works at Viña Indómita winery.
11. Marvel at the vibrant and eclectic street art.
Street art – or pesky urban graffiti according to some locals – can be found all over Valpo even when you’re not looking for it. We were recommended to check out the street art at Cerro Polanco. Grace and Rebecca, who were also staying at The Yellow House, came with us. Finding ourselves lost in all of the artwork, we accidentally walked down a street alley lined with vicious dogs. It was as if they were waiting for us. Surely enough, they chased us down the alleyway…and we ran for our lives. I think I even remember climbing up one of the caged windows, clinging on for dear life.
You can also find more street art at Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Allegre.
An annual competition attracts artists from around the globe to get creative and express themselves by painting over sides of buildings/houses. It’s like the old city getting a revamp every year.
12. Where else can you ride an old trolleybus?
Trolleybuses connect Valparaiso to its neighbouring Viña del Mar. It’s cheap and stops are easy to find. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to take any photos but fellow WP blogger Blue Lapis Road have some current photos on their website.
13. Viña del Mar
I’ve decided to dedicate a separate post to this because I truly believe that Viña del Mar deserves to be put on her own pedestal. I’ll link it here once it’s live.
14. Ring in the New Year.
Apart from the fires, earthquakes, vicious dogs and urine smell, Valpo is something to be remembered. And the best thing about this place, hands down, are the New Years Eve fireworks. I’m sorry Sydney, but I think Valpo has taken your place in the number one spot. On that note, I will also be uploading a video once I figure out how!
New Years Eve in Valpo is like nothing I’ve ever experienced (Tip: wear closed shoes). “Crazy” would be an understatement. “Epic” would be just right. There are thousands of people in every street corner and the entire town is like a gigantic outdoor club. Irish couple Marga and Shane, Jennifer – who we met at The Yellow House – Moe and myself did our best latino dance at some random club. We waited until the sun came up, and were greeted with this view that will stay with us for a lifetime:
Have you been to Valpo? Share your story below.
Featured Image: The famous and highly photographed blue house at Cerro Artilleria is actually a hostel.