If Santiago is a city we could live in, Valparaiso is where my soul would stay. The description we lay out can hardly do it justice, it’s a place better seen than described. Valparaiso (Valpo) is actually 45 hills that stretch upwards from the ocean, each with its own unique name, with a steepness that San Francisco couldn’t begin to compete. Walking a few short blocks takes on a whole new meaning, a mere 287 stair steps sat between us & the closest food market, easy peezy first thing in the morning. The hills did create some of the most incredible views we have ever seen though, lights & shadows shifting throughout the day as the sun rose & set.
Here we stayed in the Hostal Mariposas, basically built like a tree house atop the Cerro Mariposas hill (they aren’t overly creative in the names). We had a massive room for the two of us which included a sitting area, shared balcony & cedar loft above the bed. A quick climb up a (fairly) well-built ladder/stair hybrid & you arrive on the terrace overlooking the city below. We awoke each morning, balancing coffee in hand, and climbed up to enjoy the morning sun swinging back & forth from the various cloth hammocks.
Given the city’s sprawling cultural attractions and its incredible topography, the city has established one of the better public transport systems we have seen. A combination of frequent (and cheap) buses, taxis, trolleys, and surprisingly useful elevators make getting around the city a breeze. An unexpectedly useful transport method we found was the “Collectivos”, a sort-of cab service, set up in zones where people share a car at a flat rate of 400 pesos (~$.60) per person from the vibrant square in the flats to your street on top of the hill – a ride taking only a minute or two given the sheer velocity these guys take the local streets of Valpo.
Valpo was & still is a functioning port city, undergoing its “golden age” prior to the completion of the Panama Canal. Before the canal was built, Valpo served as the 1st stop for European sailors after rounding the cape on their way to the Californian gold rush. Though the majority of long range shipments now run through the canal, Valpo continues to be active for the country’s naval bases, regional shipping & various cruise lines depositing tourist to the area. Locals, Portanos (people of the port) as they prefer to call themselves, take a great pride in their history & the area; maintaining a “grow local, use local” mentality. The only chains in this international city are a single Subway & Starbucks catering to the cruisers in the flats (low areas at the bottom of the hills). Given the vibrant culture and desire to support local businesses, the city even went so far as obtaining UNESCO protection, which also contributes to the lack of international chains.
While this is all fun & interesting, the barges aren’t exactly why we feel in love with this town, besides the unbelievable views of the ocean almost every inch (not an exaggeration) of the city walls & bridges are covered in street art. We are not talking rag tag spray paint (though some of that exists as well) but well planned, designed in detailed paintings & murals from abstract to the scenic water color. You could spend hours (and one day we did) just walking around corner to corner to find what was waiting for you on the other side.
Valpo has an undeniable bohemian vibe that surrounds it and you get the sense that there isn’t much that wouldn’t be allowed here. Its reminiscent of both New Orleans & Adams Morgan (back before it was “up & coming”) in a way, the late-night bar scene stretching to the wee hours of the morning (~4am) and the parties continue in the streets until buses begin their routes at 8am. Many of our fellow hostel mates had come to the city for a few days or weeks & ended up staying for months on end, unable to leave its charm. I think if either of us had been poets or better artists this would be an easy place to stay & get lost in the hills<3.