Article updated January 2016
After driving about an hour and a half from Santiago, through two mountain tunnels, you’ll find yourself in the seaside city of Valparaíso. This port city is built up into the hillsides and has many steep, curved roads like those in San Francisco, USA. In 2003, the historic quarters were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s perfect for short trips from Santiago, you can go for just a night or two, but it’s an easy day trip as well. There are lots of things to do and explore in Valparaíso and the surrounding areas. Don’t worry if you can’t do everything you want, it’s impossible to see the whole area in just one weekend. Just wander around and explore, you can plan your next trip on the drive back.
We have stayed in Cerro (hill) La Loma, Cerro Bellavista and Cerro Artilleria. Each option has given us a different view of the city, both figuratively and literally, as each cerro has its own sights and personality. Generally speaking, I found Booking.com has had the best rates, but shop around and find the right option for you. During the low season (anytime other than December – February), you can generally find lots of availability and good deals. Read the reviews, for the most part I have found them to be very accurate.
Tip: If you are driving, check if the hotel has parking before your book your room, some hotels will have an off-site option. If you’re staying on one of the cerros it saves you from trying to find a spot and park on the steep streets.
If you’re a photography buff, make sure to bring extra memory cards and batteries. You’re likely to find a lot to photograph, between the vibrantly colored houses with lots of character tucked into the hills, the street art, and the ocean views.
Tip: Don’t forget to bring a tripod for night photos, the city is beautiful when all lit up at night and the stars are much clearer here.
Getting around town:
Take care walking around, unlike Santiago, Valparaíso’s streets aren’t well taken care of. There are lots of stray dogs with no-one to clean up after them, and some of the sidewalks and stairs are in disrepair. There are also a ton of steep streets in addition to the many stairs, so it’s not a great city for people with knee problems or who have trouble walking a lot. There is also a little more crime in Valparaíso, compared to Santiago, so be alert and keep your valuables safely tucked away unless you are using them. I have never experienced any issues but it’s always good to be cautious when in a foreign city.
Tip: The stairs are often unexpectedly long. If you want to save some of your walking energy, take an ascensor (elevator) up to the top of the cerro and then wander back down. You’ll be able to enjoy more of the sights that way. At night, ask your hotel to call you a cab to take you to the restaurant of your choice. In the popular areas you should have no problem finding a cab to take you back.
Take a ride on one of the ascensores around the city. Each one offers a different view, so ride one or try to ride them all, the price varies but they should be between $100-250 CLP each way. Ask at your hotel if you want to visit one outside the main tourist areas as some are closed for repairs.
Valparaíso is also one of the few places that still has electric trolleys running around town. I don’t believe you can get a hop-on, hop-off ticket but at $250 CLP a ride it shouldn’t matter. You can take them all around the flats of Valparaíso and you get to ride in a historical trolley!
Where to eat:
There are tons of restaurants in Valparaíso, however if you’re looking for food on a Sunday you may find that many places are closed. If you head to Cerros Alegre and Concepción you will find the most options open there when the rest of the city is closed. In various trips we have eaten at several restaurants that we enjoyed.
El Galeon del Instructor, located in the flats on Calle Serrano 525, is a cute seafood restaurant built like a ship inside. We enjoyed some ceviche and calamari, and the portions are quite large so a late lunch also served as dinner!
We had lunch at Malandrino a pizzeria on Cerro Alegre, the pizza was good, the lasagna was tasty and it has a relaxed, casual atmosphere. If you get the panna cotta, it came with sour cherries, which were really sour, if you don’t like really sour food, ask for it sin (without). Otherwise it was an enjoyable meal with good service.
Café Turri is great for special occasions, we went here for a birthday celebration. It’s one of the more expensive restaurants but delivers a great view, good service, and good food. During the summer it’s recommended that you make a reservation for dinner, as it is quite popular, you can ask your hotel if they can make one for you.
Allegretto restaurant on Cerro Concepción is a relaxed Italian restaurant and one of the few that has a local Valparaíso beer on tap. They mainly offer, pizzas, risottos and gnocchi. We tried the pizza and risotto, both were good. If you’re eating upstairs you can play a game of foosball while you wait for your order.
Things to do:
There are lots of shops in Valparaíso but many of them are closed on the weekends, especially on Sundays. During the summer holidays (December through February), there are a lot more open. However if you need a pharmacy or shop, most things are open right around Calle Condell near Calle Yerbas Buenas in the city center, so check there if you can’t find anything open.
Visit the Baburizza Palace, also known as the Museo de Bellas Artes, on Cerro Alegre. It’s a nice museum with many paintings of Valparaíso and the surrounding areas. The museum is two older mansions joined together, so check out the construction and design of the houses as you walk along, they are also an interesting part of the exhibit.
If you’re staying up in the hills, take a walk on Avenida Alemania, it is a nice walk offering many different views of the city, interesting houses, and lots of different styles of street art.
Pablo Neruda’s house, La Sebastiana, is located on Cerro Bellavista. The grounds have a great view of the city, a café and a small tourism office, so if you’re staying nearby it’s nice to visit even if you don’t go into the museum.
If you enjoy street art, murals and flowers, you could easily spend your entire trip in Valparaíso just walking up and down the streets. There is usually one or more of each covering most of the open walls around the city. You can explore on your own, or if you’re more comfortable with a guide, there are several companies offering graffiti tours.
How to get there:
There are many options to get to Valparaíso depending on your needs and budget.
You can rent a car or drive your own. From Santiago take route 68 West and it takes you right into Valparaíso. Make sure to bring cash for the tolls. It’s a little under $5,000 CLP each way and they don’t accept anything else.
Most every bus company offers a route to Valparaíso. You can shop online or go down to one of the bus stations and shop for the time and price you want. Buses leave regularly so you shouldn’t have an issue finding one that works for you.
There are also many tour companies that do day or weekend trips, they will take you there and guide you around the city. A quick Google search will offer up any type of tour you could want.
Driving in Valparaíso:
If you’re not comfortable driving or parking on hills (especially driving a manual transmission, which most rental cars are in Chile) you can always park in one of the parking garages located in the flats and get a taxi up to your hotel. Try to get a map before you go, and if you’re renting a car, spring for the GPS, it’s easy to get lost in the maze of narrow, one-way and dead end streets that zigzag up the hillside. But keep an eye on the addresses yourself, we found our GPS was off by a lot. Also, be careful if you follow Google maps directions, it sometimes told us stairs were streets.
Don’t forget to use your parking brake!
Tip: If you’re staying up in the hills, coming from the water, taking Avenida Francia up to Avenida Alemania is a good route to access many of the cerros. Avenida Francia isn’t quite as steep and narrow as other options and Avenida Alemania runs along the top of most of the main streets for hotels.
Places to go nearby:
If you want to head to the beach, you can take the Valparaíso Metro into Viña del Mar and beyond or you can take a bus into Viña del Mar, Reñaca, Concón and the beaches beyond. If you have a car you can drive up the coast yourself.
Isla Negra, another of Pablo Neruda’s houses, is about an hour and a half south of Valparaíso.
The Casablanca Wine Valley is about a half-hour outside of Valparaíso and has a multitude of wineries and winery or wine-inspired restaurants you can stop at on your way there or back. Many wineries usually require making a prior reservations, but the ones listed in the linked article generally accept walk-in tastings, and both the wineries and the restaurants generally close by 5-6pm, even on the weekend, so plan your visit accordingly.
Note: This article was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question before planning your trip.
To learn more about Beth, read her bio!