We arrived in Valparaíso on a super comfy bus from the main bus station in Santiago. The buses run every hour from the station and the bus only took an hour and a half to arrive at Valparaíso terminal.
We’d booked an apartment at this place called Casa Violeta Limon. As soon as we arrived we immediately were drawn in by the bright colours of the town and the overwhelming energy. The apartment was located just a 5minute walk from Plaza Aníbal Pinto and the entrance to the Reina Victoria Funicular, meaning we could get up to those famous Valpo hills really quickly.
Valparaíso was nothing short of absolute dreams. From the minute we arrived we fell in love. Our first venture up to the hills was breathtaking. We took the Reina Victoria funicular up to the top of Concepcion Hill which cost $160/£0.20. Once you get to the top you are met with wooden walkways and tonnes of street art. There’s even a slide to get you from the walkway to the bottom seating area. Literally so cool. The views are spectacular, panoramic views right over the bay, over the huge shipping docks and the brightly coloured historic houses and churches that cover the hills.
One of the best ways of seeing Valparaíso is through its funiculars. To be honest with you I’d never heard the word before coming to Chile, but I soon discovered they are pretty much cable cars but they don’t dangle in the air the same way if that makes sense? Anyways, there are twenty-two funiculars all unique in size, colours and shape. Using these to navigate your way around the city is an unforgettable experience.
Our first stop was at Fauna restaurant and bar on Montealegre Street, one of the first places you hit as you reach the top of the boardwalk. Fauna was our first experience of just how modern Chile was, the restaurant honestly could have been well at home in London or New York. We found a spot on their huge corner terrace that looks right out over the whole city and bay. We knew this must be popular spot as soon as we arrived, the place was packed. Most fun part was that instead of having table numbers they had little plastic animals on the tables – ours was the lobster table. Why haven’t restaurants worldwide caught on to this idea yet? So cool. We realised after that Fauna was one of the highest rated places to eat and drink in Valpo on Tripadvisor. We enjoyed our first two beers here and were so happy to be in such a stunning and sunny place.
We wandered the streets and endless hills that afternoon – although extremely touristy all the streets have their own charm. Each corner you hit has a new style of street art and adorable buildings. Valparaíso is nicknamed The ‘Jewel of the Pacific, and honestly we could see why within just one day of exploring here. On our first walk we found a new empanada shop to try out – so far Chilean empanadas had been the BOMB! We grabbed two & sat in front of the Lutheran Church of La Santa Cruz. Truthfully this khaki & white coloured church looked like it belonged in a Disney park to me, but its style kind of adds to the cool feel of being in Valpo hills. After we headed back down Montealegre Street to find this restaurant called Dinalow where we enjoyed our first (few) pisco sours in Valpo. Thy were also two for one here on Happy Hour WAHOOO. For those who don’t know I’m an avid fan of these delicious strong sour cocktails: made from Lemon juice, pisco, egg white and syrup. We knocked back a few of these at this lovely place (which also happens to be a really good tapas place) & we’re ready to set off for the evening.
We jumped back on the funicular down to the main square in search of a more local bar which could be cheaper. The square was super busy, full of locals and tourists. We found a cafe weirdly serving pints of Stella (cringe) and had a dodgy sandwich which was cooked in front of us through a glass window to the kitchen. After we headed back into the Plaza Aníbal Pinto square where we decided to grab a couple of beers from the shop and take a seat with the rest of the crowd. Jack and I in proper chavvy fashion ended up getting suitably drunk people watching on the square. Next minute I know Jack’s dashed off with his empty bottle back to the shop and the guy is closing the gate. I realise that the glass bottle is ‘retornable’ which means if you run back you get money back in exchange. This is really common in South America and something you really need to get used to. Often in shops the bottles will be marked up at one price and you get to the till to find another price. You pay the higher price and bring the bottle back to get the difference. If the bottle is returnable the neck will be marked with this!
