The capital of Chile is right in the middle of this long stretched country, connecting the dusty north to the wild south. The city is huge, with several districts, a large river, universities everywhere and plenty of gigantic flags. In the centre, you’ll find Plaza de Armas backed by the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Museum of History. Mimes, spinning drummers and the classic gold painted man entertain passers by. Lovely locals with tubs and trolleys call out ‘hellados’ and hand out samples from their baskets of nuts. From here the streets sprawl out to museums, arcades and more squares. If you like, you can visit the fish market or fruit market, from which you can shuffle your achey feet to Forestal for a rowdy drink in the sun. Street stalls will sell you a hot dog ‘Italiano’ for 1000pesos or a still-hot empanada. We spent most of the time jet lagged and confused, so did a lot of walking or people watching. The city has enough to do for a few sleepy days, but for us there were bigger and better things to do.
Is complex and fascinating, teetering on slopes, an artwork in itself. Valparaiso means valley of paradise, a name it definitely earns. The town has around 50 hills, which make up the different neighbourhoods, each a tight knit community full of colour and life.
A little history…
From the impulse to discover and trade, ships from Europe came to South America. On their route around the tip of the continent, they formed ports and connections that became towns and villages. One of these was Valparaiso. The harbour was once a busy port, a harbour for journeying sailors and a business for locals. Ships were weighted with construction materials like corrugated iron and paint, to stabilise them in the stormy seas. In Valparaiso, they dumped the good, and so the houses are covered in the waves of the iron sheets and painted in the brightest happiest colours. Being set in the steep hills also makes getting around quite hard, so the town has a series of funiculars that judder up the rock for a cheap 100pesos a pop. Most have been destroyed in earthquakes and storms, but the few that remain provide a lovey yet useful quirk to Valparaiso.
Food & drink
South America lives on the empanada; a sort of pastie filled with traditional pina (beef, onion, & egg), cheese, chicken and sometimes salmon. They come is different shapes and sizes, each country giving a new flare, a special flavour, a savoured recipe. Also found in these parts is the alphajore; two biscuits sandwiched with dolce de leche, all coated in chocolate…mmm… The alternate is a thick crumbly biscuit, dolce de lech again, with a coconut rim instead of chocolate. Very different, but both delicious. We tried both the empanada and the alphajore in Valparaiso, a place full of eateries, where rich smells comes from little doors. What do you drink? Beer of course, and don’t forget all the wine. What sensible person would have wine, when you can have wine, pineapple and ice cream? That’s exactly what a Terromoto is. It’s sweet but not too sweet, and the cold ice cream is refreshing in a hot bar. A little warning is in the name, which mean earth quake, a few of these smooth operators will have the ground moving under your feet!
Valparaiso is much more than a town in the hills. On top of the bright buildings, the friendly strays, sweet treats and glittering harbour, is a mass of Graffiti. Concentrated into one section of the town, the street art comes in all shapes and sizes, and showcases how beautiful spray paint can be. The art is so much a part of the town, that it is deemed part of its cultural heritage by UNESCO and part of the reason it’s protected. See the famous sights like Inti Castro’s doll, the keyboard stairs or even the Van Gogh mural. The art changes constantly so the best thing to do is explore the back streets and see what you can find. Some is political, some cultural, but most of it is just illustration and expression.
If you want to get to know the town, seeing it from a local point of view, join onto a walking tour with Tours4Tips. They’ll show you the ins and outs of this beautiful maze, all for a tip of your choosing.