Last updated 7 July 2021
Valparaiso is a colourful, bohemian town, built on hills overlooking a harbour on the Chilean coast. Only a couple of hours out of Santiago, the landscape and surroundings are completely different. The buildings are crammed up hills, with steep, twisty pathways, the sea stretches out in the distance, and the Andes are nowhere in sight. For us, it was a welcome break from time in big cities - we had just spent a couple of weeks in Buenos Aires and then Santiago - and Valparaiso provided a refreshing, colourful change.
We stayed up the hill in one of the colourful buildings on a steep, twisting street. Leaving our building involved a long trek uphill at some point, but it was worth it to be surrounded by street art and interesting buildings, the view out of our window and blur of colour, and beautiful views across the sea from our tiny hotel's rooftop terrace.
Our days in Valparaiso passed in a happy blur. We visited in May and the town was very quiet, with scarcely another tourist in sight. The weather was warm with sun and blue skies and we spent our time walking the charming streets, marvelling at the intricate street art, and finding a surprising array of good food in the town.
We'd make our way down the hill in the evenings, stopping at a small bar run by a Frenchman for pre-dinner drinks. The cocktails were delicious - and stronger than we expected - and we enjoy the best pisco sours of our time in Chile. From there, we'd make our way to dinner, trying out new restaurants each day. Eventually, we'd make our way to the rickety old funicular which would take us back up the hill to our hotel.
During the day, we walked the streets, examining the remarkable street art. It was like living in an outdoor art gallery and just taking photos of the murals took up huge amounts of time. I really enjoyed the indulgence of wiling away hours just staring at people's wonderful creations. It seemed like almost every surface in Valparaiso was painted, from smaller signs and shop doors to murals which filled the wall of entire street blocks.
There is, however, more to see in Valparaiso that the street art (although if that's all you do while you're in town, I would still consider your visit a success). Valparaiso is home to Pablo Neruda's home La Sebastiana, a whimsically decorated house which is now a museum. There are also beaches and walks, and the port-side fishing village to visit, so there's more than enough to do to fill up a few days in this fascinating town.
One day when we felt strangely energetic, we did a day trip to the nearby city of Viña del Mar, a scenic train ride away. Arriving, we unexpectedly found ourselves in the midst of white, sandy beaches and modern, high-rise resorts and apartments. We enjoyed lunch in a waterfront bar and a long walk on the beautiful beach, but we felt like something was missing. Viña del Mar was such a stark contrast to artsy, colourful Valparaiso that we felt unsettled and were disproportionately glad to see its charming, shabby buildings when our train arrived back in town.
Visiting in the quiet season, we saw a different side to Valparaiso from many travellers' accounts. It was calm and quiet, leaving us to enjoy its charms at our leisure. A short distance from Santiago, I was glad we'd decided to spend some time in this wonderful town, rather than visiting for a day trip. Spending time in Valparaiso was one of my favourite parts of our trip to Chile. I'll definitely visit again, when we return to this beautiful country.