11 things to do in Vibrant Valparaiso

Valparaíso! What a cool, colourful and delightfully bohemian city! I can safely say I have seen nothing like it, anywhere else in the world. And that’s saying something. And let me warn you from the get-go: this is a photo-heavy post. It is practically impossible to take a bad photo of this city. I normally delete about half the photos I snap on my phone. But here, well it was more like 10%.

Valparaíso suffered a massive earthquake (magnitude 8.2) in 1906, four months after the one that struck San Francisco (magnitude 7.9). As if that wasn’t enough, 8 years later, the Panama Canal opened, and as a result, shipping traffic was severely reduced. Things got tough for this once thriving Pacific port city, and it fell into disrepair. But dilapidated buildings has gotten a new lease on life with brilliant street art. It has transformed the landscape and brought in the tourists.

Faded grandeur on the hills of Valparaíso.

Factoid: Both Salvador Allende and Augusto Pinochet were born in Valparaíso. Allende was the legitimately elected president of Chile, killed on 9/11 in a coup orchestrated by Pinochet, backed by the CIA. And thus began 17 years of repression: 1973 – 1990.

Free city tours

Before we get on with the 11 things you’ll love in vibrant Valpo, let me start by recommending you take a free city tour. We used Tours 4 Tips. Our guide was Natalia; she is very knowledgable and entertaining. We explored the historic harbour area, Barrio Puerto with the Puerto Mercado, we took a bus up to Cerro Abajo – an experience in itself, all winding up hill and down hill at breakneck speed – and we visited Ex-Carcel, Pinochet era prison-turned-museum and art venue.

Valparaíso bus. Be careful!

Nattie talking to a rapt audience

OK, let’s get on with our 11 things.

1. Walk the steep streets of the cerros

Valparaíso is a city of steep hills – cerros – no less than 42 of them. On the cerros are streets, narrow alleys and stairways, all covered in creative technicolour graffiti. You can join a street art tour of the cerros, or wander about on your own.

Arriving in town in the evening after a very long (and a teeny bit scary) bus journey across the Andes from Mendoza, we toss our bags in the rooms and take to the streets. Turns out, we have booked rooms in a particularly colourful neighbourhood – at the junction of two of the hills: Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre.

Cerro Alegre – the happy hill. 

2. Paseo Gervasoni

While you’re up on the hills, don’t miss little Paseo Gervasoni, with the massive wall mural.

A little slip of a street with a very tall painting.

And since you’re just around the corner…

3. Have a drink on the terrace at Gran Hotel Gervasoni

 This delightful old world hotel feels like stepping back in time. After stopping for drinks one night, we decide we want to stay here. Simples!

Loving the ambience, the location, the sounds, the views and the best breakfast I have ever had in any hotel.

4. Check out artists’ studios,

including the upstairs atelier of Sebastian Varas Mackenzie. I like his drawings of the cerros, so giving him a little throwback here. This looks like another door of Valpo, doesn’t it? It is actually ink on paper.

About to appear on my wall at home… when I make up my mind where.

5. The Piano Staircase and Beethoven

Where you have hills, you usually have stairs. So many stairs in Valpo! And those stairs are nothing short of fantabulous. My favourite? These musical steps in Cerro Alegre.

But that’s not all. Also in Cerro Alegre, you’ll find these two stairways:

The multicoloured stairway has a hostel halfway up; and the one where pillows are laid out is close by. There was a cat relaxing on the blue pillow, but her attitude said ‘No photo, no photo. I vant to be alone.’ In fact, I’ll just call her Greta G.

6. Plaza Sotomayor and Monumento a los Heroes

Plaza Sotomayor is Valparaíso’s central square, and where people meet. It is lined with large historic buildings surrounding a statue commemorating Héroes de Iquique, Chilean soldiers who fell in battle. The main building on the square is the HQ of the Chilean navy.

Edificio Armada de Chile in the evening sun. (Why am I reminded of the Queen of Spain’s beard?)

7. Barrio Puerto – Historic Quarter of the Seaport of Valparaiso

The old harbour was the lifeblood of Valparaíso in the 19th century, the city’s golden age. It’s an interesting place to wander.

View of Valparaíso harbour – and the other way, up towards the city centre.

8. Mercado Puerto

The two photos above are from the roof of the Mercado Puerto, this striking building here. Once a thriving food market, we’re told, but today rent is simply too expensive for the vendors, so they sell their goods outside instead. When we are here (January 2024), there are various art exhibits on the 2nd floor.

9. Ascensores

Not in the mood to climb Valpo’s stairs, however colourfully decked out they are? Not to worry, there are 16 very cool 19th century ascencores – funiculars – to take you up to the top of those cerros, for the very reasonable price of 100 CLP (EUR 0.10)

El ascensor El Peral

10. Cementerio de Disidentes

On top of Cerro Panteón, just a short walk from Alegre and Concepcion, you’ll find the Dissident’s Cemetery. Chile had quite a large population of immigrants from Europe in the 1800s, and European and American non-Catholics and free-thinkers were buried here, on the appropriately named Calle Dinamarca.

You’ll find the dead dissidents just by this cheerfully painted house on a corner.

View over Cerro Concepcion from the cemetery.

