A historical port city

Valparaiso (or Valpo to the locals) is a port city just over an hour outside of Santiago, Chile.  Well-known for its colourful buildings on steep streets it’s a popular day-trip from the bustle of the big smoke, or even for a couple of nights as part of a trip up the Chilean coast.

The historic quarter of Valpo has UNESCO World Heritage status due to the preservation of around 5 neighbourhoods on hills surrounding the flat, less interesting city centre.  Valpo thrived in the late-19th and early-20th centuries as a major port on the Pacific Coast of South America, however when the Panama canal opened in 1914 development slowed and the buildings from this era have remained largely untouched.

Exploring Valparaiso

We only had around 4 hours in which to explore Valpo.  The bus terminal is located at the Eastern edge of the flat part of town, which really isn’t anything to write home about.  Our first impressions were of a dirty city with too many people sitting around with too little to do (although it was Saturday!), and we didn’t feel very safe.  We headed along Pedro Montt and ended up at Plaza Sotomayor, trying to avoid the port area which we had read was dangerous, and didn’t look very nice anyway.  We eventually headed up a small cobblestoned street and found a restaurant with a set lunch for 3,500 Chilean pesos each (AU$6.90/US$7.30).  This included the famous Chilean drink pisco sour, which was indeed sour and reminded us a little of tequila.

Emboldened somewhat by the pisco, we continued up the hill (Cerro Concepcion) after our lunch, and discovered the Valpo we had seen on the postcards.  The buildings are old, cute and colourful, every second one a restaurant or hostel.  We felt much safer up here than in the city centre, and were quite happy to mill around the streets and lanes, happening upon viewpoints and cool graffiti.  Valpo has lots of ascensors, little lifts that take you up the hills, but we just walked around without finding it too strenuous.

We felt more relaxed on our walk back to the bus station, and stopped at a plaza for a spot of people watching, feeling somewhat smug with our survival skills.  All was going well until a man sat next to us…who had a chainsaw.  He proceeded to try and start the chainsaw, before being joined by his friend…who had an axe. Time to go and get our bus!

Valparaiso – what you need to know

We definitely think Valpo was worth a visit, but if you’re like us (with poor Spanish and not much time) it’s probably best to take a tour – it would be worth paying a bit more to make the most of your time and see the best parts of the city.

How to get to Valparaiso: We traveled from Santiago with Turbus – head to the Terminal de Buses Alameda (next to the Universidad de Santiago metro station) to buy your tickets.  Services are frequent and the journey is 105 minutes.  Our return journey cost 14,800 Chilean pesos each (around AU$30/US$28).

by Rosie and Nick

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