So we ended our night sitting in the square slightly traumatised by the insane dogs that went MAD at every bike or car they drove past. Clearly there was something pretty wrong with those dogs, they barked like mad and followed the headlights so closely to every moving vehicle that they nearly got themselves killed every single time. Every time a bus unloaded with people the dogs would jump on everyone too. Jack and I were so confused. The locals didn’t mistreat the dogs at all or anything like that. In fact they were all petting them and feeding them constantly. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a massive fan of dogs anyway but to be honest with you the worst was to come dealing with the stray dogs here. A definite word of advice if you struggle with stray dogs this place may not be for you!
Next morning we get up for an early start ready to hit the ‘free’ walking tour. As most people know, walking tours are in fact never free you always pay a ‘suggested fee’ or tip after. Anyways we head down to Plaza Aníbal Pinto to find an English speaking guide. It was easy enough but I soon realise our guide is surrounded by dogs already… it hits 10:30 and we head off. The dogs follow. The guide turns round and tell us that the dogs will follow us the entire tour there and back and do so everyday. OH GOD. I mean we’re not talking one stray lost dog, we’re talking 6 or 7 really energetic crazy stray dogs jumping all over the place. It’s not really my idea of fun and I know some people are fine with petting them and all but I’m not really down for that, it kind of creeps me out. (Sorry not sorry)
So we start our tour and I’m doing my best to ignore the dogs that are running laps in front of us and mating with other stray dogs. (Yes full on mating) We first go up to explore the rest of Concepcion Hill and the amazing street art on EVERY street corner and then back to the Disney (sorry I mean Lutheran) church. This time we head inside which was in fact very beautiful. The tour carried on through the hill visiting the famous ‘We are not hippies we are happies’ steps on Casa Partimonio. Apparently this was painted by a duo from Brighton, UK and to honest I struggle to realise why it’s so popular. It’s the spot everyone LOVES but I think the other street art is way better around. (Google it)
Anyways the tour leads through Paseo Gervasoni (Gervasoni Boulevard) and Paseo Atkinson (Atkinson Boulevard) spotting all the famous art.
It’s then followed by a stop at another famous empanada stop. This was another shop tailored for the tourists: all pasties with crazy flavours. I think I had spicy pepper and goats cheese and something. To be honest with you it wasn’t great at all. I much prefer the original Chilean flavours – pino or queso. They’re honestly delicious and the Chilean’s don’t need to add these crazy western favours. Anyways, so the dogs also continued to follow us and circle us at every spot on the walk. I think everyone on our tour was pretty pissed off with them by the end. The tour guide was not bothered in the slightest and encouraged the dogs to run around like mad which wasn’t really my cup of tea. Each to their own though. I know this blog makes me sound like a sad miserable traveller but honestly stray dogs in South America are such a nuisance. It’s very different to Asia. Some cities worse than others. Anyone want to argue with me feel free….
Next stop on the tour was Ascensor El Peral (El Peral Elevator). El Peral was built in 1902 and when it was first opened, El Peral was the most advanced funicular due to its structural aspect and particularly for the surrounding outstanding complementary buildings and adjacent constructions. This funicular was also the first one that used a steam traction equipment with a chimney that became the main feature. The actual station today is transparent so you can see in to the functioning machinery.
Leading on from the funicular station we were introduced to Paseo Yugoslavo – Palacio Baburizza (Yugoslavo Boulevard – Baburizza Palace) Yugoslavo is home to Baburizza Palace; now the Municipal Museum of Fine Arts. A stunning building which holds the biggest collection of fine art in Chile today!
Leading on from the boulevard (which has great stalls by the way and lovely hand painted postcards) we headed to Casa Crucero – Pasaje Bavestrello (Cruiser House – Bavestrello Alley) Calles Urriola – Prat (Urriola and Prat streets). These streets having amazing painted staircases leading off all the sides.
Valpo is also interestingly home to Chile’s legislative Congress and the headquarters of the Chilean navy meaning downtown there are some fabulous historic maritime buildings. This square is named Plaza Sotomayor (Sotomayor Square) where you can find Monumento a los Héroes de Iquique (Monument to the Heroes of Iquique). There is also an extremely ugly building owned by shipping gurus Hapaag- Lloyd who purchased the main historical building on the square and decided to rip the middle out and place a big glass box in the middle of a UNESCO listed exterior. It looks awful and ruins the square. Apparently the locals hate it too.
