Valparíso, Chile, is a feast for the eyes, and filled with poetry for the soul. The glory of this historic port city, once the one of the wealthiest cities in South America, has faded, but the vibrant street art scene, born out of resistance to the brutal right-wing Pinochet regime, makes this a must-do day trip if you find yourself in Santiago. Post contains what you need to get there and back, as well as highlights of what to do while you're there.

Valparíso is definitely not a mistake for the solo traveler

I’m not going to life, friends—when you get off the bus in Valparíso, Chile, you might think that you’ve made a mistake, especially if you’re a solo traveler. I thought I had. But I didn’t, and you haven’t. Valparíso is fascinating and a colorful street art paradise. And full of poetry, including a home owned by Pablo Neruda. Those hills contain multitudes, my friends. And all of it is going to boggle your mind. This is a day trip to remember.

This easy day trip from Santiago definitely checks the “feel like a badass” box for the solo traveler, and following your bliss is the name of the game. I’m going to admit right now that I had absolutely no plan for what I was going to do, other than to wander around and gawk at street art and go to La Sebastiana, Neruda’s house. There’s loads to see in Valparíso, but I was there for the art.

The "Jewel of the Pacific" no longer gleams as it once did

A historic port town and now a paradise of street art and poetry

Valparíso (known as “Valpo”) is a port city founded in the 1530s by the Spanish on the Northwestern coast of Chile. In the 19th century, it was one of the richest cities in South America, and the historic quarter was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Chile’s National Congress has its home in Valparíso, as does its navy. While this “Jewel of the Pacific” no longer gleams so brightly, you still have to go.

And you’re going for the art and poetry. If you love street art and Neruda, Valparíso will fill your soul. You’ll find more street art in Valparíso than almost anywhere in the world. Begun as a protest to the brutal Pinochet dictatorship (graffiti was considered degenerate), Valparaiso legalized street art after the regime ended.

Pablo Neruda,  who had a home in Valparíso. La Sebastiana, died just days after the right-wing coup that installed Pinochet. Visitors to Valparíso, like me, now go there specifically to see the open-air gallery and to visit Neruda’s home, which is now a museum.

I studied the role of the US government in the Pinochet coup for a project as an undergraduate and had visited Santiago’s important Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos  (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) focusing on the coup and its aftermath only a few days before. I was born the day the coup took place (September 11 hasn’t always just been about the US). Seeing art born out of resistance to that assault on democracy and human rights felt like an important thing to witness, even if now it’s much more joyful.

But maybe don’t go on a Sunday

Given my schedule in Santiago, I only had a Sunday for my Valparíso trip. Going on a Sunday did mean that public transit didn’t run as often as it does during the week. I would have seen more had I not had to walk so much, but I did find my tour through the lower area curious, and I saw more of the non-touristy Valparíso than I otherwise would have.

Gallery: First impressions of Valparíso

Click on an image to view the gallery.

Is this a good idea?

From the bus terminal, I first walked over to a market to check that out for a bit and to try and figure out where I was going, and what I wanted to do. I also was trying to suss out whether or not sticking around was a good idea. Buildings with windows missing and businesses that looked long closed (or perhaps just run down and closed on a Sunday, but still iffy) raised my suspicions, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d be safe traveling by myself. However, a friend had told me about the place, and she knew that I was going to be on my own, so I decided to trust that she wouldn’t steer me wrong. The people looked OK, too, so I figured that I wasn’t going to wind up on the news.

Venturing on

I also followed some tourists who appeared to be going in my general direction toward the Ascensor El Peral (a funicular) to get up to Cerro Allegre, where I’d heard there was some great art. I figured that if they got sketched out, too, I’d leave.  

On the way, I passed a political demonstration in Parque Italia. I’m generally into demonstrations, but I’d remembered advice that they can turn volatile quickly in Chile, and so I kept my distance.

