The Hills of Valparaiso

I had heard so much about how beautiful Valparaiso is, I just had to go. And it’s a cheap and fast bus ride – I had picked up some tickets the day before for only a few dollars each way. (Granted, I got a special cheap rate going because I left Santiago around 7 in order to ensure I made it for the free walking tour at 10am, but the more expensive rate wasn’t much more.)

Well, beautiful is definitely one word for the city, as are gritty, dirty, and amazing. I was glad to go on a day trip only, because I kept being warned about various parts of the city I shouldn’t go to alone, or shouldn’t to after dark, or just shouldn’t go to, but I definitely can understand how people get the city under their skin. The houses are brightly painted and picturesque, stacked up a series of hills that go down dramatically to the water, a little like Positano on the Amalfi coast in Italy, but grittier. The hills are steep enough that there are funiculars up and down many of them, called ascensores in Spanish. Few of the ascensores are open today, since they don’t make a profit, but they are definitely part of the charm. And I definitely preferred going up one which was open to taking one of the brightly-painted flights of stairs!

One of the ascensores:

A true Valpo ascensor!

A true Valpo ascensor!

And a typical staircase…

Just one of the many, many staircases in Valpo

Just one of the many, many staircases in Valpo

I arrived at the bus station expecting to find a tourist information counter (as I had checked on whether one existed before heading out of Santiago). Apparently my information was wrong, as all I found was a tourist information board that was primarily a big map. However, the map showed me that I could walk to the trolleybus and it would eventually take me to Plaza Sotomayor, a big plaza where the naval buildings are located that is facing the port.

I joined my Tours for Tips group and we walked to the port, then to a street parallel to the port that used to be extremely rich and exclusive (in the 19th or early 20th centuries) and now has a bit of an air of faded glory. Then we headed up an ascensor on Cerro Alegre to see an amazing view of the city. (“Cerro” means hill.)

Valparaiso is just starting to get street art (as opposed to graffitti taggers), and we passed some brightly-colored murals as we walked along the top of Cerro Alegre, down and over to Cerro Concepcion. We stopped for some fresh, homemade alfajores on the way. As we explored the area, our guide told us that Valparaiso falls victim to fires pretty frequently, especially post-earthquake. With the narrow streets and no access for firetrucks in certain neighborhoods, it’s amazing as much of historic Valparaiso exists as it does.

After our tour ended, I ate some lunch (a Chilean stew) and took a bus up to Pablo Neruda’s Valparaiso house, La Sebastiana. It is another amazing house with amazing views. My favorite room was the living/dining room, another room with floor-to-ceiling windows. The outer wall is rounded, and in the center of the room is a round fireplace. In some ways, it’s very 1960’s, but in other ways it’s timeless. I had a lovely time there, and a great chat (in Spanish!) with the guard in the top room. I think it’s the first time I’ve had a conversation in Spanish with a Chilean (outside of the hostel) and understood something – the Chilean accent is so different from the Argentine!

I walked down the hill and back to the bus station, walking through the Open Air Museum on my way down from La Sebastiana. The Open Air Museum is pretty small, essentially a bunch of murals that I think they are hoping to add to in future years. It wasn’t my favorite part of the day, but I did really enjoy the picturesqueness overall of my walk down the hill, which was a great end to the day!

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