After a pretty good history lesson in the naval square the tour took us to Muelle Prat (Prat Dock). It a super lovely and vibrant dock which also has a tonne of stalls. We were told to make sure we purchased stuff here because it was MUCH cheaper than in the hills. Overall a great tour, fully recommend. We ended up paying $4000/£5 each – the recommended amount.
That afternoon we jumped on the funicular back up to Calle Urriola where we weirdly stumbled across a Welsh pub called Restaurante Brecon’s. Next stop we were desperate to try out was this gorgeous bright yellow place called The Brighton which is also a hotel. So strange because truthfully Valpo reminded me so much of Brighton in the UK. Anyone who is familiar with Brighton will know all about the lanes and the gastronomical scene there. We enjoyed another drink at The Brighton (SHOCK) before deciding that we would treat ourselves to a fancy meal out that evening. After first visiting the gorgeous Fauna restaurant we knew we wanted to head back as soon as possible.
OMG. The food was insane. We had a seafood platter and a Mediterranean platter along with a few pisco sours and a bottle of red. It was a taste sensation and one of the best meals we’ve eaten in South America. I’m ashamed to say we spent $74,000/£90 on the meal and drinks which is an absolute shocker and definitely not our usual backpackers style but we fell in love with Valpo and couldn’t resist treating ourselves just this once.
The following day after nursing slight fuzzy heads we set off for our final day in this beautiful city. I wanted to extend but Jack made me realise that if we stayed any longer we probably wouldn’t be able to afford travelling in South America any longer…
On our final hit list was the one of the longest and oldest funiculars in Valpo: Ascensor Artillería. It’s famous for its incredible views over the city and the port. It truly did not disappoint. It was a little creaky but totally worth it. I couldn’t believe all the funiculars had their original little wooden cars and windows. After riding to the top we took a little walk around the corner and found not only some incredible empanada street art but also a point where you could stand right underneath the funicular. It’s perfect for taking pics and vids with the bay view behind. We also stopped in at an adorable baby blue coloured bar called Casa Cuatro Vientos and enjoyed another couple of pisco sours. (What can I say? We wanted to make the most of this foodie heaven!)
Another final top pick for Valpo for us to tick off was SUSHI. Yes I know, sounds weird eating sushi in Chile but it’s right on the coast, they have access to some amazing fish so I suppose it makes sense right? We headed down to Sotomayor Square near the dock. There’s a few roads you can wander which have LOADS of sushi restaurants. We found one and couldn’t believe the prices. It was $4000/£4 for a whole platter of sushi. It was DELICIOUS. There was also a happy hour $3000/£3 for two pisco sours (DUH could’t miss it) If you ever go here make sure you eat some sushi, it’s flipping amazeballs.
As we headed out of the restaurant and back through Sotomayor Square we saw a the huge stage being set up and filled with a band practicing. I did a quick google and found out there was some sort of anniversary performance that night starting at 7pm. Perfect. Out last night and a free show. Sorted. We headed back up to the apartment, grabbed a bottle of Chilean red in preparation.
It was 6:30pm and we were back near the square. The music was kicking off and we spotted a few stalls. We wandered over to find food and crafts and no drink. I panicked thinking it was a drink free zone and suggested we grab a drink in the supermarket before heading in. We ended up sitting on a bench in the square with a few beers terrified of being told off by the police or something… Everywhere else we’d been so far in South America had been an absolute riot… everywhere people drunk on the streets but Chile felt different.
We finally necked all our drinks and wandered into the stage area. We passed a load of police as we walked in. We tried to make our way to the front and as I turned around I realised EVERYONE was drinking. We couldn’t believe it. We could have come straight in with a drink before. We searched for a shop nearby but there was nothing in sight. Before we knew it the show was over and we’d pretty much missed it all. I mean we’d heard it ALL but from a bench outside a supermarket…
Next stop was a journey into the Atacama desert, what would that have in store for us after such a a luxury stay in Valparaíso?