If you’re planning a trip to Chile, there are probably two cities you’ll visit: Santiago and Valparaíso. Chile’s famous industrial port city offers a different slice of life in Chile. Unlike the ultra urban and modern capital city of Santiago, Valparaíso is more gritty, grimy, and definitely more colorful.
On my trip to Chile in March 2019, I spent time in both cities – but I found that Valparaíso suited my travel style more. It’s a place where cultural immersion is as easy as turning into the bar on the corner or strolling through the markets. If you’re planning a trip to Chile and on the fence about spending a few days in ‘Valpo,’ here’s what you need to know. As I usually do in my 3 Day Series, I’ve broken it down into the travel tips and suggestions I have – plus a suggested itinerary for three days in Valparaíso. Read on to learn everything you need to plan your trip!
Valparaíso Travel Tips
Before I launch into what I consider the best things to see and do in Valparaíso are, I wanted to give a few quick tips to help you plan your trip to Valparaíso.
Getting to Valparaíso from Santiago
Getting from Santiago to Valparaíso is actually really easy! In Santiago, you can catch a bus from the Pajaritos station to Valparaíso. Buses leave ever 5-15 minutes depending on the time of day, and several operators offer express buses. A one-way ticket costs 5,000-7,000 CLP ($7.50-$10.50), and the ride is approximately 90 minutes. You’ll be let out at Rodoviario bus station in Valparaíso, which is a bit far from most of the popular neighborhoods. However, Uber and taxis are available from the bus station to most hotels or Airbnbs.
Weather in Valparaíso & Best Months to Visit
As a coastal city on the Pacific, the best way I can describe Valparaíso weather is by comparing it to San Francisco. Most mornings and evenings, we saw the marine layer sitting out above the ocean, and at times we did have mild fog or low cloud cover over the city which kept it quite chilly and humid. Keep in mind, I visited Valparaíso in mid-March, as autumn was coming on.
The best months to visit Valparaíso will be October to February, the late spring and summer months. In early September and late March, cooler weather will likely persist and it’s less guaranteed you’ll have sunny, warm days.
What to Pack for Valparaíso
You don’t need any special equipment, gear, or clothing to visit Valparaíso, with the exception of good walking shoes. Valparaíso’s many hills are steep and walking surfaces are often uneven. A pair of shoes that can hold up to cobblestones and semi-paved streets and alleys, as well as changing slopes, will serve you well.
The Best Things to See & Do in Valparaíso
What I loved most about Valparaíso is that it’s a city that feels lived in. It’s not glamorous, it’s not clean – it’s a place where local Chileans (they’re called porteños) are living and working and enjoying nights drinking wine on their terraces while the dogs bark across the city.
That said, that means there aren’t a lot of “traditional” sights or experiences in Valparaíso. I personally found that it was less a city of sightseeing, and more one of just being in the city. Wandering, strolling, and dining at your leisure are all perfectly reasonable ways to spend time in Valparaíso – and are in fact among the top things you can do with your time.
Nonetheless, I know you’re keen to know what sights there are, so here’s a short list.
Ride the Funiculars
Arguably the most distinct experience you can have in Valparaíso, the funiculars that ascend and descend some of the city’s most steep hills are fun to ride even if you’re not headed anywhere in particular. There are 7-16 funiculars in Valparaíso in operation at any time (some are undergoing renovation), and all are open to the public.
I rode two funiculars during my time in Valparaíso, the Reina Victoria and Espiritu Santo. I actually rode the Reina Victoria several times, as it ascends from a neighborhood near where I was staying to Cerro Alegre, where some of the best street art and restaurants can be found. When I was in Valparaíso (early 2019), one of the most famous funiculars, Concepción, was being renovated – as I rode the recently renovated Espiritu Santo, I’d highly recommend checking out Concepción once it is open.
Most funiculars cost 100 CLP (about $0.15) each way.
Admire the Street Art
Valparaíso is world-renowned for its street art – and it’s literally everywhere. From the main buildings and streets to every small alley, you can find colorful art that includes almost every topic and theme. Some of the most popular themes I saw included cats, Valparaíso itself, and space. Or maybe I just noticed those three things a lot because they are all things I like!
Street art is technically illegal in Valparaíso, but as you’ll see that makes no difference. You can wander at will to discover art in whatever area you’re in, or visit the neighborhoods of Cerro Alegre and Bellavista, which are some of the most artfully populated places.
