April 8, 2022
Once named the jewel of South America and considered by many as the cultural capital of Chile, Valparaiso is real paradise for art and specifically street art lovers.
As Pablo Neruda said: ‘Valparaíso, how absurd you are. You haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.’ This summarises perfectly this colourful and quite messy city.
Valparaiso is not for everyone, so you will either completely fall in love with it or simply hate it. But if you’re looking for a unique, creative and bohemian city where you can lose yourself for hours, check out this Valparaiso travel guide!
How to get to Valparaiso
Getting to Valparaiso is very easy as it’s located only 120km (74 Miles) away from Santiago.
The first option is to rent a car which will give you more freedom to visit the cities around Valparaiso. We will get to that later. If you don’t stop along the way, the journey should take you around 1h20.
You can also take the bus as different compagnies offer this regularly throughout the day. Don’t worry buses in Chile are extremely comfortable so the 1h45 will fly by and you’ll be ready to explore in no time.
Lastly, you can choose to take a taxi or private transfer. You can ask your driver to stop along the way and get picked up wherever you decide.
A little bit of history
Valparaiso was once one of the richest cities in South America thanks to the European shipping boats that were stopping there during their journey to the USA. Its prosperous port attracted plenty of rich Spanish, French and Germans who imported with them their beautiful architecture.
Unfortunately, when the Panama Canal opened, the ships didn’t need to travel around South America anymore, so the economy of the city collapsed very quickly, and the wealthy families moved away.
In the 1940’s it was the biggening of muralism in Mexico and Pablo Neruda a diplomate from Valparaiso and later the famous poet that we know today, decided to bring it home by inviting street artists to paint some murals.
Later, while Chile was under the dictatorship of General Pinochet, street art became for many a way to express themselves and even though it was prohibited by the military, it started to flourish in the city. Despite the risk of getting captured and tortured to death, these groups of activists persisted and played an important role in the return of the democracy.
Today, Valparaiso is the only city in Chile where street art is legal and even celebrated as a form of hope and freedom. Local government supports street artists and restaurants, whilst shops and hotels pay to get some very impressive murals.
What to do in Valparaiso
Get lost in Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion
One of the best things to do in Valparaiso is to get lost in the picturesque streets. With its numerous stairs and hills, it won’t be a breezy walk in the park, and you need to get ready for a little bit of sweating but we promise you that it’s absolutely worth it! The city is composed of numerous hills and our two favourites are Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion. There, you will get the chance to admire incredible works of art and gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean. Take some time to wander in the cute boutiques and art galleries where you will surely find some souvenirs to take back home. And when you’re too tired to walk, catch your breath in one of the various charming cafés.
Watch Sea Lions
Ok maybe we were a little bit too fast to say that the best thing you’ll do is walking because you can also spot sea lions in Valparaiso! We don’t exactly know why they chose this abandoned platform as their home, but the sea lions are a real attraction here and lots of people walk to the pier every day to enjoy their reality show. Because yes, a huge colony of sea lions living on a tiny piece of concrete is a lot of drama, shouting, fights and you can even watch some unlucky ones get pushed into the ocean and then spend a long time trying to get back onto the platform.
While these big creatures delight the tourists, they’re a real nightmare for local fishermen. They no longer bother to hunt as they learned to recognise the sound of the boats and when they hear them, they jump into the water and destroy the fishing nets to devour the treats inside.
Get an artisanal beer in Cervecería Anfiteatro
There are a lot of breweries in Valparaiso serving their own delicious craft beer, but Cerveceria Anfiteatro was recommended to us by a very nice local and became our personal favourite. The beers are cheap, very tasty and the staff is super friendly, we can’t ask for more than that!
If you’re not convinced by this one or just want to embark on a pub crawl, Cumming street is the perfect location for a night out and you will have plenty of choice there. Just remember that once you see the locals go home, it’s time for you to call it a night and head back to your hotel. Don’t stay out wandering the streets!
Try the famous Pisco Sour
In the same category, you have to try Pisco Sour in Valparaiso because it’s without a doubt one of the best we had in South America. We are not entirely sure if it was invented in Peru or Chile as both countries claim it, but one thing is certain, you can’t leave Chile without tasting this famous cocktail.
The Pisco Sour is a pretty simple cocktail made with Pisco, lime juice, simple syrup and egg white. But don’t let the egg white scare you away because you’re in for a treat!
Ride the Funiculars
There is one thing that you absolutely need to do in Valparaiso: ride one of the famous funiculars. Valparaiso is mainly made of hills which means a lot of staircases to climb, so to make it a bit easier, the city created around 30 elevators back in the 1800s. Today, only 16 of them remain and 9 are being modernised.
The funiculars are a big part of what makes Valparaiso so atypical and were one of the reasons why the city was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. Plus, they’re very cheap, around 500 Chilean Pesos for one way and let’s be honest, it’s much more fun than climbing hundreds of stairs! The most popular one is Ascensor Reina Victoria which takes you up to Cerro Alegre and offers a very cool view of Cerro Panteon and its cemetery.
Visit Pablo Neruda’s House
La Sebastiana was the house of the world-renowned poet and famous political figure Pablo Neruda. It’s located at the top of Cerro Bellavista and as the name suggests, you get an incredible view from his five-story house. His former residence has been turned into a museum and for 7000 Chilean Pesos you will learn more about its work and life and get the chance to appreciate its unique architecture and decoration.
Escape the city in Concon
If you’re looking for a day trip to enjoy the beach near Valparaiso, Concon is a great place to head to! It’s located 35 minutes away from Valparaiso by car or between 45minutes and 1h10 by public transport depending on the bus you take and the traffic. Concon is less crowdy than its neighbour Viña Del Mar and offers plenty of nice things to do.
For those who like surfing, go to La Boca playa where you can rent the equipment and find some good food. If surfing is not your thing but you still want to do an activity, you can also ride a horse, rent a kayak and even go paragliding. We understand that you might prefer a quiet beach to relax and soak up the sun so check out Playa Negra a small secluded beach where you will find some peace.
Also, a trip to Concon wouldn’t be complete without seeing the dunes. If you’re courageous enough and want to exercise a little bit, you can climb on top and admire the view. Or you can simply walk along the coast and take some photos of the beautiful cliff with the dune as a background.
Eat some delicious sea food in Vina del mar
While Valparaiso looks like the cool kid full of tattoos and is a little bit chaotic, Viña del Mar is its opposite chic sister with manicured boulevards, lush outdoor gardens, and monochromic buildings. Besides offering gorgeous sandy beaches, Viña del Mar is also a great place to try some excellent sea food.
While you’re there, explore Cerro Castillo and its beautiful mansions, visit the Botanical National Garden and learn more about Chilean History in the Francisco Fonck museum.
Our favourite artists you should look for
We made a list of some street-artists that we absolutely loved in Valparaiso so you can try to spot their work of art:
- La Loica
- Varas Mackenzie
- Anis 88
- Maria Marte
- Daniela Daza
- Maida K
- Naath Carmen
- Kevin Galassi
- Cardo Maleza
We hope that this article gave you an idea of how incredible Valparaiso is and why you should include it to your next trip to Chile! Get in touch if you want us to help you organise the adventure of your life. For more great things to do in Chile, have a look here.