An hour north of buzzing Santiago lays the cultural capital of Chile, Valparaiso. A laid back, port town, Valparaiso is easier described in pictures rather than words due to its unique layout. The city is comprised of over 37 separate hills, each designated as their own neighbourhood with streets so haphazard that most are not accessible by car. There was no real government in place for over 200 years which meant that people built their homes wherever they felt best, before the invention of wider lanes needed to accommodate vehicles, room for electrical poles and other modern day infrastructure.
To overcome this geographical challenge the city built 15 funiculars in the early 20th century to move the town’s citizens up and down the separate hills. Valparaiso was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003 due to these 100 year old funiculars and today they are still the main mode of transportation used to reach the hilly neighbourhoods. Taking a ride on one of the railcars is a must and will save you considerable walking time and only cost you a few pesos.
Due to the irregular layout of the city, it is best explored with one of Valparaiso’s free walking tours that depart every day from the main square at 10 am and 3 pm. Your English speaking tour guide will take you to the best lookouts in the city and explain some of the meanings behind the bohemian artwork displayed on the building sides. Don’t be surprised if a few of the city’s stray dogs join you for the walk. It’s a tip based tour and well worth it for the sites and information given.
The main attraction here is the colourful city itself and the great vistas and viewpoints of the ocean from all over town. For a glimpse of some ocean life, take the subway to the last stop (there are only 4 in the city), and walk across too the pier to catch a glimpse of a number or sea lions sunbathing. For a closer up view of the ocean, daily 30 minute tours depart daily from the marina which are best enjoyed at sunset.
Jen’s Overall Recommendation: From brightly painted staircases to the graffiti artwork strewn across the alleyways and buildings, it’s best to savour Valparaiso over a cup of coffee on an outdoor patio with a view.