Take a (Free) Walking Tour
If you want a bit more guidance on street art, one of the best ways to see the best art is by doing a walking tour. Most walking tours are free or for-donation. They’re usually led by a guide in a striped white-and-red shirt, giving you the sense you’re following Waldo to his favorite spots in the city – which is why they call their guides “Wallys!”
I detail a few walking tours below on my suggested 3-day Valparaíso itinerary. Tours are typically 2.5-3 hours long and usually visit some of the most famous neighborhoods like Cerro Alegre. You can expect to need to climb some hills or stairs, so be sure to wear good walking shoes.
Visit La Sebastiana
La Sebastiana is the seaside home of Chile’s famed poet Pablo Neruda. Like La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana is unusual in design and style, and exists as a museum now. La Sebastiana is located near the apex of the Bellavista neighborhood and hill, so you can expected to climb a bit to get there. The museum is open to limited guests on a first come, first serve basis, so it’s best to arrive early in the morning for the fewest crowds and best views of the city.
Wine Tasting in the Casablanca Valley
I’ll admit: I didn’t actually do this when I was in Valparaíso. On the day that Ashley, Tim, Kay, and Julianne went to the Casablanca Valley, I took the day off to explore Valparaíso at whim.
However, Ashley wrote an amazing recap of the day they spent in the Casablanca Valley (and compared it to the wine tasting tour we did in the Maipo Valley which I highlighted in my Santiago guide). You can read her thoughts about the independent, self-organized wine tasting they organized, the wine and vineyards they visited, and alpacas.
Yep, alpacas! (Okay, there’s no alpaca gif… how sad!)
Day-Trip to Cachagua & Horcón
If you want to explore the surrounding area that doesn’t include wine tasting, a day-trip to Cachagua and Horcón is a good option. You’ll need to rent a car to make this trip, but there are rental agencies in central Valparaíso, including near the central bus station.
It’s a 1.5-hour drive from Valparaíso to the small city of Cachagua, passing through neighboring ritzy Viña del Mar and extended coastal countryside. Cachagua is most known for its offshore island, also called Cachagua. There, you’ll find one of the few places near the populated cities of Chile where you can see penguins. Yep, penguins! (There’s an emoji for that! ?)
You can walk up the 5-kilometer (3-mile) rough trail along the coast. That gives you great views of the island and the coastline. If you’re lucky, you can see otters or seals playing in the waterway between the mainland and the island.
On the way back to Valparaíso from Cachagua, make a detour to visit the small coastal town of Horcón. While Horcón is mostly ideal as a less urban seaside getaway, there’s one sight that is worth the time to visit: the Puente de los Deseos (Bridge of Wishes). This short bridge-to-nowhere (literally it goes from the mainland to a small rock) is covered completely with colorful ribbons. Each ribbon has a wish, hope, or dream written upon it. It’s obviously Instagram worthy, but it’s also a beautiful spot to feel connected to fellow humanity.
Honestly, my most recommended activity in Valparaíso isn’t an organized thing. It’s not a specific sight or experience. It’s just this thing I’d do every day if I lived in Valparaíso: dining on the terraces, admiring the view.
In addition to our Airbnb with its stunning terrace where we drank wine one night, many of Valparaíso’s best restaurants have terraces with views of the surrounding city and bay. We went twice to Hotel Fauna on Cerro Alegre – the second time after we were unable to visit Oda Pacífico which has its own fantastic view.
My tip to have this experience? Wander until you find a restaurant with a great view and a nearby restaurant. Some of the tallest, popular hills, will offer you the most and best options. Ask for a table on the terrace. Order a Pisco sour and the catch of the day. ¡Buon provecho!
Where to Stay in Valparaíso
When it comes to accommodation, you’ve got reasonable options in Valparaíso. The main amenities I would consider are location (how steep are the hills you’ll have to climb?!) and view (how good are the views, and can you get a room with one?). With that in mind, here are some options.
Hotels in Valparaíso
If you prefer to stay in a hotel, here are some options. Keep in mind that I didn’t stay in any of these properties, but they pass my initial screening for hotels I would stay in.
- Fauna Hotel – This budget-friendly hotel is where we had dinner both nights in Valparaíso, but they also have boutique hotel rooms available from $99 per night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- Zero Hotel – This boutique hotel has a fun modern design, great views from some of the rooms, and a beautiful covered courtyard. Rooms from $142 per night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- Hotel Cirilo Armstrong – Ultra modern rooms with a view make this hotel a great combo of budget-friendly (from a U.S. perspective) and ultra-luxe (from a Chilean perspective). Rooms from $150 per night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
Airbnbs in Valparaíso
My blogger friends and I stayed in an Airbnb during our three-day/two-night visit to Valparaíso. We stayed in this stunning art-museum house from $60 per night.
