The colorful, vibrant hillside port of Valparaiso is one of my favorite cities in South America. It’s a rustic, gritty, and somewhat eclectic city.
Rough around the edges and full of personality, Valparaiso is a must for anyone traveling to Chile.
Once the largest port in the Southern Hemisphere, trading ships from all over the world stopped here on the journey between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This brought a variety of cultural influences that can be seen throughout the city’s architecture, history and culture.
Due to the construction of the Panama Canal in 1892, Valparaiso is well past its heyday as a port and has since been recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s a designation that’s well deserved.
We spent hours aimlessly wandering up and down hills, through alleyways and along winding streets. There is so much to take in – the sprawling architecture, the colorful street art and bohemian vibes, and the beautiful hilltop vistas.
Only 2 hours from the capital Santiago, it’s easily accessible and affordable. If your trip to Chile is short on time and you have to pick one, I recommend skipping Santiago and going straight to Valparaiso.
17 Best Things To Do in Valparaiso Chile
1. Join a free walking tour
If you’re going to pick one thing to do in Valparaiso, this is it.
The free walking tours are a great way to get acclimated on your first day in the city and you’ll learn a lot. The local guides will give you an overview of the different neighborhoods, point out some of the most interesting street art and share interesting stories about the history and culture of Valparaiso.
We did our tour with Tours 4 Tips, a group of college students that give tours for free and ask for a tip in return for their service. The tip is completely voluntary, but I thought it was well deserved and gave our guide a tip.
They offer two different tours, one covering the highlights of Valparaiso and the other covering the hidden gems of the city. We did both and recommend you do the same!
2. Tour the home of Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet and writer, had a house in Valparaiso and you can visit it for a small fee. This isn’t just any home though, it’s very unique and eclectic.
Known as La Sebastiana, the home is located at the top of Cerro Florida and is 5 stories high. It’s a bit of a climb to the top, so wear good walking shoes. The admission fee comes with audio guides that provide a lot of insight into not only the home and art collections inside, but also the life of Pablo Neruda.
Be advised that the line to get in can be long, so plan your visit in advance and try to get there early.
3. Visit Caleta Portales
Like most Chilean coastal cities, Valparaiso has its own traditional fishing caleta. Known as Caleta Portales, it’s the main fishing village where you can taste the delicious seafood dishes prepared in the restaurants all around the area.
Another option is to wake up early in the morning and head down to the docks, where you can buy fresh fish directly from the fishing boats.
4. Take a boat tour of the port
How can one visit a port city and not see the harbour?
It’s a guided tour that departs from Muelle Prat across the street from Plaza Sotomayor and lasts about 30 minutes. It’s an interesting and affordable way to learn about the history of the port.
I’ve always been a boat person, so it was fun to see the giant tankers, navy ships and tug boats. We also saw a bunch of sea lions, and the views from the water provide a new perspective of the colorful Valparaiso hills.
5. Go for a swim at Playa Torpederas
This beach in Playa Ancha is a perfect way to get out of the city for a relaxing day. It’s not the biggest or nicest beach, but it’s proximity to the city makes it easy to get to by public bus.
6. Ride the funiculars
Valparaiso has a number of funiculars, known as ascensores, that make it a little easier to get around the city, which has over 40 hills. That’s a lot of hills to walk up and down! Several of these were built way back in the 1800s, but they’re still safe to ride. There is a small fee to ride the ascensores, so make sure to have some coins handy.
My favorites to ride are the Ascensor Concepción, the oldest one in the city, and Ascensor Reina Victoria, which has the best views of Valparaiso at the top.
7. Explore the cerros
Valparaiso sprawls up and around over 40 hills, or cerros, and each has its own unique personality worth exploring. However, most visitors don’t have enough time to see them all.
I recommend that first time visitors focus their efforts on the neighboring hills of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcíon. While these tend to be the most crowded with tourists, they still maintain their authenticity and spirit.
Cerro Alegre is a picturesque neighborhood that serves as one of the best walking areas. It’s also home to the Palacio Baburizza, a mansion turned into the city’s Fine Arts Museum. You can get there by taking Ascensor El Peral.
Some of the most popular sites in Cerro Concepcíon are the Museo El Mirado de Lukas, a museum on cartoonist Renzo Pecchenino; the Iglesia Anglicana San Pablo, Chile’s second Protestant church built in 1858; and the Gothic style church known as Iglesia Luterana.
8. Take a cooking class
Another way to learn about a new city or country is to take a cooking class. Learning about the local cuisine and it’s various influences can provide insight into the culture and way of life. Plus you get to eat delicious food! Some experiences include a trip to the local market to purchase the food you’ll be cooking, which is a fun experience on its own.
9. Study the architecture
The architecture of Valparaiso is beautiful and varied, influenced by the many trading ships that passed through the port from Europe and other parts of the world. You can definitely see the influences from Western and Central Europe, and surprisingly from Eastern Europe as well.
My favorite is the Palacio Baburizza. It’s a giant mansion with Bavarian-style architecture, but was actually built by a Croatian businessman. It now houses the Fine Arts Museum of Valparaiso.
