When people we met travelling found out we were headed towards Chile, they almost always said “you have to go to Valparaíso”. As we wound our way around South America we heard many descriptions of the coastal city. Some people spoke of its quirky beauty and energy while others lamented its pollution, decrepitude and stray dogs.
Although some people struggle to see past these negative points, the overwhelming impression we pieced together about Valparaíso was that it was not to be missed.
After the good fortune of arriving in Santiago in time for the annual Dia del Patrimonio, our luck changed and the weather was miserable most of the time we were in Valpo. This picture over the bay is in black and white, but the skies were just as grey in reality.
On this morning it was drizzly and overcast, but not bad enough to thwart our plans to visit Pablo Neruda’s house. Neruda was a Nobel prize winning poet who had a real zest for life; his house in Valparaíso is packed full of character and fun, from the fully equipped bar where he would entertain his friends and dare them to use the exposed loo to one side, to the collections of colourful artwork and curiosities such as an antique carousel horse.
Unfortunately they are very strict about taking pictures inside the house so our camera was locked away before we entered. But do go if you can!
The next day the rainstorm worsened, insistent on forcing keen visitors inside:
For a while we took refuge in one of the city’s markets, where we warmed up and dried out over chupe, a thick seafood stew topped with bubbling cheese.
As you would suspect for a port city like Valpo, the seafood is stunningly fresh.
The city has many stray cats, some of which also found shelter under the market’s roof.
Before long we admitted defeat to the rain and trudged back to our hostel, through the steep roads which had rapidly turned into gushing waterfalls and fast flowing rivers.
Thankfully the following morning the angry skies had subsided and for our last day, we had glorious sunshine. Valparaíso was transformed and it was easy to see why it was top of so many people’s travel experiences in Chile.
We joined the “Tours 4 Tips” group for a free walking tour around the city, led by people dressed in stripy “Where’s Wally” outfits.
We explored the main port, still busy although much less so than the former glory years:
We learned lots about Valparaíso’s chequered history – from the heights of a globally recognised port and a bustling city full of immigrants making their way up to California to seek their fortune during the Gold Rush, to its decline after the Panama Canal provided an alternative and more convenient point of access.
Some buildings were beautiful, while others were crumbling remains of once grand structures.
While the larger port of San Antonio up the coast now claims the lion’s share of commercial port activity, Valparaíso has become an important centre of art and culture in Chile and worldwide.
The city is decorated with vibrant colours on virtually every surface.
Knowing our time in South America was coming to an end, we made sure to get our last fix of empanadas…
Valparaíso does have its problems and may not be for everyone, but we certainly wished we had more time to explore the hilly neighbourhoods and infamous bar scene, or even stick around long enough to find a bare wall to decorate with our own mural… maybe a design of umbrellas to commemorate our first visit!