I adore street art. It’s always one of the first things I look for in a new place.
That’s why when I learned about Valparaiso, Chile I knew right away I want to visit the place. For all these years it was only a dream to see the incredible Valparaiso street art scene but I’ve never really believed I will eventually visit Valparaiso, it seemed to be too far away, on the other side of the world, literally.
But then I found a very good deal on flights to Chile and shortly after I put the town in my Chile itinerary and I was planning my Santiago to Valparaiso day trip. As it quickly turned out, there are more things to do in Valparaiso than just street art!
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Why you should visit Valparaiso
It is so easy to go for a Santiago to Valparaiso day trip it would be a pity to miss it. Besides, this is probably the most popular of day trips from Santiago.
The city is known for the street art that covers more or less the whole center and is considered one of the top Valparaiso attractions. The city is the cultural hub of the country and even the Chilean Ministry of Culture is located in Valparaiso.
But the place has actually a big historical value, it even made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List (specifically the historic quarter). Besides, due to its location on the Pacific coast, Valparaiso has this cool maritime vibe you don’t want to miss.
A brief history of Valparaiso
The city was founded in 1536 by the Spanish explorer Juan de Saavedra who used the place as a convenient haven after long sailing (the surrounding mountains protect the area from the strong winds). For years Valparaiso was a sleepy village until the wealthy merchant bought the first pier in the history of Chile in 1810.
This started the rapid development of the town, shortly after Valparaiso became the main seaport of the Chilean navy. The local harbor was an important stop for ships sailing through the Strait of Magellan and Punta Arenas further north, it was also the main hub for European immigrants entering Chile.
Until the opening of the Panama Canal, Valparaiso was the biggest harbor in South America. Today the city, the second-largest in Chile, is still shaped by the Pacific Ocean and the local harbor.
How to get from Santiago to Valparaiso
It’s super easy to go for a day trip to Valparaiso from Santiago. Buses depart frequently throughout the day, every 20 minutes or so, and the journey takes less than 2 hours.
There are two main companies serving this route, Turbus and Pullman, and they both offer more or less the same standard and price.
To get to Valparaiso from Santiago first you need to get to Pajaritos bus station which is directly above the metro station with the same name (L1 red metro line). Once there you go to the ticket office (they are clearly marked with the name of the company) and get your ticket.
I recommend buying a return ticket. Not only it is slightly cheaper (5 800 CLP for return, 3 000 CLP for one-way) but you also wouldn’t need to get a new ticket on the way back. This way you can also avoid the language barrier if you don’t speak Spanish (like me).
At the bus station, the platforms are clearly marked on the screen, there are also screens with the destination in front of the bus. On the ticket there you have the allocated seat but not for the return. The buses are semicama which are very comfortable, especially for such a short journey.
On the way back to Santiago I went directly to the Turbus bus that was at the platform (I went with this company as it had a shorter line in Santiago), showed the bus to the driver and was let in. Fortunately, the bus wasn’t full so I could choose whichever seat I wanted.
Santiago to Valparaiso tours
If you don’t feel comfortable enough exploring Valparaiso on your own, there are some Santiago to Valparaiso tours you might join. This way you can combine visiting Valparaiso with other places.
Here are some recommended ones:
- From Santiago: Valparaiso and Viña del Mar Day Tour
- Santiago: Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, & Casablanca Valley Tour
- From Santiago: Highlights of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar
Things to do in Valparaiso
While there are not that many Valparaiso attractions, due to its location, history, and culture this is one of the most interesting cities in Chile, a bit different than other places. And that’s what makes it so unique and worth visiting.
One of the best things to do in Valparaiso is to just wander around, with only a vague direction in mind. This is the best way to get to know the place. I used maps.me app and when I found some interesting points on the map (mainly viewpoints and funiculars) I just followed my intuition and went in that direction, not necessarily in the straight line.
I encourage you to do the same. You will find plenty of street art, stairs turned into art galleries, charming corners with blooming flowers, and numerous viewpoints offering a great vista of the city and the Pacific Ocean.
For all the time you will be passing colorful houses that became the symbol of Valparaiso. This tradition comes from the golden age of Valparaiso, when the workers took home leftovers of the ships’ paint and used it for their own houses, also to protect them from the damaging sea salt.
Today the city council encourages people to paint their houses in different colors than the neighbor by refunding half of the painting costs. This is the way to keep Valparaiso so colorful and unique.
Walking around Valparaiso reminded me a bit about Sarajevo (the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina) or Porto (Portugal) with its locations, hills and really steep streets and stairs as well as Rio de Janeiro with the dense urban development.
But in Valparaiso you can find a few funiculars to help you get to the upper parts of the city. There are 16 of them, mostly from the end of the 19th century, still serving its original function (some of them are under renovation though). For a small fee, you can quickly get from one part of the city to another. This is one of the must Valparaiso experiences so don’t miss it.
When wandering I randomly found a local cemetery with beautiful old graves (some of them are really impressive and majestic), a bit destroyed after the earthquakes. It looked a bit like Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires. If you happen to stumble across it too make sure to go inside, it’s worth to see the place as some of the graves are like the work of art.
Next to cemetery no 1 you will find the Dissidents Cemetery – it was used in the 19th century for the protestant people who arrived in Valparaiso mainly from Europe.
Nearby you should see Valparaiso Cultural Park. Not only there is yet another great viewpoint, but I really liked the modern and concrete architecture of the building.
Part of the center is the former prison where the political prisoners were held during Pinochet’s regime (1973-1990) so you can learn here a bit about the modern and not so easy history of Chile (be sure to also visit the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago if you are interested in this dark period in Chile).
Valparaiso attracts artists (not only those who specialize in street art), you will find many small galleries around as well as street sellers. If you would like to buy some souvenirs from local artists, Valparaiso is the best place to do it.
The most popular Chilean poet and the Nobel prize winner, Pablo Neruda, also was under the charm of Valparaiso. One of his three houses was located in the city and today you can visit it – La Sebastiana is the museum dedicated to the great poet.
And don’t forget that the historical center of Valparaiso is recognized by UNESCO in 2013. The city made it to the famous World Heritage List for its unique colonial architecture and its improvised urban design – you will notice it for sure when visiting Valparaiso.
If wandering around on your own isn’t your thing you can join one of the tours and see Valparaiso with a local guide. Here are some of the tours you might want to consider:
- Valparaíso: Cultural and Street Art Walking Tour
- Valparaiso 4-Hour City Tour by Van and Funicular
- Valparaiso 3-Hour Walking Tour
Final thoughts on visiting Valparaiso
Visiting Valparaiso was very high on my bucket list for years and when I finally made it there I wasn’t disappointed. The city overwhelmed me a bit, in a positive way, with so much street art and all those incredible views – it felt like this place is just unreal.
To enjoy it to the fullest you would need more than just one day in Valparaiso but even if you go for a side trip from Santiago you can see a lot and get a feel of the place.
This was probably the coolest places I visited in Chile and I would gladly go there again, just to spend the time in such a vibrant, colorful and fun city.
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