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A Day Trip to Valparaiso, Santiago’s Scruffy Seaside Sister

Valparaiso, how absurd you are…

you haven’t combed your hair,

you’ve never had time to get dressed,

life has always surprised you.

This paraphrased (and translated) piece of Pablo Neruda’s famous poem Oda a Valparaiso (well I assume it’s famous, I saw it in Lonely Planet) sums up the city pretty well, although I don’t think he took the metaphor far enough. To me, Valparaiso is a barely clothed, drunk, chain smoking, tattoo covered woman, still working the bars 20 years past her prime. Valparaiso has seen better days, but that roughness is still somehow beautiful, and you’re going to have to travel a long way to find a city with more character and seedy charm. We recently took a day trip to Valparaiso from Chile’s capital, Santiago.

Walking the streets

We didn’t have long to explore Valparaiso, so we hit the streets early and we hit them hard. We walked up and down hills, past creative street art, gangster style gibberish graffiti, dilapidated buildings and carefully restored town houses. We arrived by bus at Cerro Alegre and started walking towards the flat part of town, through crowded plazas and gracefully (and sometimes ungracefully) aging city blocks. It’s a bit like a rough version of Lisbon; full of character, chaos and calmness.

Day trip to Valparaiso, Chile: Neat town housesDay trip to Valparaiso, Chile: Cerro Alegre view

Riding the funiculars

Our feet were soon tired from all the walking, so instead of climbing the steep steps to get to the top of the other hills, we rode century old funiculars. We were jammed in with local commuters for the short rides — it’s a great way to save some energy and no day trip to Valparaiso would be complete without riding one.

Day trip to Valparaiso, Chile: Funicular

On top of the hills

Valparaiso has a lot of hills, some of which are home to viewpoints where you can gaze out over the city and the ocean. We took the cable car up to two of these hills, Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Cordillera. Cerro Concepcion is popular place for tourists in Valparaiso. It’s full of cafes, restaurants and stalls selling “Valparaiso” t-shirts and wallets. The quaint, colourful buildings and laid-back atmosphere make it a great place to hang out.

Day trip to Valparaiso, Chile: Cerro Concepcion cafe and shopping areaDay trip to Valparaiso, Chile: Concepcion Hill cafe

Cerro Cordillera isn’t so touristy. We turned left after exiting the cable car and made our way to a small museum with a panoramic view over the city. We were just about to leave when a woman who worked there told me off for carrying my camera. She said it would probably get stolen if I continued to do so, so back in the bag it went. In all honesty, Valparaiso didn’t feel dangerous at all, but a lot of the small side streets and staircases are often deserted, which is an ideal situation for would be thieves.

Day trip to Valparaiso, Chile: The port and old housesDay trip to Valparaiso, Chile: Street art

Pablo Neruda’s House (La Sebastiana)

Valparaiso’s most famous (former) resident, Pablo Neruda, created this eclectic living space in the 1960s and today it serves as a way for us to get to know the writer. You can see his passion for collecting things– the house is full of bits and pieces of art and furniture picked picked up from all over the world. The view is also amazing and the massive windows he put in take full advantage of it. Unfortunately you can’t take photos inside his house, but you can poke your camera out of the window to capture those views.

Day trip to Valparaiso, Chile: The view from Pablo Neruda's House

A brief history of Valparaiso

Valparaiso became an important port in the 1800s. Ships passed through on their way around Cape Horn, which was the main route connecting the two sides of the Americas. Immigrants from all over Europe flocked to the bustling port city, but that would all change with the completion of the Panama Canal. Valparaiso was suddenly a long way from key shipping routes and fell into decline during the 1900s. It has picked up again lately as Chile has started to export more and more products. Valparaiso was also hit by major earthquakes in 1822, 1906 and 2010.

Day trip to Valparaiso, Chile: Hills

A Day trip to Valparaiso: The Details

Valparaiso is an easy city to navigate. Once you get from the bus station to the downtown area you can walk and take the funiculars. We took a local bus from the bus station and exited at Pablo Neruda’s House, and from there we caught the same bus into the touristy part of town. Just let some locals know where you’re going and they’ll tell you where to get off. We caught a bus from Santiago to Valparaiso for $5000 CP, buses go all the time so you don’t need to book ahead (I’m not sure about weekends though, it seems like it’d be a popular spot for locals). There is a tourist information booth at the bus station in Valparaiso where you can ask for information about the local buses, attractions and hostels.

