The Best Things to Do in Valparaíso, Chile’s Most Colourful City
Chile’s largest port is also one of the country’s most photogenic cities, with pop-bright houses covering the chaotic cerros (hills) that rise from the Pacific Coast. A 90-minute drive north-west of cosmopolitan Santiago, Valparaíso is an ideal day trip or weekend stay. The vibe here is bustling, sometimes gritty and decidedly bohemian. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its striking 19th-century architecture and the recently revamped system of funiculars, it’s an invigorating destination for artistic types, gourmands and young families alike. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
Things to do in Valparaíso
Explore Cerro Alegre
Valparaíso has an abundance of multi-coloured hills, but the Cerro Alegre neighbourhood boasts some of the most jaw-dropping views. Ride a restored 19th-century funicular to the top, where you can take in the ebb and flow of the harbour before swinging by Palacio Baburizza, now home to the city's fine art museum.
Take a street art tour
Besides the homes painted in sunshine yellow and fuchsia, Valparaíso’s historic centre is covered with multi-block murals and intricate graffiti. The knowledgeable team at Valpo Street Art Tours will lead you through the labyrinthine streets, explaining different styles and pointing out under-the-radar works. If you’re lucky, you might spot an artist in action.
Visit La Sebastiana
A former home of beloved Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, the La Sebastiana museum is packed with curios. Over five floors, you can view ships’ figureheads, nautical maps, an eclectic array of 1950s furniture and avant-garde artworks, plus photos of the Nobel Prize winner with famous friends including Picasso and Diego Rivera.
Hit the beach
A 15-minute drive up the coast, Valparaíso’s more polished twin city, Viña del Mar, is full of stately palaces and manicured public gardens. Head to Playa Reñaca for a refreshing dip, to watch kitesurfers traverse the beach and to scope out an al fresco eatery to settle into with a glass of wine as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean.
Take in the historical architecture
In Plaza Sotomayor, the city’s main square, the Edificio Armada de Chile naval command building is a marvel of Renaissance Revival architecture, all fairytale-ready turrets and ornate white trims against a powder-blue facade. You’ll also find the Monumento a los Héroes de Iquique, an imposing 20-metre-high monument to fallen Chilean sailors.
Where to eat in Valparaíso
You’ll come across plenty of reasons to stop for a bite while wandering Valparaíso’s maze of cobblestone streets: casual eateries serving chorrillana, a national favourite of fries loaded with beef, caramelised onions and fried eggs; carts selling churros and empanadas; just-caught ceviche down by Caleta Portales. Don’t skip lunch at cute hillside cafe and bakery Maria Maria, where the octopus quesadilla oozes with cheese, avocado and chilli oil.
For fine dining, try La Caperucita y el Lobo, a family home turned warmly-lit restaurant with two gorgeous upstairs balconies overlooking the water. To start, order a pisco sour (Chile’s signature cocktail) and the fresh-as-can-be oysters topped with parmesan foam, burnt butter crumbs, melt-in-your-mouth mushrooms and coriander oil.
Where to stay in Valparaíso
It’s hard to miss the cherry-red facade of Palacio Astoreca Hotel, a 23-room 1920s mansion in the heart of the city’s historic centre. Things are more subtle inside, where you’ll find plush, cream-coloured interiors, a spa with a heated pool, a well-stocked wine cellar and a cosy library filled with velvet lounges. Sip a glass of Chilean red on the terrace overlooking the city or witness an intimate opera performance at the piano bar.
Families will love Casa Galos, also in Cerro Alegre, where lofts and deluxe suites come with fully-equipped kitchens. All rooms are bright and airy, with white-washed timber furniture and boho touches such as macramé wall hangings.
Image credit: Sernatur/Chile Travel, Palacio Astoreca Hotel