Valparaiso is not a place built for tourists; yet it continues to draw people from all over the world. There are no major sights or must dos – and yet this is perhaps why you fall in love with it so much.
Exploring the colorful, sprawling architecture and street art is a captivating sight even to the non-photographer’s eye. It’s gritty and authentic; with shops and cafes only adding to the eclectic vibe of the city.
There are cafés, street art and hilltop vistas, and local corner shops next door to boutique stores. Valparaiso, commonly known as Valpo, is where you’ll spend your days getting lost in the hours exploring small cobbled streets and winding roads.
Just two hours from Santiago, but a world away, Valparaiso was, without question, my favorite city in Chile.
Here are a few things you can’t miss.
The Street Art Scene
From large scale murals to smaller hidden-away pieces, graffiti plays a large part in making sections of the city wonderfully colorful and enticing – an outdoor, free art gallery that is added to every day.
You can either join one of the daily street art tours or grab a free city map and follow the route for the Museo a Cielo Abierto, a well-established circuit which brings you to the work of several notable artists.
On this tour, you’ll learn tons about the local street art, and you’ll get to visit areas that not many travelers go through, as well as some of the more touristy areas.
The tour times are every day at 10:30 and 3:30 meeting in front of Neptune statue at Plaza Anibal Pinto. In total it lasts about 3 hours and being that the tour is free, you are expected to tip, so bring some cash!
Explore the Cerros
Although there are almost 40 different Cerro neighborhoods in Valparaiso, first-time visitors should focus on Cerro Alegre and Concepción. Here you’ll find some wonderful views, thrift stores, artisan shops, independent galleries, churches, cute cafés and restaurants – and an abundance of beautiful buildings covered in vines and delicately painted murals.
You’ll most likely get lost down tiny alleyways, but that may just lead you to your favorite discovery in the city. You’d be surprised at what you may find! If you end up at the bottom of the hill and want to get back to the top, there are a couple elevators (yes, elevators) built into the hill that have paved way for quicker access.
Visit the Cemetery
At the top of the hill in Cerro Allegre, you’ll see a cemetery perched above the city. Most of the best spots in Valparaiso don’t offer you a direct path to walk to; you have to sort of wind up and down to get to something you might see from a distance.
To get to the cemetery, walk down the hill from Cerro Alegre towards the main plaza -Plaza Anibal, and start walking uphill past a brewery called Altamira. Take a left at the Park of Love, and you’ll end at the cemetery on top of the hill. The cemetery has free access and amazing views of the city, so I’d say it’s definitely worth the hike.
Hang a right past the cemetery and keep walking up the hill, where you’ll eventually reach the cultural center on the right hand side, which was once the Valparaíso prison.
Here you’ll find a fantastic view of the city and the sea, and a big grassy area to lounge under the shade of the swaying trees.
Self- guided Wine Tour
One of the most talked about things to do in Chile is to visit a vineyard. If you are someone who enjoys wine, it’s always a fun activity to try the wine of different countries. Because of the climate, the wine that is produced by the grapes in Chile has very particular features. Known primarily for the Maipú Valley – Casablanca is another region for wine lovers that can’t be missed.
There are tours that will take you to and from Valparaiso (or Santiago) to do wine tasting in Casablanca for the day. It’s a fairly large region with about 10 stellar vineyards to choose from, so unless you have your own car, getting to and from Casablanca and between vineyards can be quite the feat.
However, if getting a rental car isn’t practical for your budget or plans, fear not. No need to spend obscene amounts of money to book a tour when you can create your own tour for a fraction of the cost!
Starting in Valparaiso, make your way to the bus station either by way of taxi or trolley. There is a line of taxis here waiting to take groups of people to similar locations, charging a flat rate and splitting the cost by the number of passengers. Each of us paid $3 to travel almost an hour into the countryside, opposed to $20 for the bus, or $30 for a regular taxi.
Before getting dropped off in Casablanca, do a little research on a few vineyards that you’d like to check out. Some have different hours than others, as well as ranging prices for tours and tastings, etc. The collectivo taxi will most likely drop you off in the middle of the town. From here, you’ll need to catch a regular taxi to go to your specific destination. This cost $6 to be dropped off at the first vineyard from town.
The two vineyards that we chose to visit both had small menus to go along with the tastings if you’re wanting a little bite, as well as other free features on the property offering you a little more than just a regular tour and tasting. The first vineyard we were dropped off at is called Emiliana Vineyard.
Emiliana Organic Vineyard : 11 am – 5 pm; $12 for one tasting of 4 wines and crackers. This vineyard was probably my favorite vineyard that I’ve ever been to. The property is tucked back past some Eucalyptus trees, which open up into a huge yard and organic garden. You’re immediately greeted by chickens roaming around the field as their coop is just beside the main building and tasting room.
The great thing about Emiliana is you’re able to do a self-walking tour of the property so you can walk around at your own pace whenever you please. Walking around the back, you’ll find the chicken coop and organic flower and herb garden. Just beside the vineyard you’ll find a rare feature that you won’t see at many other vineyards (at least none I know of); alpacas, who not only will pose for your pictures but are actually an important part of the property as they help with work on the farm.