Have you been to Valparaiso? Does it remind you of any other city that you’ve visited? Let me know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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16 Comments

  1. February 13, 2016 at 11:17 pm — Reply

    Those views from Pablo Nerudo’s house are gorgeous!

    • February 14, 2016 at 2:41 pm — Reply

      Thanks Sharon, it’s a great spot.

  2. February 14, 2016 at 2:19 pm — Reply

    I dated a guy from Valparsiso and he raved about it. Gave me a touch of wanderlust and a need to go there one day 🙂 Looks like a fucking cool place 😀

    http://castawaywithcrystal.com/a-dangerous-drive/

    • February 14, 2016 at 2:42 pm — Reply

      It’s a really cool place — hope you can make it there!

  3. February 14, 2016 at 3:21 pm — Reply

    I think I’d come here one day. I have always been curious about Pablo Neruda and his poetry.

    • February 20, 2016 at 2:44 pm — Reply

      I hadn’t even heard of him before I went to Chile — pretty good though.

  4. February 15, 2016 at 2:40 am — Reply

    Cool post! I would love to visit Chile period, anywhere would be fine. Such cool street art and love all the architecture. Central and South America have such great flavors to share and I want to see so much of it.

    • February 20, 2016 at 2:45 pm — Reply

      It’s a great place to travel Melody — we spent 8 months in Latin America.

  5. February 15, 2016 at 9:17 am — Reply

    I visited Valparaiso about 5 years ago and was stunned by it’s beauty and culture. The views from the hills are amazing and the eclectic culture just draws you in!

    • February 20, 2016 at 2:46 pm — Reply

      Definitely — I wish we spent more time there instead of just a day trip from Santiago.

  6. Susanna
    October 9, 2016 at 5:53 am — Reply

    Hi Jon,

    Would you say a day was worth it, then? Or do you think an overnight might’ve been better?

    Thanks a lot,
    Susanna

    • October 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm — Reply

      It was worth it but if you have more time than we did I’d recommend spending a night or two. I liked it a lot more than Santiago so I’d say if you’re tossing up whether to spend more time in one or the other I’d go for Valparaiso.

  7. Julie Perry
    March 11, 2019 at 2:01 am — Reply

    Hi Jon,
    Very pleased to read your account on Valparaiso. We intend to take a day trip from Santiago and wondering whether we can do this on our own by local bus ,instead of an organised tour, to cut down costs.
    Is there a lot to see in the town area by walking and is it worth going to Vina del Mar? How safe is it to travel on the bus as we don’t speak any Spanish?
    Would appreciate your input. Time is rather short as we have a lot of other places to cover.
    Many thanks.

    • March 20, 2019 at 10:48 am — Reply

      Hey Julie, it was pretty easy to do it on a local bus and it was a really fun day trip. There’s a decent amount to see in town and you can take a bus around town if you need to. It felt pretty safe although a woman told us to put our camera away in one part of town. We didn’t go to Vina del Mar — it looks alright but I guess we figured it wasn’t worth the extra effort. Enjoy the trip!

  8. Gagan
    September 23, 2019 at 1:18 pm — Reply

    Hi,
    I’m going to Santiago from Auckland next month and wanted to do this day trip alone. How do you get the bus from Santiago (I’ve heard from Pajaritos station?) and also where do you get it on the way back in Valpaaiso?
    Also, as a solo traveler, what do you recommend doing for the whole day, I’ve seen there is a free walking tour at 10am from Sotomayor, I guess that would cover most of the main areas.
    Thanks

    • September 24, 2019 at 3:51 am — Reply

      Yeah it looks like you can get it from there or the main bus station in town (pretty sure we went from the bus station) — the return should be from the bus station in Valparaiso, which is easy to find. It’s a good place to just walk around and felt pretty safe, a free walking tour could be good though, especially if you want to meet other travellers. Enjoy the trip!

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