11. La Sebastiana: Pablo Nerudas house

One of Chile’s most famous sons, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Pablo Neruda, had three homes here. This one on top of Cerro Florida, is now a museum; entrance is 7,000 CLP (about 6,5 EUR), and well worth a visit, even if you’re not that into literature. Sadly, photos inside are not allowed, but trust me, the decor is fantastic. So are the views. I’d love to live in this house for a bit, especially the top floor.

Hoping a snap FROM the house, and not OF the (interior of the) house, isn’t too much of a transgression

On the way back down the hill, we stop at a little park, with sculptures of famous Valparaisoans. Pablo is here, as is Gabriela Mistral. She might not be as famous internationally, but she is also a Nobel Prize laureate in literature. Next to her, we meet local writer Arelis Uribe, very much alive.

Arelis and Gabriela

12. Cerro Carcel – Parque Cultural

Once a fort under Spanish rule, this building was more famous – or infamous – as a prison under the horrible Pinochet era. If you happened to have differing political views, chances are you would win a stay here, served with a good portion of torture. Today, it’s used as a cultural space. Whilst strolling around the premises, I see a theatre troupe practicing, people dancing, and lots of art, including the works of former prisoners.

13. Visit the wineries in nearby Casablanca

About 40 km from Valpo, on the way to Santiago, is the fertile Casablanca Valley, home to 13 wineries.

You can take wine tours, several are available, taking in one, two or several wineries, with or without lunch. We took a tour of 3 wineries: Bodegas Re, Emiliana and Casas del Bosque.

But a tour isn’t really necessary. If I were to do it again, I would do it myself. Busses are frequent and super cheap 1,500 CLP (ca. 2 EUR) from Valpo to Casablanca. Once you’re at the first winery, you can arrange for a taxi or Uber to take you to the next one, etc, and then the last one can take you back to the bus. Or, if you’re a savvy negotiator, you can agree on a day rate with a taxi, which would set you back about 60 EUR, much cheaper than a tour.

At Casas del Bosque, they have cork trees next to the vines. Makes sense.

Interesting to hear the history and see the production facilities. As for the tasting, well, I like wine – up to a point, but I’m not really interested enough in the connoisseur aspect.

However… I adore alpacas!

You can meet these two and more at Emiliana, the largest organic vineyard in the world. All but one of them liked coriander.

My favourite winery? Emiliana, of course. Those alpacas!

14. Try typical Chilean food and drink

All that wine! We need some food, right? Typical Chilean dishes include empanadas – and this delicacy:

Pastel de choclo consists of corn, chicken, a bit of ground beef, hard-boiled eggs, onions and olives. Pop it in the oven, preferably a wood-fired stone one, and serve sizzling hot.

There is also chorrillana. You might remember I’m somewhat meat averse, so I pass on this, but it might be your cup of tea: a plate covered in chips (fries), then sliced steak, sausage and kebab. On top of that again: onions, cheese, and a fried egg.

Finally, ceviche: is it Chilean or Peruvian? I won’t take a stand, but instead enjoy this delicious citrus-marinated raw fish.

Tuna ceviche

And drinks? Apart from all the wine, there is pisco, made from grapes (no surprise there). Mix it with sugar, egg whites and lemon, and you have a yummy pisco sour. Another battle for ownership between Chile and Peru. Again, I’ll not weigh in, just stick to enjoying it, the one with berries and the one with mint… try them both!


All in all

OK, 11 became 14. Didn’t quite manage to limit myself this time either, but you’ll forgive me, I’m sure.

The above is all we found time for with 4 days in town. There’s plenty more to see and do in Valparaíso, of course. Next time, I would like to:

visit some of the city’s museums: the Maritime Museum and the Museo de Historia Natural both look interesting.
take the bus to Caleta Portales, a little cove, with a fish market, sea lions, and a beach with restaurants alongside. I hear sunsets are fabulous.
stop by Concon Dunes for some surf- and sand boarding. Although, that will be more spectator sports for me, I think. Well… maybe the sand boarding.
take a stroll around Viña del Mar.
A few  annual happenings:

There is a Latin music festival in Viña over 6 days, every February/March
The Valparaíso Red Bull Cerro Abrajo is also in February, crazy cyclists race down the cerros.

Do you have any other recommendations for Valparaíso? If so, drop me a note, and I might update this post.

Safety in Valparaíso

Kinda hating that I have to cover this so much lately. But… better safe than sorry.

Gone, but not forgotten in Valparaiso

Again, I’ve checked and compared various governments’ travel advice. It is interesting to see how they differ, not only in content but also in style. Whereas the American one demands (Do not travel to Xyz!, Avoid xXyz!), my country advises against travelling to Xyz.

As for Chile:

Exercise increased caution in Chile due to crime and civil unrest. Street crime (e.g., muggings, pick-pocketing, theft) is common in Chile. Rates of violent crime, such as assaults, homicide, carjackings, and residential break-ins, are increasing… Avoid demonstrations… Find a safe location and shelter in place if in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests.

US State Dep’t

The Norwegian MFA advises people to avoid demonstrations and generally be diligent. And then they remind us there is a high risk of road accidents. As for me, I never felt unsafe in Valparaiso, and I took the same precautions as I do everywhere, i.e. being aware of my surroundings. In the end, we are all responsible for ourselves, so it is your call! I will just say, yet again:

common sense goes a long way


Disclosure: Nope, nothing sponsored


Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaíso is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

11 things to do in Vibrant Valparaiso is a post from Sophie’s World