Bodegas RE : 11 am – 6 pm; $30 for one tasting of 6 wines, cheese, olives, bread & olive oil. There were a few different options for tours at this vineyard. We chose the one that came with a few bites so you can snack in between sips. We didn’t opt for a full tour of the vineyard, but our pourer was nice enough to show us the magic behind the scenes with a complimentary mini tour of the underground cellar.
The cellar is family owned and operated, and has been using the same technique since they opened over 75 years ago. They make their wine in clay pots, and then seal the pots at the top so that oxygen can’t get in. There is no pressing of the grapes, so the wine actually makes itself so to speak. It was an interesting process to learn about, and I appreciated that it was included in our flight tasting.
There is food available for purchase at both vineyards, but we opted to bring our own lunch of sandwiches and chips so that we could have a nice picnic outside with our tasting at Emiliana. As I mentioned, there are a number of other vineyards to check out, but just visiting these two took about three hours after the tastings, picnic lunch, wandering around, and transportation between vineyards.
You have the option of returning back to Valparaiso the same way you came on a bus or in a collectivo taxi, but you’d have to get a taxi back into the town of Casablanca to be able to find a collectivo. From the vineyards, you can hire a taxi back to Valpo, or call an Uber. This is always the easiest option as you know it’s safe and it doesn’t require any handling of money. The ride back takes about 45 minutes and cost $20.
Visit The Nearby Beaches
If you’re craving some summer beach time, take a day-trip to Viña del Mar. Just outside of Valparaiso, this popular, wealthier area of town has large sandy beach and beautiful public parks in the warmer months. Viña del Mar has a little of a resort feel and some of the best nightlife in town.
Where To Eat
Porto Viejo; corvina, vegetables, potatoes, crab dip
Cocina Puerto; reineta ceviche, arugula shrimp salad
al Alba; Mediterranean pasta salad, carne burger with egg and pesto
Fauna; seaweed ceviche, sweet potato mushroom vegan risotto
Anfiteatro Brewery; 2 schops of locally brewed brews for $5
Sabor Color Restobar; green salad with shrimp, avo, cherry tomatoes, yucca, smoked salmon pesto ravioli, 2 glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon
Empanada Cart; carne and grilled onion with hard boiled egg, tomato, basil, mozzarella caprese – a daily changing menu of fabulous veggie (not always an easy find) and non-veggie fillings, served in brown paper bags to be consumed curbside in the sun.
Inclusive of groceries, accommodation, beers, transportation, etc.
6 pack beers: $5
7 liter jug water: $2
6 eggs: $1.50
Coffee (instant): $3
4 pack yoghurt: $1.50
= $15 grocery bill
Airbnb – $40/night for apartment for 3, kitchen, balcony, living space, 1.5 bathrooms in Santa Isabel (approx. 15 min walk into Valpo center)
2 min walk to grocery store, local markets, trolley/bus stop
5 min walk to daily market with souvenirs and treats
10 min walk to base of hill for Cerro Alegre/Conception
15 -20 min walk to top of Allegre
Budget Hostel– $30 – $45/night (shared vs private bathroom), .5 km from Cerro Alegre & Cerro Conception, shops and eateries, breakfast included, free WiFi.
Hostal Casa Plan, Hostal Casa Verde Limon, Hostal Don Oso, Cerro Alegre Valparaiso
Hotels – Fauna Hotel $110 – $150/night (ocean view): This hotel is located on the edge of Cerro Alegre and Conception. If you take Ascensor Reina Victoria Elevator to the top of the hill, you’ll end up directly under Fauna. This 4-star hotel features a rooftop restaurant and bar offering happy hour and a full dinner menu with views of the port.
Hotel Palacia Astoreca $100/night: Set in a seaport-style colonial house overlooking Valparaíso bay, this chic hotel is a 9-minute walk from the metro station and a 10-minute walk into the Cerros. Rooms offer flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi and breakfast.
Other amenities include an elegant Italian restaurant, a piano bar and a wine cellar, plus a cozy library with a fireplace. There’s also a terrace overlooking the bay, with a pool and a hot tub.
Transportation & Costs:
TurBus (Santiago – Valpo) – $9 round trip / 2.5 hour bus each way
Taxi (to and from bus station) – $5 to Cerro Alegre
Collective taxi to Casablanca – $2.50pp , $7 to Emiliana, $8 to Bodegas RE, $20 Uber home or $3 bus back to Valpo
Hop on/off Valpo trolley – 120 Chilean pesos ( $0.20) – world’s oldest trolley
Ascensor Reina Victoria Elevator – 120 pesos one way – the steepest elevator in Valpo
Bus (to and from Viña Del Mar) – 750 pesos one way ($1.15)
Safety in Valpo
It would be a lie to say that the city doesn’t have a reputation for some crime, but that’s mostly higher up in the cerros than most tourists go. Be mindful of your valuables and don’t walk down dark alleys at night by yourself and you should be fine.
Taxi drivers seemed to be the only ones to issue warning that passengers keep the windows closed and don’t get too close to anyone, but I never felt unsafe in my 10 days in Valparaiso.
Use street smarts and remember that you are mostly likely an obvious tourist wandering around in a foreign country in South America. Take taxis or Uber at night and you’ll be fine!
The Traveling Yogi