10. Day trip to Viña Del Mar
The upscale sister city adjacent to Valparaiso, Viña Del Mar is only a short train ride away. The atmosphere is completely different, so it’s a nice change of pace after spending time in Valparaiso.
While Valparaiso is colorful and gritty, Viña Del Mar is sleek and luxurious. There is a casino, restaurants, shopping and beaches to relax. It’s perfect for a day trip or a weekend getaway.
11. Admire the street art
The beauty of Valparaiso is that it’s nearly impossible not to see the street art – it’s everywhere! From graffiti tags to intricate murals, street art covers the entire city. You’ll find it on residential houses, commercial buildings, billboards, bridges, alleys, side streets, sidewalks and everywhere else you look.
The best place to see street art is Templeman Street on Cerro Alegre and the Museo a Cielo Abierto in Cerro Bellavista. The latter is an open air museum featuring a number of murals created by university students in the early ‘70s.
12. Make a new four-legged friend
I’ve never seen so many stray dogs in one city before. They wander all over Valparaiso and local residents take care of them by leaving food and water outside their homes and shops.
Typically I stay away from stray animals, but these little creatures are hard to resist. Super friendly and curioius, they just want some affection. Be careful though, once they latch on to you it’s hard to lose them. We had one little pup follow us around for the entire walking tour and then followed us all the way back to the hostel!
13. Visit the Naval Maritime Museum
Combine your beach day at Playa Torpederas with a visit to the Naval and Maritime Museum, which is also located in the Playa Ancha area on the Paseo May 21. The Museum is operated by the Navy of Chile and provides an in-depth look into Chile’s navel history, including important events and influential people.
14. Wander the food market
The food market is not far from the bus station in Valparaiso and serves as a fitting introduction to the city. The market is loud, chaotic and captures your attention. We watched the vendors engage in heated negotiations with potential buyers and couldn’t help but laugh.
Chileans are known to be fast and enthusiastic speakers, so the negotiations were super entertaining. It looked as if they were negotiating a peace treaty between warring countries, not the price of apples!
Best of all, shopping at the market allows you to buy direct from the suppliers so it’s much cheaper than supermarkets. If you’re doing any cooking while in Valparaiso, buy your fruits, vegetables and fish here.
15. Eat delicious empanadas
My diet in Chile consisted primarily of beer and empanadas, so I know a thing or two about where to eat them. I can tell you unequivocally that Valparaiso serves up some mighty delicious empanadas.
Seriously though, there were days I ate empanadas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is an endless list of the types of fillings you can get – cheese, tomato, pork, chicken, etc. I even had a breakfast empanada with egg and bacon in it.
16. Take a picture on the piano steps
The piano staircase (the steps look like piano keys) is one of the most famous pieces of street art in Valparaiso. Click here for the location of the steps in google maps. Bring your camera and you’ll have a sweet profile pic for social media.
17. Experience the nightlife
Valparaiso is famous in Chile for its nightlife. You’ll find people from all walks of life – poets, sailors, university students, tourists and joyful locals – drinking and dancing into the early morning hours. Most bars and restaurants don’t even have a standard closing time. Its up to the patrons how late they want to party!
Top After-Hours Places to Check-Out:
- Plaza Aníbal Pinto. Traditional bar and restaurant known for its tango singers who take over the mic Thursday through Saturday after 10PM.
- La Playa. A notorious Valparaiso hangout where you can listen to live music or poetry readings late into the night.
- La Colombina. Popular with young people thanks to the laid back vibes and live jazz music.
- Mundo Pagano. Lively club that pumps loud electronic music for its crazy dance parties.
How To Get There
Tur Bus and Pullman depart from Terminal Alameda in Santiago every 15 minutes from 6am to 10:30pm. You can get to Terminal Alameda by taking the L1 Metro Line to Universidad de Santiago Station. There are signs directing you through an underground walkway from the metro station to the bus station. Depending on traffic, the travel time is about 1.5 hours and costs 6,000 CLP ($10).
The bus terminal in Valparaiso is about a 20-30 minute walk to the city center, or you can take one of the local microbuses. Be advised that on weekends, especially from December to March, the buses may fill up so consider buying your ticket in advance.
Take Costanera Norte heading west out of Santiago. This road turns into Rte. 68 and follow it all the way to Km 105. There are two tolls on the way that cost 1,200 CLP ($2) each. At Km 105 follow the signs for Valparaiso. Break-ins are frequent in Valparaiso at night, so remove your possessions if you’re parking on the street overnight.
How to Get Around
Waking is by far the best way to get around the city. The narrow, winding streets zig-zag up, down and around the hilltops, making it difficult to navigate by car.
Another option if you run out of steam and don’t feel like walking up another hill is to ride the ascensores (funiculars). These are old, cheap and fun to ride.
Lastly, there are a number of public buses that you can take pretty much anywhere in the city.
Chile is a relatively safe country to travel and one of the most safe in South America. With that said, it’s important to note that Valparaiso has above average crime in Chile. We had no issues during our stay and I personally think the city unfairly gets a bad wrap.
However, crimes against tourists do happen there, primarily pick-pocketing and theft. Violent crime is uncommon, but normal precautionary measures should be taken.