(The Greater) Valparaiso is the second largest city in Chile with its population of almost 1 million. The city might be many times smaller than the capital Santiago but don’t let this mislead you about its importance. Due to its location Valparaiso has always been an important harbor city. Specially during the second half of the 19th century when it was a major stopping point for the ships traveling between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Valparaiso somewhat lost its location-wise advantage (and popularity) after the Panama Canal was built. But the city managed to transform itself into more of a cultural city. Artist friendliness can be seen all around Valparaiso. The streets of different colored buildings decorated with graffiti easily makes it one of the most colorful cities in the world.
Plus an interesting fact: the notorious Augusto Pinochet was born (1915) in Valparaiso to dictate Chileans’ life for decades.
Getting to Valparaiso
Obviously is Valparaiso reachable by the ships and also by the planes. But if you are already in Santiago de Chile then the best way to get to Valparaiso is by the bus. Or by the car if you should have one. The reason is simple – it’s just so close: only 120 km (74 mi).
The buses leave from Santiago to Valparaiso in every ten or so minutes. And the price is reasonable 8000 CLP (~10 €) for a round-trip ticket. So it has been made quite easy to just jump on a bus and go spend one day in Valparaiso. Or why not even a week or more?
What to do in one day in Valparaiso?
I really like street art and would gladly stay in a city like this for longer but due to the busy schedule I only had one day in Valparaiso. Still there are plenty of things to do in Valparaiso in one day which help you to get a proper feel of the city.
Take a walk
In some cities the main attractions are spread all around the city so that usually you have to use some kind of transport to get to them. Well, in case of Valparaiso, the city itself is the main attraction. You can even say the city is kind of an art gallery. At least the historic quarter of the city (which is also a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site). There is graffiti almost on every building and you could easily stumble on the artists working on their masterpieces’.
Talking about artists, Valparaiso is also a perfect place to buy some unique souvenirs. There are many streets that are filled with local handicraft shops and markets where you can find a decent choice of handmade goods. Of course some of the stuff is still mass produced but their share is rather low compared to other similar places.
That being said, the best way to get a feel of Valparaiso is to just walk around in its cobblestone streets and enjoy the vibe. (The historic quarter of) The city is not enormous so it should be doable for most people. Though some streets are pretty steep thanks to the sloping terrain and require some effort.
Ride a funicular
But worry not! The architects and engineers of the city have already found a solution for the steep slopes: the funiculars (locally called ascensores). The funiculars are little cabins that operate as a public transport between lower and higher parts of the city. As a matter of fact, even if you are fit enough to walk up and down the hilly streets I’d still recommend you to ride at least one funicular. Since all the funiculars (only a several are still active) are about 100 years old then the ride is an experience itself. And it only costs you cents.
Take a boat trip
After you have “crisscrossed” the colorful and sloping streets of the city there’s a chance your feet are starting to remind you that it’s enough for this one day in Valparaiso. Well, there’s also a chance you don’t want to leave the city yet because of the low chances you’ll ever come back to this beautiful place again (so many chances, eh?).
Whatever the chances if you are not rushing back to Santiago and have some time left to spend in Valparaiso then it’s possible to take a short boat trip near the shore to get a sea view of the city. It’s easy to find guys offering such trips in the harbor area.
Since Valpo (as the locals call it) is a harbor city and the offer seemed okay then we also went for a trip. The boat had room/seats for about 30-40 people and it didn’t leave the harbor before it was almost full (it didn’t take long though). The trip lasted about 15 minutes and we got a nice view of the city. And of course a close look at the huge container ships and some sea creatures chilling on the buoy.
After the boat ride it was already getting dark and cold (specially on the windy sea). So we decided to finish our one day in Valparaiso and headed to the bus terminal to return to Santiago.
Being in a harbor city means it’s almost obligatory to try some local seafood. And if a restaurant has a seaside view then it sounds near perfect place for a lunch.
La Concepción is all that. The place has a really nice view of the sea and its food was delicious. We had an avocado risotto with a salmon (plus homemade lemonade) and it was super! Easily in my top 5 dishes I had on this South American trip. Of course all that doesn’t come free, so the prices are a little higher than usual. But it’s still worth it.
What else do you think is worth doing in Valparaiso in one day?