Visit Valparaiso like a local
En route to the Pacific coast of the central region of Chile, just 2 hours from Santiago, lies a city like no other! Valparaíso, the Pearl of the Pacific, is full of character and curiosities. This is an obligatory visit on your Chilean itinerary. But keep in mind, to really make the most of your exploration of the bohemian city, you have to know its secrets and special spots. That’s where we come in: follow us to visit Valparaíso like a local! This blog post is required reading in our complete guide to traveling to Chile off the beaten track.
The many streets, hills, murals, elevators, and stairs make Valparaíso (or “Valpo” as the locals call it), a winding labyrinth sometimes difficult to understand. Here, we offer a short guide to the unmissable sites of the city, as always filled with rare gems and local secrets, so as not to miss any of the best murals and the craziest accommodations of Valpo!
But let’s start with a bit of history, because Valparaíso is full of it!
A port of prime importance after the independence of the city in 1822, Valparaíso has developed primarily due to its ideal geographical location between Cape Horn and the cities and ports of the Pacific. On the verge of becoming the richest city in the country, it was then populated by the rich mining and financial bourgeoisie and saw the birth of the country’s first stock exchange, the first trams, the first electric lighting system, the first telephones, and the first Spanish-language newspaper. This bourgeoisie also built large mansions on the cerros (“hills” in Spanish), some of which withstood earthquakes and today contribute to the beauty of the city.
The opening of the Panama Canal and a major earthquake in 1906 rang the death knell for this dazzling expansion, and the city was relegated to the background. Since then, Valparaíso has become a city of contrasts: a tourist attraction, globally popular, bohemian, bright, artistic, colorful, both messy and organized, it’s the paradise of poets and architects, sailors and street vendors. The “Valley of Paradise,” whose historic center was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003, was also Pablo Neruda’s favorite city, and it’s not difficult to see why.
Touring Valparaiso’s essentials
The best way to discover the “Pearl of the Pacific” is to hit the streets on foot. However, although the relaxed and bohemian atmosphere can encourage you to wander aimlessly, we still recommend that you put a little thought into your itinerary so as not to miss the wonders of the city, which are scattered everywhere throughout the alleys, stairs and elevators.
To make the most of the main cerros, and if you don’t necessarily have a lot of time to devote to the city, follow this guide:
- Start with the El Perral Elevator. This one will take you to Palacio Baburizza and Yugoslav Paseo
- Take Monte Alegre Street
- Pass by Miramar Street to find Pasaje Bavestrello and observe the Crucero House
- Go back down to Uriola and take the stairs that lie almost opposite, which will take you to the Templeman passage
- Head all the way up Galvez Street, making sure to stop at the Fabrica
- Go up the stairs and immediately turn left to take Pasaje Gervasoni
- Turn towards Papudo Street and then Concepción Street, to reach Paseo Atkins
- Go back down Calle Beethoven, and up the stairs painted as piano notes. Bypass the church by Abtao Street
- Turn left onto Concepcion and then onto Paseo Almirante Montt
- Go up Templeman
- Get off through Lautaro
- Take Almirante Montt and then Paseo Dimalow
If you follow this route, you will have seen the essential sights of Valparaíso!
Our Travel Coach Chile tip: if you want a deeper exploration with commentary, we highly recommend the tours organized by Valp’ Otop, which leave every day at 3:30 PM from Sotomayor Square. Clear explanations, given in French by a perfectly bilingual Chilean, provide essential and surprising information on absolutely everything there is to know about the city: from pre-colonial history to graffiti techniques to the most famous artists and the interpretation of street murals. And if you prefer private tours, to wander off the beaten path but still be accompanied by someone familiar with the surroundings, then we recommend our friends from Chile Private Tour, who are always ready to share their passion and love for this city.
The unusual activities of Valparaiso
To discover the city of Valparaiso from a different perspective, and if you have time to devote to it, the city is full of unique activities that we strongly recommend you try. Discover Valpo as we prefer it, authentic and off the beaten track!
To stick with the street art theme, we suggest you take a graffiti class with a real local pro. You can make your own mural and leave your mark (legally) on the city walls! Take full part in the artistic life of Valpo. Equipped with expert guidance and the proper tools, the only thing we do not guarantee is the result…
Market visit and cooking classes
For those who prefer to make masterpieces in the kitchen instead of on a canvas, go to the heart of Cerro Concepción where you will find the flowery red door of the establishment. You will follow the chef, in a small group, to the Valparaíso market to carry out your shopping for the kitchen. Pepinos dulces, palta hass, chirimoyas… ask the chef all your questions to discover the local products, then put on your apron to get your hands dirty!
Empanadas, ceviche, pebre, pisco sour, alfajores… you will learn how to make recipes easy to replicate at home sure to impress your guests, and all accompanied by quality Chilean wines for tasting. It’s a traditional Chilean culinary experience!
The boisterous port city’s cueca
If you do not yet know how to dance the cueca, it is high time we fix that! The cueca is the traditional dance of Chile, and a local and authentic ritual.
Every Sunday the Quinta de los Nuñez organizes incredible afternoons of lively dancing in a festive atmosphere and buena onda. The official dance of Chile is revisited here in the port, with more of a street flair than you will find on traditional dance floors. Learn how to dance with the locals, or just have a drink while admiring the show.
Our favorite accommodations in Valparaíso
Valpo is a paradise of friendly, unusual, and ultra trendy accommodation, and there is something for every budget! Whether a bohemian hostel, house on the ocean, luxury apartment, trendy hotel, artist’s loft, or town villa, we have at our fingertips a wide variety of extraordinary favorites!
For all its wonders, its history, its unusual activities, and its extraordinary accommodations, we always propose including Valparaíso in our travelers’ itineraries in Chile!
Valpo is one of Chile’s must-sees that allows you to better understand the country and the culture through a vibrant lens.