24 Hours in Valparaiso
Whereas Santiago is a business city with some colourful pockets, Valparaíso has a laidback, arty, truly Latin vibe. ‘Valpo’, as it’s known locally, is renowned for its murals and street art—walk down any of the steeply sloping streets and you’ll be treated to a veritable gallery of paintings daubed on almost every building.
During the 19th century, the city became a major stopover for ships travelling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the Strait of Magellan, and many of the mansions and other grand buildings built then remain. In 2003, the city’s historic quarter was given World Heritage status.
The city is draped over a series of steep-sided hills that form a brightly coloured horseshoe around the city centre. Hence, visiting Valparaíso and not riding an ascensore (funicular railway) is like going to Venice and not taking a ride on a gondola; the big difference is that an ascensore ride costs as little as 300 Chilean pesos (about 60 cents). There are 30 ascensores in Valpo, but only five are still operational. Little more than wooden or metal boxes on rails, they’re rattling good fun.
There are dozens of charming cafés dotted around Valpo. Housed in an old stone building with some lovely vintage-tile floors, El Desayunador
on Almirante Montt in Cerro Alegre offers breakfast all day, with many dishes featuring organic ingredients. On the same street, Café con Letras
offers an impressive culinary and cultural smorgasbord. Pull a book from the shelves to read while you eat, browse the monthly art exhibition, or come back in the evening to enjoy a concert, recital, workshop, lecture or panel discussion.
As a general rule, however, don’t order coffee. It’s difficult to find good coffee in Valpo—or indeed anywhere in Chile, I suspect. Happily, we stumbled across the Melbourne Café
on Plaza Sotomayor down by the port. Owners Daniel Fellandler and Jorge Fajardo are locals who knew each other at school, but then met up again in Melbourne in 2007. Back in Valpo, they lamented the lack of good coffee so they set up a modest café specialising in coffee the way it’s made in Melbourne—and Australians are welcomed with open arms.
One of Valparaíso’s most famous inhabitants was poet, diplomat and politician Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto—better known as Pablo Neruda. His former home, La Sebastiana
, is a Mecca for artists and writers, so it pays to get there early. Wear your walking shoes and take a bottle of water as it’s an uphill trek.
It’s a breathtaking place, not only for the views of Valparaíso and the harbour, but also for the many things that Neruda collected during his lifetime—from stained-glass artworks, figureheads and porcelain busts to 1950s furniture and artworks by his many famous friends.
Housed in a 19th-century mansion located near the top of Ascensor Concepción, Café Turri
boasts one of the best views in Valparaíso and one of the better menus as well, running the gamut from lamb ribs in pepper sauce to onion soup with Gruyère and foie gras via some wonderfully fresh seafood dishes, such as octopus carpaccio. Not far away, and also occupying a 19th-century house, La Concepción
also offers a stunning view of the harbour and port. Dishes focus on the best local ingredients, including, somewhat bizarrely, walnut-crusted ostrich. And just down the road from Café Turri, you’ll find Pasta e Vino
, considered by many to be one of the best eateries in Valpo. The long menu is centred around the restaurant’s house-made pastas, which are paired with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
When in Chile, it’s practically mandatory to try a pisco sour. The base alcohol is pisco, a brandy made by distilling grape wine into a high-proof spirit, to which Chileans add Pica lime (limon de pica
) or lemon, sugar and ice. To try one Valpo-style, head to Bar Liberty
on Plaza Echaurren. It’s where local workers hang out, along with the inevitable smattering of artists. Another place to have a pisco or two is Bar de Pisco
, which has a lounge- room-style vibe. Here they experiment with a wide range of pisco cocktails; the English-speaking waiters will happily talk you through the options.
A former private mansion located on one of the many steep hillsides in the middle of town, boutique hotel Casa Higueras
has a restaurant onsite— Montealegre
—with a patio for dining under the stars with a panoramic view of the city. The seafood-focused menu offers contemporary dishes created from the freshest local ingredients. With its subdued mood lighting, the restaurant makes guests feel as though they’re at a friend’s home.
Our two day Discover Valparaiso Private Journey includes overnight accommodation at Casa Higueras, selected meals, services of a local English-speaking guide and private vehicle transportation from Santiago, starting from AU$940/NZ$1,019* per person.
Contact our South America Destination Specialists today or enquire online
*Prices are per person, twin share, based on low season travel. Further conditions apply. See our Terms& Conditions page for details.