Gallery: Venturing on

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Getting excited

As I kept walking, I began to see hints of what lay in store for me. At Plaza Victoria, reminded me of Lisbon, with the tiling patterns,  a little festival was going on. If I’d had more than  a day, I might have tarried. Things definitely started to feel less sketchy, or maybe it was just that I no longer felt like I was in any danger. Walking along the streets, I could see how grand this place had been. The fog, lifting in places and settling in others, felt like a dream. The cerros were shrouded in mystery.

I started to see glimpses of color, and more interesting art the further I ventured.

This wasn’t a mistake. I was excited.

While I thought that I’d eat in the hills, it was well after noon, and I was hungry (I also really had to pee, which made the decision for me more than the hunger). I stopped for lunch along the way at a Peruvian café that had outdoor tables and served mostly tourists near Plaza Civica. It may have been a tourist spot, but the torta (sandwich) was delicious. It was also the size of my head, and, even though I barely made a dent in it, I didn’t need to eat anything for the rest of the day.

Gallery: Ascensor El Peral

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Ascensor El Peral

Valparíso is known for its historic ascensors (funiculars), and, unless you’re really up for steep climbs (of which there are plenty more once you’re up in the hills), take one (or more). They’re also a lot of fun. I walked over to Plaza Sotomayor to catch the Ascensor El Peral.

Built in the first decade of the 20th century, Ascensor El Peral heads straight up Cerro Alergre from Plaza Sotomayor. A quick ride up the track in the small green, white, and red cars, gives passengers a view of the hills on its way to Paseo Yugoslavo, a scenic overlook on Cerro Alegre. I bought my ticket at the old fashioned booth and quickly boarded a car. Up we went! Looking down definitely gave me a little pause!

Gallery: Architecture, Cerro Alegre

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Cerro Alegre and searching for art

It had been a bit foggy in the morning, and the fog was only just burning off, so I didn’t get a great view of the port, but what my view lacked in clarity, it more than made up for in mood. I didn’t linger long, but I did admire the architecture in Plaza Joaquín Edwards Bello.

From there, I started wandering through the quaint nineteenth century neighborhood. I kept walking, searching for art.

I found it.

Gallery: Miramar

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Cerro Alegre and searching for art

It had been a bit foggy in the morning, and the fog was only just burning off, so I didn’t get a great view of the port, but what my view lacked in clarity, it more than made up for in mood. I didn’t linger long, but I did admire the architecture in Plaza Joaquín Edwards Bello.

From there, I started wandering through the quaint nineteenth century neighborhood. I kept walking, searching for art.

I found it.

Miramar: a street art paradise

Miramar, an alleyway with a stair, has incredible murals. Street art celebrating indigenous cultures, bright colored mirrored male and female faces, a cute little couple holding hands. Telephone posts strewn with graffiti. A feast for the eyes, I’d never seen so much good street art by so many different artists in the same place. I have a print of the photo looking up Miramar in my kitchen, above my table. Every time I look at it, I smile and shake my head, marveled that I walked up that street myself.

Gallery: Wandering around

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Wandering around the hills of Valparaiso

Mirimar spills out to more quaint buildings, and a mural of a joyful girl by Mr Papillon (I looked this one up, and it’s called “Young Girl”). The sun came out in earnest as I approached an area with lots of restaurants and cafés (street art advertised these). Everywhere you turn, there’s more art, and I just walked around where my eyes took me. I saw the Iglesia Luterana de La Santa Cruz, and walked down the hill, admiring the architecture.

Oops

I then walked up a staircase, setting off in the general direction of La Sebastiana, Pablo Neurda’s house.

And then another one that I thought would lead me right there.

It did not.

A million years ago, when I was in San Francisco, my friends and I looked at a paper map and determined that we were super close to the theater showing Like Water for Chocolate. We just had to turn a corner and walk a couple of blocks. We turned the corner and stared straight up. This was like that.

Have I told you that I’m not a hiker? Oof.

Gallery: La Sebastiana: Pablo Neruda’s Valparaíso home

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La Sebastiana: Pablo Neruda’s Valparaíso home

Good thing visiting La Sebastiana was absolutely worth it. After catching my breath and fixing my sweaty huffy self a bit in the ladies (where I most certainly spritzed myself with the water spray I’d packed in my carry on), I then picked up one of the audio guides available.

