Valparaíso – Seafood, seaports, and street art 

Valparaiso, Chile, is a seaside city with an amazing spirit.  The streets are covered in stunning murals and street art that blend beautifully with the colorful architceture that distinguishes the city from its neighbours.  The city is alive with an energy that is hard not to get absorbed into.

I arrived in Valparaiso in the late afternoon after a totally-not-awful 26 hours on a bus from San Pedro de Atacama. I had hoped to break the trip up a bit but was behind schedule after spending too much time in Bolivia. Thankfully, Valpo made up for it with its amazing atmosphere (and oxygen content!). I took a far too expensive cab to my hostel, Hostel Jacaranda, located on Cerro Alegre, which is the heart of the tourist centre. The hostel is in a well maintained old colonial house in a perfect location for accessing the city. Many of the people staying there were staying long term to study Spanish, one of whom offered to show me around the city.

Corner where the hostel was located

We walked around for about 2 hours, wandering through the streets looking at all the amazing murals and art pieces painted on the walls. The downtown area of the city is fairly small so it’s not hard to get from one end to the other, so long as you don’t mind walking uphill. After going through the Open Air Museum, which features each year’s winning art pieces, we arrived at Pablo Neruda’s home, which is now a museum. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to visit it when I was in Valpo, but I heard from many that it was amazing.

Samples of Valparaíso Street Art
Samples of Valparaíso Street Art
Samples of Valparaíso Street Art
Samples of Valparaíso Street Art
Samples of Valparaíso Street Art
Samples of Valparaíso Street Art – Pablo Neruda

When we returned from the walk, I found a nice cafe for dinner since I hadn’t really eaten in a few days after the Uyuni food poisoning incident. I splurged on a 3 course meal of salad, grilled whitefish with a lemon sauce and mushroom risotto, and a chocolate mousse for dessert. It was probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had anywhere, and was only about $11 total.
The following morning I got up early to do the Tours4Tips free walking tour of the city, which started at 10 AM. The tours last 3 hours and take place in either English or Spanish, depending on your choice. The tour started in Plaza Sotomayor, the large plaza near the docks. It covered the history of the seaport, the colonial history, the financial district, and the two UNESCO World Heritage sites of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion. Along the way the guide talked about the history and symbolism in the street art which decorates the city, which I found really interesting. The tour is definitely a must do thing when visiting Valpo, especially since it’s based on donations!

Fishing boats at the docks
The Piano Stairs
Old British Homes on a hill
Sunny day in Valpo

The tour ended in the plaza near the docks, near a bunch of seafood restaurants, so obviously I ate at one. I had a 3 course meal which started with ceviche, then followed by fried sea bass and a not so good blue mousse (total price, $5). After lunch I went down to the docks to take a boat tour of the city, which went along the coast to give views of the city from the ocean as well as the large freighters in the harbor. For $5, it was quite a bargain.

Sea lions in the harbor
Freighter from the boat tour
Plaza Sotomayor

When I finished I met up with a friend who I had met in Bolivia a few weeks prior who lives in Valpo. She took me first up an “ascensor” to a viewpoint of the city (ascensors are like elevators that go to the top of the many hills). After spending time at the top we headed to the flat part of the city to have some Chilean dishes. I ordered a personal sized Chorrillana, which is French fries covered in grilled onions, sausage, hot dogs, and steak. The pile was 4 inches deep and took up a full sized plate – I have no idea how a single person could eat one, I got full after a quarter. When we left I went back to the hostel and crashed for the night after the large plate of food.

View from the top of the ascensor

The following morning I attempted to visit the cemetery before taking the bus to Santiago but it was closed. I attempted to take a public bus to the bus terminal, but since I didn’t know where it was exactly I missed the stop and ended up on top of a hill. Thankfully the driver took me to another bus (whose driver let me know when we were there) and I didn’t have to pay again. I got the next bus to Santiago and left about 30 minutes later.


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David Hansen

Bioarchaeologist in training with an incurable travel bug. I write about my travel experiences and archaeological sites/research from around the globe.

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