Honestly, we chose this one primarily for its terrace, which we put to good use for watching the sunrise drinking coffee and after sunset drinking wine. The rest of the house is funky, eclectic, and – we’re pretty darn sure – haunted. However, there’s lots of seismic activity in Valparaíso (like everywhere in Chile), so it’s entirely possible the creaks and movements we heard in the house were strictly due to the house settling.
Be aware it’s a steep climb up to this house, but it’s also near one of the best viewpoints in the city, Plaza Bismarck.
Here are some other great Airbnbs that catch my eye:
- Beautiful Apartment in Cerro Alegre with Ocean Views – A whole apartment for two guests in the city’s most popular neighborhood. From $44 per night; book on Airbnb
- Private Apartment in the Heart of Valparaíso – This whole apartment for up to four guests has a bunch of natural elements and a small terrace with a view. From $38 per night; book on Airbnb
- Studio in the Heart of Concepción – This small studio for two has old design elements but lots of modern touches too. From $59 per night; book on Airbnb
Don’t forget, you can get $40 off your first Airbnb booking if you click this link before you book!
Getting Around Valparaíso
For a city of hills, you might wonder about your options for traveling around the city. Here’s a quick breakdown of how to get around Valparaíso.
Public Transit in Valparaíso
There are two primary transit options in Valparaíso: buses and funiculars. I’ve already discussed funiculars above, and buses only run along the flat roads at the base of Valparaíso’s many hills, along the waterfront.
I didn’t ride, and wasn’t able to figure out, the bus system in Valparaíso, but I got the sense there are buses to everywhere within the city center as well as the surrounding communities. Buses seem to be a primary form of transit for locals going to and from work, and are affordable at up to 410 CLP ($0.60) per ride.
Other Transit Options
If you’re physically able, walking is the best way to get around Valparaíso. However, be aware that there are exceptionally steep hills in some parts of the city – all of us, except Tim who hikes and climbs and is way more physically fit than the average person – were huffing and puffing by the time we reached the top of many.
That said, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of reaching a great viewpoint of Valparaíso from a stairwell or steep alleyway.
A 3-Day Itinerary for Valparaíso
Now that you have all the details, it’s time to put them together. Here’s how I would make the most of three days in Valparaíso.
Day 1: Arrive from Santiago & Explore Cerro Alegre
A morning bus from Santiago will deposit you in Valparaíso by midday. This gives you plenty of time to drop your bags at your hotel or Airbnb, then explore on your own until sunset.
The best place to head on your first day is Cerro Alegre, epicenter of street art and activity for visitors to Valparaíso. Make your first funicular ride aboard Concepción or Reina Victoria, depending on which side of the hill you’re approaching from. Then you can wander up and down the hill, through the colorful alleyways – especially Galvez – until you’re hungry.
Enjoy dinner on the terrace at Hotel Fauna, my top recommended restaurant in Valparaíso. Enjoy the view, and a glass of their Pisco Fauna, a house recipe Pisco Sour.
Day 2: Walking Tour & Visiting Bellavista
While there are walking tours in the afternoon, I recommend booking one in the morning. The 10am “offbeat” Valparaíso walking tour I found (but didn’t go on) is a 2.5- to 3-hour tour and is offered by donation. You’ll see Cerro Alegre’s colorful streets on the tour, which will help you get oriented to Valparaíso’s quirkier side. If you want a more traditional walking tour, that same company offers a Valparaíso highlights walking tour everyday at 3pm.
In the afternoon, ascend Espiritu Santo to the Bellavista hill and neighborhood. This is one of the nicer neighborhoods, and you’ll notice this as you ascend to the top of the hill. After all, it’s called bella vista (beautiful view). You can end the day with an extended dinner and drinks at Oda Pacífico before making your way home.
Day 3: Day Trip to Cachagua or Casablanca Valley
While I’m always a bit hesitant to recommend a day trip when you’re on a short trip to a specific city, I do think that people love seeing the surrounding region and Valparaíso specifically has some really distinct Chilean day trip options.
I’ve detailed both the Casablanca Valley wine tasting and penguin-hiking itinerary in Cachagua in the above section about the best things to do in Valparaíso, so refer to that section if you’re interested in either of these.
In the evening, you can catch a late bus back to Santiago, or stay another night in Valparaíso. Since buses run so frequently, you can even wait to decide after you’ve finished your wine tasting or spent the day hiking along the coast!
Well, that wraps it up! Do you have questions about visiting Valparaíso? Let me know in the comments!