Pablo Neruda’s Valparíso home, is an architectural curiosity. An unfinished mansion when Neurda bought it in the late 50s. He worked with an architect to finish it and lived on the top two floors that have a breathtaking view of Valparíso and the Pacific.

Neruda’s Valparíso

 “Valparíso, what an absurdity you are …” he wrote of the hills and contradictions of the city.  

Neruda loved La Sebastiana, hosting parties and celebrating the New Year there, and had the residence until his death just days after the 1973 right-wing coup that brought the dictator Pinochet to power. Neruda, a communist, was a personal friend of Salvador Allende, the Chilean president. Neruda was suffering from cancer at the time of his death, but the Chilean government has admitted that he may have been poisoned.

After the coup, the military raided La Sebastiana. It was restored following the fall of the Pinochet regime and opened as a museum in the late 1990s. It’s beautiful. You should definitely go.

Gallery: Lorca, art, and journey’s end

Poetry and art on the way back down

After touring the museum, and hanging out in the garden a bit, it was time to head back down toward the bus. I took my time. On the way down, I found these plaques with Lorca quotes (Neruda wrote an ode to him).

And even more art.

And dogs.

I bought a return ticket at the bus depot just as the sun set, and spent the trip back to Santiago marveling over all that I’d seen.

Have you been?

Have you been to Valparíso? Let me know how much you love it in the comments! Want to go? See below for what you need to know! Share with someone who wants to go.

Take a day trip to Valparíso!

Know before you go

General logistics

  • You don’t need to plan a trip to Valparíso from Santiago in advance.
  • The bus trip is about 2 hours, one way. Plan to leave a bit on the earlier side in the morning to get the most daylight.
  • Not counting food and several bottles of water, total cost of the trip, including the museum, was about $20 USD. Additional public transport or taxis would add to this cost.
  • I went on a Sunday, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that. Public transit doesn’t run frequently in Valparíso on Sundays, and it’s a bit of a walk to the funicular. I enjoyed it, but this is a day with a lot of walking, and it might have been nice to have the option on the way back.

Be prepared

  • Even with the funiculars, this day trip will have you walking up and down a lot of hills. Wear good shoes and pack light.
  • If you’re looking at a map, remember that something that looks like it’s close together could have you marching down and up a very steep hill.
  • I can’t speak first-hand to accessibility, but I did find this website that has information.
  • Don’t count on people speaking English. Have Google Translate downloaded for offline use, which can also help you “listen.”

Solo travel/solo female travel

  • As mentioned above, Valparíso is a bit rough around the edges, and I had my doubts about whether or not I’d made a good decision when I got off the bus. Everything was fine, and no one gave me any reason to fear, but I would use caution.
  • Pay attention in the area around the bus depot. For the most part, in the hills, normal caution applies.
  • I left before dark. If I wasn’t staying in Valparíso, I suggest doing the same.
  • Make sure that you have a cross-body bag, even if you have a backpack and keep your belongings on you.

A note about street art

Given the nature of street art, consider the photos representative and not necessarily what you will find if you go.

Getting there and getting back

Valparíso Bus

By bus

I took Turbus, but there are many other carriers.

You do not need to book in advance—there are plenty of options. I bought a one-way ticket and then another one from Valparíso back to Santiago.

Cost: 4,200 CLP about $5.25 USD, one way.

Take the trip in the post

Valpariso, Ascensor El Peral

Ascensor El Peral (El Peral funicular)

This historic funicular, built in the early 1900s, takes you to Yugoslav Walk, a scenic overlook from Plaza Sotomayor

Cost: 100 CHP (about .15 USD)

valpariso, Miramar

Miramar

A great spot for street art on Cerro Alegre.

La Sebastiana, Neruda's Home

Le Seabastiana

Pablo Neruda’s home in Valparíso is a museum open to the public. In addition to the house, which is just fascinating, there is a garden with an incredible view down to the sea. Even if you don’t know the poet’s work, the home is an interesting attraction.

Audio guide available in English, recommended.

Website

Cost: $7,000 CHP per person (about $8.75)