When I first came to Chile about 10 years ago, I was excited for my first trip out to the Central Coast. I had heard about Valparaiso (or Valpo, as it’s affectionately called in Chile) and was anxious to get out of Santiago, where I’d been for my first 3 months in the country. To be frank, however, that first visit was underwhelming. After the neat efficiency of Santiago, I found Valpo a bit too edgy for my liking, full of old buildings and graffiti.
As the years passed I made numerous other visits to Valpo, in spite of my first impression. It tends to be an unavoidable destination for any Santiaguino, due to its location on the coast near the beaches of Viña del Mar and the popularity of the local New Year’s Eve parties. Looking back now, I think that Valpo grew on me a little bit with each subsequent visit, but on my most recent visit it dawned on me: Valpo is truly a great place, and I actually like it enough today to consider living there. I also unreservedly recommend it to anyone traveling to Chile.
So what changed? The city itself, of course, has changed over the past 10 years. But another change was with me and my own perspective– I’ve spent several years now putting together trips all over Latin America and visiting the different countries where we send our travelers, trying to determine which places are most important and valuable to help travelers get the most out of a short time in a given country. Focusing on countries in this way has made me realize that Valpo is special and needs to be discovered by travelers to Chile. Here are 5 reasons why Valpo should be part of your Chile trip:
1) It has some of the best boutique hotels in Chile, and some of my favorites in South America. Hotels like Casa Higueras and Palacio Astoreca weren’t around back when I first went to Valpo (although as a 21 year old backpacker, I probably wouldn’t have stayed at them anyway!), and charming boutique hotels are sprouting up on the hills of Valparaiso all the time. The city is a great location for this kind of business, as is it full of large, historic homes that are ripe for restoration. Almost every new hotel has a rich history behind it, and all are quite unique. Hotels up on Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion offer a fantastic base from which to explore the area.
2) Excellent gastronomy. The food in Chile has gotten better and better over the years, and finding high-quality, well-prepared cuisine by professional chefs is no longer a tall order. Valpo is one of the best places to find excellent food. Bistro-style restaurants with traditional Chilean twists are quite common in Valparaiso, and the seafood is, of course, very fresh and tasty.
3) Culture. Valparaiso is a Bohemian center of Chile. It attracts artists, hippies, musicians, and eclectic people looking for unique experiences… and it provides those experiences. Valpo is a great place to have a random conversation with a local in a café or bar, to see a local band at the neighborhood hotspot, or to take in some truly remarkable street art. The city offers unique activities that tend to add a lot of value to the trips we put together, and give our travelers stories to tell for years after they’ve arrived back home.
4) The revitalization of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion. These two primary hills have changed and grown quite a bit in the last 10 years. Historic buildings have been restored and converted into restaurants, cafés, and the aforementioned hotels. The government has subsidized the sprucing up of local homes to help brighten up the area, and street lamps have been installed along main roads. While parts of the lower flats of Valpo (called the “Plan” by the locals) have maintained their characteristic edginess, Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion are an absolute pleasure to walk around any time of day or night.
5) Convenience. Nearly every single one of our travelers to Chile goes through Santiago, and many spend a night or two there. Santiago is a clean, safe, modern South American capital city, and it is certainly worth visiting for its interesting colonial history. However, for a real taste of Chilean culture and history, Valpo is only an hour and a half drive from Santiago. It’s easy and worthwhile as a day trip or for a relaxing, exciting couple of days and nights.
Visiting Valpo is a great, easy way to experience Chilean culture and create unique memories. If you’re stopping through Santiago, it’s definitely worth planning a day or two to explore the funky walkways and steep hills of this interesting port town.