Founded in the 16th century by a Spanish conquistador and known as the Pearl of the Pacific, Valparaiso is Chile’s main port and a city of dramatic nature and grand, crumbling architecture. The coastline is rugged and picturesque, with pretty hilltop suburbs that can be reached by old-fashioned funicular railways and attractive footpaths. The cobbled streets, all of which are UNESCO-listed, offer a wealth of shopping, colonial architecture and fine art as well as impressive maritime museums and fantastic fresh seafood. Here’s everything you need to know before you visit and once you arrive.
If you’re arriving at Santiago’s Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport, there are no buses that run directly from the airport to Valpariso city centre, so you will need to catch a bus to the bus station in Santiago, and then take a bus to Valparaiso.
Private taxis are another option, and depending on number of passengers, the cost ranges from USD 120 to 160. If taking a taxi after arriving at the airport, it is highly recommended that you look for the desk of a registered taxi company in order to book, and always agree on the price upfront.
There are several ways to get around once you’re in Valparaiso. Micros are the city buses and are by far the cheapest mode of transportation. They take you most places, with the exception of some of the highest hilltop neighbourhoods. Buses run all day and you’ll need the correct change or thereabouts. Check the city’s transport website for more information. Buses cost approximately USD 1.
The metro system, known as ‘Merval,’ offers a comprehensive service around the greater Valparaiso area, providing quick access to major places of interest.
Ascensores are funiculars that will take you to the picturesque, hilltop neighbourhoods above the old town. This is the most pleasurable way to travel around Valparaiso, and the views from some of the cable cars are breathtaking.
Most city taxi drivers are friendly and trustworthy, providing a convenient and economical way of getting around, but do keep your wits about you and be aware that scams are not totally unheard of. Make sure you tell the driver where you want to go and agree on a price before you set off.
Colectivos are cheaper than taxis, but they stick to a fixed route for a cheap, flat rate and invite more than one passenger to share the ride.
Walking is another great option, but it’s only for the fit as there are 42 hills in Valparaiso and the surrounding suburbs for you to climb! Luckily there are plenty of nice places to stop, rest and take in the views.
Reñaca is a popular and affluent area of beaches, perfect for a chilled-out day by the sea. There are plenty of restaurants and shops, as well as many tourist services on offer. Don’t forget to meander along the attractive coastal walk should the mood strike you.
Quinta Vergara is a stunning park that boasts beautiful gardens, the Quinta Vergara Amphitheatre, and the Palacio Vergara, which houses the Museum of Fine Arts. This is a great place to visit for an afternoon of relaxation and culture. Every year the park comes alive to host the International Song Festival, which happens in February.
Emporio La Rosa is an ice cream shop located in Anibal Pinto Square. It boasts a bright pink sign that reads, “You are in one of the 25 best ice cream shops in the world,” so that might be reason enough to grab yourself a cone with a tasty scoop… or three.
The Nacional Botanical Garden houses incredible flora and fauna from around the region. There is a café, forest canopy walks and children’s activities on offer to visitors.
Street art lovers take note: Valparaiso is one of the graffiti capitals of South America. Visit the Museo a Cielo Abierto for a unique showcase of the city’s street art. The 20 colourful murals on display here were created between 1969 and 1973 by students from the Universidad Católica’s Instituto de Arte. Take the Ascensor Espíritu Santo lift to get there. (Pssst! Our Residents of Art Street tour in nearby Santiago is run in partnership with the museum.)
Every Sunday from 8:30am until late afternoon, the ‘feria’ on Avenida Argentina offers visitors a smorgasbord of everyday items, souvenirs and general stuff to take home with them, including phone accessories, tools, clothes, shoes and toys. Street food vendors are on hand to help you keep your energy levels up.
Many events occur in Valparaiso each year. Our favourites are the Festival de las Artes Valparaíso which takes place in the last week of January and features a packed programme of music, theatre, art, poetry and dance. The Valparaiso Cerro Abajo is a free motorcycle event, usually held in February and sponsored by Red Bull, where professional riders perform tricks and take part in obstacle races, taking full advantage of the winding hilltop location.
Watch Valparadaise to get some sense of what it is to be an artist in Valparaiso. The movie provides a wonderful showcase for the landscapes of the city, its music, art and people. If you’re looking for vintage cinema, try Aldo Francia’s 1970 epic Valparaíso, Mi Amor (Valparaiso, My Love) which follows the lives of four children in the city after their father has abandoned them.
Valparaíso by Osvaldo ‘Gitano’ Rodríguez is one of the most famous songs about Valparaiso. Or try La Joya del Pacífico written by Victor Acosta in 1938, popularised by Jorge ‘Negro’ Farias and internationalised by Lucho Barrios. There’s also a modern version sung by Joe Vasconsellos. For an English-language song, try Sting’s haunting Valparaiso.
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende explores the lives of immigrants in the city during the 1850s. Bahia de los Misterios by Roberto Ampuero is a murder mystery that name-checks many streets, landmarks, restaurants and shops in Valparaiso. Pablo Neruda is one of Chile’s most famous sons and he owned a house in Valparaiso. His Nobel prize-winning poetry is worth a read. Start with Ode to Valparaiso to get in the mood for your visit.