Walking around Valparaiso or ‘Valpo’ as it’s affectionately known locally is like exploring a living breathing art installation. This ramshackle port town is precariously cobbled together on a series of steep hills that sweep down to the sea. Colourful murals, poetry and street art adorn walls while music can be heard from every direction. Night life only properly gets going around midnight and carries on well into the early hours. We spent four days slowly wandering the city falling in love with it’s bohemian charm.
1. Street Art.
We’re big fans of subversive street art and Valparaiso has some of the best. There’s whole neighbourhoods given over to spray paint with impressive effects. Talented artists come from far and wide often armed with a political message to get across. You’ll find artwork all across the city but some of the best examples are in the Open Sky Museum, a series of small streets where artists are actively encouraged to place their work. Also check out Cerro Negro and Concepcion neighbourhoods.
Some of the best food in Chile is in Valparaiso – from fine dining to cheap street eats. As a treat (and as fine dining is out of our budget) we discovered the cosy Cafe del Pintor, a charming restaurant serving a generous three course set menu for $9900ch. Add to that a decent bottle of Chilean red ($6000ch) and we ate like kings for around $25 USD total.
If you’re looking for budget eats I don’t think we over exaggerate when we say we may have found the best empanada shop in Chile (and there’s a lot of empanada shops).. For $1500ch ($3USD) we were given a big wholemeal pastry oozing with mozzarella cheese, sun dried tomatoes, fresh basil and chilli.
We would have eaten here more but unfortunately only found it on our final day. Head to La Pato on Almirante Montt, #556 – look for a sign with duck wearing a chefs hat. Located in a cool area with lots of shops, bars and restaurants to explore.
3. Pablo Neruda’s House.
Chile’s favourite eccentric poet, Pablo Neruda, lived in this quirky house for many years. It’s an expansive five story building with panoramic views expanding the whole city. He was an avid (some may say obsessive) collector of all things nautical and you can see his collection of curios on display throughout the rooms. Our favourite part of the house was his enormous royal blue leather ‘cloud chair’ where he used to sit and write poems. There’s still ink marks visible from where he’d drip his signature green pen while composing some of Chile’s best loved poems. We weren’t allowed to take pics so here’s one from around the corner..
Valpo likes to party. On Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Negro you’ll find a concentration of laid back drinking dens where people begin the night around 10pm. Then head down the hills to where the action is really kicks off. Bars get going around midnight and you’ll find young and old crammed into small venues often with a live band playing. Find a spot at the bar, order a drink and get involved. We stumbled back home in the small hours after watching the Chilean equivalent of the Rolling Stones (grey hair n all) playing covers to enthusiastic older ladies. As we left, beaten by tiredness it would seem they were just getting started.
5. Take A Walking Tour.
A great way to see the city and get your bearings. We did this on the first day and it gave us a good basic history and background to Valparaiso. We went with Tours For Tips who were excellent, although there’s a few other companies available. Suggested donation is $6000-$7000 ($10USD) per person. Meet at Plaza Sotomayor at 10am every day.
The Finer Details.
Accommodation – We stayed at the Casa Valparaiso on Galvez Street, a big old colonial house in Cerro Concepcion neighbourhood. Great staff, good vibes and decent breakfast. We stayed in dorms (private rooms in Chile are EXPENSIVE) which were good, although Liz got bitten by an unknown bug which was a bit rank (maybe ‘Jimmy’ the cat had fleas?). However the location is awesome and the alleys surrounding it are full of art and buskers giving the whole area a left field charm.
Shopping – Many arts and crafts all around Conception. Great screen print shops selling reasonably priced gifts – Check out Fabrika for some of the best. For cheap grub there’s a massive Unimarc Supermarket down by the port. The huge fruit veg and fish market is also worth a look for stocking up on a budget.
Transport – You can walk around the main areas of town easily enough. For distances longer than 1km or you can’t be arsed walking up the hills, the local bus goes everywhere for under a dollar. There’s also the fun original 1920’s funicular railways that will take you up the steeper hills in town.
Safety – Valpo sometimes gets a bad rap but if you’re sensible you’ll be fine. Standard rules apply. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t walk around drunk on your own at 3am…
Last Words – If you’re heading north or south through Chile definitely try and spend a few days in bohemian Valparaiso. It’s a destination so unlike the rest of the country that it deserves to be seen. There may not be tons of touristy things to do and your schedule won’t be jammed packed, but really that’s the beauty of it.
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