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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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