Valparaiso - aka "Valpo" - is sensory overload when you first arrive (in the best way possible of course). The colors, textures, patterns, and various levels of the city are quite enough for the eyes to take in let alone all the music and activity going on top of that. While it can be seen quite well in 48 hours, I would recommend 5-7 days if not longer. In fact, I would spend more time here than in Santiago. It has more culture, color, and fun things to do. It is also cooler in the summer than the dry blazing heat of Santiago since it is on the water. My skin appreciates a little moisture in the air!
This is arguably the best place to visit in all of Valpo. I wouldn't stay anywhere else - you feel like you are in the middle of a painting here. Cerro Concepcion just doesn't feel like real life. The first thing you will want to do upon arrival is walk and explore the crazy little streets around. You will find yourself climbing up multicolored stairs, passing through narrow alleys, and staring at intricate murals of art on every wall in between.
Most of the accommodations in Valpo are hostels and there are not (if any) hotels in the traditional sense. Having said that, the hostels are really cool and I would choose them over a fancy hotel anyways – a rare choice indeed. Why you might ask? When I stay in a city, I like to stay in places that make me feel part of the culture and give me a unique experience all around. I love a fancy hotel, more than most. Robes, room service, fresh white beds – I could go on forever. But back to the point!
The hostels in Valpo are all uniquely decorated in funky ways. The outside has distinct street art and colors while the inside has peculiar yet intriguing architecture. I loved our hostel – the PazZHotel – for this reason. From the other hostels I saw in person and online it looks as though it has some good competition though. Painted a sweet yellow in the corazon of Cerro Concepcion, the hostel looks like an old wooden mansion. On the inside there is a winding rickety old staircase enclosed by modern glass floor-to-ceiling windows.
The roof top bar and restaurant was as charming as it was romantic looking out over the pacific ocean. They even have a ladder you can climb up to the very top for a panoramic view of the city. The paper thin roof seems sketchy like you’re walking on tin but well worth the risk.
If you like street art and can’t get enough just walking through Valpo, make your way to Cerro Alegre. This street in Cerro Concepcion is packed with wild artwork (as if it isn’t on every other street!). Beautiful murals and paintings flow throughout the walls, steps, corners, and posts – every inch covered! You can walk on this street 100 times and not see everything.
Ascensor Reina Victoria
Funiculars, or "Ascensores" (elevators), are very unique to Valpo. It is one of the only cities in the world, including San Francisco, that has pully-operating systems like these. It is no wonder Valpo gets the name "Little San Francisco" with these unique funiculars - combined with its steep hills next to a bay. The cute little cars are great for getting up the steep hills and looking at views. While the city once had 26 working at the same time, there are only 8 operating today and Reina Victoria is the most seemingly popular one. The fun little ride is muy barrato (cheap) and a must do while you are in the city.
The beloved Chilean poet, artist, and politician Pablo Neruda designed his Valparaiso home (and 2 others) perched up on Cerro Bellavista overlooking the city and ocean. His captivating home shows a peak into the life of the fascinating artist and Nobel Prize winner through preservations of his personal work and design. This is truly not something to miss. Take a bus or taxi from Cerro Concepcion or better yet walk! The walk takes about 30 minutes but offers a good glimpse of Valpo beyond the main center.
Morning walk to Puerto Blanco cafe for coffee and tea
This seems like an odd "activity" I know but I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. The walk to the quaint coffee shop Puerto Blanco is about 15 minutes from Cerro Concepcion directly but if you take side streets through Valpo it is about 30 and much much cooler. Take the long way for a morning stroll and indulge in some coffee or organic tea from this cool cafe that plays the best music. We went here both mornings during our time in Valpo and loved it. We got lost on our way back in the crazy streets and stumbled upon some of our favorite works of art - definitely a must! Don't plan on eating here as every single thing on the menu involves bread. Grab a piece fruit from one of the many fruit stands on the way instead.
Half-day trip to Vina Del Mar
Valparaiso does not have a beach per se, more like a harbor with cargo and cruise ships coming in and out. But for some sun bathing and swimming check out Vina Del Mar. The beach is just around the corner from Valpo (about an 11 minute taxi ride or 20 minute metro ride). If you are craving some beach action (like I was) after the dry heat of Santiago or teasing (and relentless) sound of seagulls in Valpo, this is the perfect place to go. A half day is perfect because you get plenty of sun and exercise followed by afternoon downtime back at the hotel. That way you have time to get ready for the evening and still spend enough time in Valpo's city center (which I can't get enough of). If you spend more days in Valparaiso (highly suggest 5+!), then full days at Vino Del Mar are encouraged :)