When visiting Santiago, Chile last November, Dan and I took a day trip to Valparaiso, Chile’s uber colorful port city with a dicy reputation. We had originally planned to stay a night or two in Valparaiso, but the timing did not work out and I was satisfied with our day trip. In fact, since it was so easy to visit as a day trip from Santiago, I would recommend most visitors with limited time to visit Valparaiso via a day trip from Santiago.
What is Valparaiso? Valparaiso, a/k/a “Valpo”, is a coastal Chilean city about 1.5 hours (120 km) from Chile’s capital, Santiago. Yes, Valparaiso is actually a city, not a town. In fact, Valparaiso is large, old, and has a huge port that was integral to ships sailing between the Pacific and the Atlantic in the 19th century. After the invent of the Panama Canal, Valparaiso took a bit of a down turn (hence its diceness), but they city is back on the rise. Today, Valparaiso is most well known for its colorful hill neighborhoods surrounding its ports and the eclectic graffiti that covers these neighborhoods. Its also fairly well known as being somewhat of a “hippy” town and draws people from all over the world for this exact reason.
In addition to its colorful hills, Valparaiso is still home to a large port, the Chilean Navy (you can see some really cool ships in its port), the Chile Customs Museum, and 7 universities!
Most people visiting Valpo spend only a brief amount of time at the port and the remainder on one of Valparaiso’s surrounding hill neighborhoods to see the colorful houses and cool graffiti, and this is how I would recommend spending an afternoon as well. If you are not visiting Valpo with a tour guide, do some into into research which “hill” neighborhood you want to visit, as some are safer and more tourist friendly than others! We visited Conception Hill, and it was lovely!
What to do in Valparaiso? As I mentioned, the highlight of a visit to Valparaiso is really its charming, colorful, and interesting hill neighborhoods, most of which are accessible via finicular. However, when we visited, there was a finicular strike and we had to walk up the hill…. Once at the top, we spent a couple hours just walking around and admiring the murals and beauty of the city. Of course, there are many eclectic cafes, restaurants, and shops to take up your time, as well as a handful of museums. Here are approximately a million pictures from my afternoon:
Where we ate in Valpo? After walking around Conception Hill, we moved to another hill and ate at a restaurant called Oda Pacifico, which overlooked Valpo and its port! The restaurant is highly rated and its speciality is, not surprising, seafood. The food was ok, but the views were outstanding. Make a reservation in advance for outdoor seating! The one standout item on at Oda Pacifico was this amazing pebre sauce. IT WAS SO DELICIOUS. If you are planning on eating in Valpo, I recommend a restaurant in the hills with panoramic views!
Is Valparaiso safe? A lot of people associate Valparaiso as being unsafe and parts of it can be, especially at night or if you are traveling alone. But certainly its not all unsafe and during the day, particularly in a group or on a guided tour, you will be just fine. I think one of the biggest mistakes tourists make, which can lead to an unsafe visit, is thinking that Valparaiso is a cute little town that you can stroll around when you arrive. When in reality, Valparaiso is a huge city that can be difficult to navigate. You need to take a tour or plan ahead.
What to bring to Valpo? Definitely your camera! Also, again, a planned out route if you are going without a guide. The streets in the hill neighborhoods are not exactly well-planned and its easy to get lost. I also recommend bringing cash for any small shops or restaurants that you may visit. And, walking shoes. I cannot recommend this enough. All of the streets are hilly and cobblestone. We also brought bottled water that came in handy walking up some of the hills.
How to get to Valparaiso? When I decided to visit Valpo, I was confident that there was a train between Santiago and Valpo. But, I was wrong and there is currently no train in operation. However, there are buses that leave about every 20 minutes throughout the day. This is by far the cheapest option, and they are estimated to take about 2 hours between the towns. You could also drive; a modern highway links Santiago and Valpo. If you drive, traffic can get crazy on the weekends. Of course, the easiest way to get from Santiago to Valpo (and back) is to take a guided tour that provides transportation. That is what we did (with Ecotours Chile) and it was super easy!
STEAL OUR TRIP
EcoChile: We did the Valparaiso and Wine Tour at a cost of $120/person, booking online in advance. Our guides were excellent and emailed us the night before the tour and the morning of to confirm. After Valpo, we did a tour and tasting of Emiliana Vineyards in the Casablanca Valley. It was a really fun trip!
Oda Pacifico: Condor 35, Valparaíso, cerro florida, Región de Valparaíso, Chile. Reservations recommended, especially for outdoor seating, as the restaurant is not that large and very popular. The food is better than the food in my opinion.
ON A BUDGET
A visit to Valpo is a good budget option. Given then the universities in town and its young, artsy nature, there are lots of inexpensive restaurants and hostels.