Valparaíso is the port city of Chile, located north-west of Santiago. The city is known for its hills and the ascensores (funiculars) that climb them. It is also home to one of Pablo Neruda’s houses (La Sebastiana). Valparaíso is full of color and charm; murals and street art decorate many of the building facades, and those that aren’t covered in artwork are painted bright colors.
The city is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and is a common destination for tourists. In addition to a large number of European backpackers, Jake and I saw several large groups of schoolchildren from Santiago. Valparaíso has several central hills that have a large concentration of touristy restaurants and hostels. The flat area by the port extends for about 4 blocks inland, and then the hills start.
Jake and I traversed the city primarily on foot, although there were some notable times where we partook of the local transportation:
- Valparaíso is known for its many ascensores. These are box-like contraptions. Two cabins are attached to opposite sides of a long cable, and counterweight each other as they slide up and down parallel tracks laid into the side of a hill. We rode at least one ascensor with groups of visiting schoolchildren, although they are more commonly used by the residents of Valparaíso who use the ascensores as an alternative to long and winding staircases.
- To get to La Sebastiana, we took a colectivo. These are communal taxis that travel a prescribed route. We found a large square at the base of the hills that acted as a central hub for the local colectivos. Jake and I found one that listed La Sebastiana as a destination on the sign on top of the car, and simply told the driver our destination as we got in. The car got on its way as soon as all the remaining seats were filled up.
- On our last day, we took a city bus east. We wanted to explore (and ride) the only completely vertical ascensor in the city. Unfortunately it was closed, so we hiked the hills on foot.
- Our hotel was located above a metro station located on tracks that ran along the waterfront. However, we opted to walk places rather than getting metro cards. The metro (and busses) would have been convenient had we wanted to travel to the nearby beach town of Viña del Mar.
La Sebastiana is one of the houses belonging to the late poet Pablo Neruda. It sits on top of a hill and its windows have fantastic unobstructed views of all of Valparaiso and the port below. Pablo Neruda purchased the house from a Spaniard when it was only half-constructed, and he finished it with stained glass windows and doors donated or collected by friends. The interior of the house is full of mementos and found objects from his travels, as well as an eclectic collection of art.
We stayed at Hotel Ibis, a waterfront hotel with a colorful glass exterior. And when I say waterfront, I mean that there was a tiny strip of shipyard between the back of our hotel and the water. From our room, we could see Sociber, a floating dry dock stationed in the Valparaíso port. Although the Sociber was not servicing any ships while we were in the city, we did get to see a steady stream of coast guard boats traveling between the floating shipyard and shore. We conducted a google search and found the Sociber website, a site geared towards a audience that was totally foreign to us:
SOCIBER is located at Valparaiso - CHILE, at eight regular sailing days from Panama, five days from Guayaquil - ECUADOR and four days from Punta Arenas in the Magellan Straight. Valparaiso is also a one and a half hour drive from our capital city - Santiago - and the International Airport.
Jake and I were able to take a short boat ride around the bay, although we had some difficulty convincing the dingy operators that we did not want to pay an exorbitant fee to get a private boat. We ended up sharing a large boat with one other couple and payed the normal posted price. After the tour around the bay, we bought some fresh piping-hot churros sprinkled with powdered sugar from a street-seller. The verdict: best churros ever! I’ll never be satisfied by the uniform, comparatively unexciting Disneyland-esque churros ever again.
Jake and I arrived in Valparaíso on Tuesday and returned to Santiago on Thursday. When not hanging out around the waterfront, riding the funiculars, or visiting La Sebastiana, we spent our time wandering up and down the various hills and neighborhoods and taking in all the colors.
On our last day in Valparaíso, we travelled further away from the touristy parts of town in search of the vertical ascensor. Although we found it, the operator may have been out for lunch. We opted to climb the hill on foot and were rewarded with fantastic views of all of Valparaíso.