Ciudad de los colores
After our stay in Santiago de Chile it was time to visit the San Francisco of South America - the colorful city of Valparaíso . The harbor town is located ca. 120km to the north west from el capital, directly at the pacific coast. We stayed there with Natalie and her little German - Chilean family, to restore their house which got damaged during the earthquake in 2010. If you are on the search for a place to stay, work for food and accommodation and do something good check her workaway account.
After chasing away the Camanchangos, the natural inhabitants of this area, Spanish conquistadors founded the city in 1544. Before the opening of the Panama Channel Valparaiso was one of the most important harbors on the west coast of whole America. Till today it kept on growing to the second largest city of Chile and is home of 278.000 people. In Valparaiso prevails a very Mediterranean climate with sunny days and quiet chilly nights, tough it rarely gets colder than 10 degrees over the whole year. In the high season the water temperature barely makes it up to 16 degrees which isn't really attractive for beach vacation. But besides that there are plenty of things why its worth visiting Valparaíso.
For example the historical center which is clarified as UNESCO world heritage since 2003, because of its colonial architecture from the 19th and 20th century. If you are a fan of architecture take at least a day to see everything in the center and make sure that you don't miss la Armada in plaza Sotomayor. You will find also a great variety of cafe´s, restaurants (also with good possibilities for vegetarians), shops and a huge market called Mercado El Cardonal with agricultural products, meat, fresh fish and seafood. If you walk from the Mercado in the direction of the ocean, you will reach a stony coast, where you can take a rest and watch the sea lions swimming and sunbathing. You can also visit some interesting museums, which are usually for free or very cheap (from one to two euros). We can recommend the Museo Maritimo Nacional on Cerro Artillería with lots of information about the chilean navy and history of the country as well as the Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes de Valparaíso on Cerro Alegre. It's definitely worth to see the city as well at night, besides a good variety of clubs and bars you can just spent a great time on the streets. Its a very international city and its inhabitants are usually quiet fast to invite you for a beer or have a chat with you. From all the medium sized cities we visited so far its definitely the most lively cities at night, you can get a beer all night long in one of the plenty kioskos and the street venders will provide you with all kind of street food you can think of as well as cigarettes.
The actual interesting part of Valparaiso begins with the hills (cerros), wich are all around the center. In total its 32 of them densely covered with colorful houses, street art and graffitis. The artworks are pure eye candy, some of them extremely huge others small and hidden. You can easy access the Cerros by stairs or as well by funiculars. The funiculars became kind of the symbol of the city because they are everywhere and some of them are more than hundred years old, a single ride is 100 pesos btw. (less than 15 eurocents). The most touristic hills are Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción, which are parts of the UNESCO world heritage. They both impress with amazing architecture of old, colorful houses, bars, restaurants and hip hostels. You will find small museums and galleries, street musicians, venders and places to chill with a great view all over the city and other hills. Everything is super colorful, from the walls, painted by crazy artists with classical artworks or graffitis to the the decorations in the streets and even the stairs up to the hills enlighten alternately in bright colors. Because of the hilly landscape its very easy to navigate in the city. If you're lost you just need to walk up the first hundred meters on any hill and you will definitely see where you where coming from as well as your destination. The best thing which actually applies for whole Chile, is that if you have the sea on your left you are always looking northwards.
During the history Valparaiso suffered from several mayor setbacks. Amongst other things, the city got bombed by the Spanish navy during the colonial time, had plenty strong earthquakes during the 20th and 21st century and at latest a huge fire in 2014 with destroyed more than 2500 homes and left around 11.000 people on the streets. All of this plus the loosing value of the harbor and a very corrupt government caused a not that nice image of the city. You will experience this as soon as you take a walk to the non touristic cerros, The higher you walk them up, ergo the farer you distance yourself from the center, the more you will face that the touristic part is not really representative for the rest of the city. Especially the neighborhood and surrounding hills of Plaza Echaurren are better to avoid at night. Even during the day its not a good idea to pass there alone, always hide your valuables and make the impression of not being a gringo. You will see there quiet a lot aggressive and drunk homeless people, thieves, robbers, poverty, abandoned or burned down buildings, tons of trash and dog poo on the streets as well as scared local residents which are constantly advising you not to go any further. Don't get me wrong, Valparaiso is one of the most amazing cities which we've visited so far in America Latina. We just never heard of all of that before in any blog so we want to mention that, especially after two friends of ours got mugged in the hills. But with a little bit of common sense you will definitely enjoy your time in this awesome city.
Valparaiso is a very densely built up city, so its very hard to find a park, forest or any piece of nature to chill. The only green area, which is big enough to fit more than 50 people inside and is not a cemetery is the parque cultural on top of the Cerro Alegre. Also the access to the sea is mainly occupied by the harbor, which is prohibited to enter. But hey you can´t have everything and luckily the neighbor city Viña del Mar is not very far away. Actually there is nothing like a boarder in between Viña and Valpo, you can just walk over there or take a collectivo (a local bus) which is a little more than 50 eurocents. Viña del Mar is a relaxed beach town, which is famous for its long and quiet beautiful coastline. Anyway over there you will find everything what you are going to miss while staying in Valparaíso, a huge park, space, more space and an endless beach with lots of pelicans, seagulls and more sea lions.
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