The 10 Best Things To Do in Valparaiso, Chile
by Sebastián García
The unfounded city of Valparaiso just came to life without any planned structure, but it is this fact what makes it so characteristic and unique. The Pacific ocean, the ever-blue sky and the picturesque architecture all combine to give a visual spectacle that enchants most tourists. Being the main port of Chile, located 2.5 hours from Santiago, this city has such an important history and unique historical structures that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, to help you enjoy the most of your stay here, I have made this list to help you choose what to do and see, whether you are staying for a couple of days or a couple of weeks.
Paseos and Cerros
To really experience Valparaiso you have to explore through its maze of unending stairs, peculiar sidewalks, and crazy architecture so, the first thing you should do when you get here is simply to stroll around the city. The best parts to explore are Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion. They have a bunch of street art, picturesque houses and there are ¨paseos¨ where you have impressive views over the city. The main ones are Paseo Yugoslavo, Gervasoni, Atkinson, and Dimalow and it´s easy to access them as they are one after the other. Additionally, if you want to learn about the place while you explore, you can take a general tour or a topic tour. For example, there are historical tours (Valpo History Tour), street art tours (Valpo Street Art Tours), bike tours, etc. Most of them just ask for tips.
Honestly Valparaiso doesn´t have the best museum offering for a city with such a long and important history but still, there are a few museums worth visiting. If you are into arts and drawing, I recommend the Museum of Fine Arts of Valparaiso which is in the Palacio Baburriza (one of the most iconic palaces located in Paseo Yugoslavo), the Museum Mirador de Lukas – Lukas was the most prominent cartoonist of the city- in the Paseo Gervasoni and La Sebastiana which was the house of the famous poet Pablo Neruda and is in Cerro Bellavista. On the other hand, the Museum of Natural History located in Condell street has an offering of archeological artifacts found around the city and exhibitions of the biodiversity of the region.
You already know this city is known for its street art, as every little wall space is occupied by murals. When you stroll around, you will always see street art but there are a few specific places where you can find a lot of it. One of these places is the Museo Cielo Abierto which is a street art museum (yes, the streets and murals ARE the museum). It is located very close to La Sebastiana so you can see them both in one day. Another place I would recommend not so crowded with tourists is Alemania avenue which is a street that goes along the mountainside. There is a bunch of good art along the road and stunning views of the city.
Trolleys and Funiculars
The trolleybuses of Valparaiso are the oldest transport fleet still functioning in the world, operating since 1952. You should get in one of these historical machines, not only because they are interesting, but they are also a cheap and great way of getting around the city.
The iconic funiculars are a must. Connecting the ¨cerros¨with ¨el plano¨ (the flat part of the city) they were very important back when cars weren’t so widespread and are still important to some inhabitants of the ¨cerros¨. There are many funiculars but among the most popular are the Concepcion, El Peral, Artilleria, and Polanco (an elevator).
The city is also known for its nightlife. There are many good bars and restaurants you can visit. Most bars are in the Ecuador and Cumming streets and the best restaurants are in Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre. I would recommend Casa Cervecera Altamira which is a brewpub that tries to rescue the essence of the first brewery established in Chile, which was founded by an Irish immigrant in the 19th century Valparaiso. It offers excellent beer, good food, and live music.
Originally Playa Ancha was a just another ¨cerro¨ of Valparaiso, but it has become a thing of its own. You might feel like you are in another place in this less touristic part of the city. So, if you want to have a more unique experience, you can go to Playa Ancha, as it offers more picturesque houses and amazing views. You can get to it on feet by the Paseo 21 de Mayo or Altamirano coastal avenue. There are also tours to this part.
Viña del Mar
Historically Viña del Mar is the wealthy suburb of Valpo. So in this city, you can find a lot of palaces, old mansions, and castles mixed with modern structures. In general, Viña has its own set of attractions you can go to. For example, the famous flower clock, museums, parks, among others. To get there you can take the Metro train or a minibus from Valparaiso.
Because of the geographical features of the bay, the city had very little flat area to build (this is one of the reasons Spaniards didn´t want to establish a city here), so for centuries ¨porteños¨ have expanded the flat area by filling the sea with different materials, and most of what you see today in Barrio Puerto is actually filling. For this reason, there are very few beaches in Valparaiso, but in the surrounding towns, there are good beaches worth visiting. In Valpo, you can go to Caleta Portales beach, where there is also a fresh fish market and Playa Las Torpederas. My favorite beaches are in Viña del Mar where almost all the coast is a beach. Finally, there is the popular Reñaca beach in the town of the same name.
La Campana National Park
For the most adventurous, there is one of the best national parks in the region of Valparaiso about 1 to 1.5 hours from the city. The key attraction here is a trek to the top of the Campana mountain where you can see the Andes on one side and the Pacific ocean on the other. The view is spectacular! Keep in mind though this is not an easy trek. It takes the whole day to hike up and then back down, and it is very steep in some parts, but it is totally worth it.
If you are into wine, about 1 hour from Valpo there is a valley called Casablanca home to a great number of vineyards. You can take tours of the vineyards while tasting their great Chilean wine. There are shared taxis that you can take in Argentina avenue (yellow cars next to the trolleybuses terminal) that take you to Casablanca. It costs less than 2000 pesos one way and there are always taxis waiting for passengers at almost any hour (except nighttime).
- Thefts are common in the city, but if you take care of yourself and your belongings you should be fine
- There are regular buses between Santiago and Valparaiso (about a 2.5-hour trip). If you like, you can buy bus tickets online
- If you happen to be in the city by New Years, you will experience a huge fireworks show that is done across all the bay