Valpo, as it’s known on the street, is a port city of around 300,000 people, covered in graffiti. Sounds bloody horrible, right? Wrong. Surprisingly, it’s street art and brightly coloured buildings have earned the place the right to call itself a UNESCO world heritage site, and its quirky mix of cobbled streets, death-defyingly steep hills and stunning views make this place a popular stop off on most people’s tours of Chile. We only stayed for a couple of days, so we can’t claim to know the place well, but here are a few hints.
- Getting to Valpo is a piece of cake. It’s connected from Santiago by very frequent buses – we’re talking every 5-10 minutes or so from early morning to late night. From Santiago airport the easiest way is to go to Pajaritos terminal, a 15-20 minute, CHP$1700 bus, then a 1-and-a-half-hour bus on to Valpo for around CHP$3000. It is easier than you think it will be.
- In Valpo itself, there is an extensive but somewhat confusing bus network. The buses are very small and don’t really appear to interconnect all that well, although that is probably just touristic ignorance. Your accommodation will be able to explain them to you better than I can. There is also the train, which runs along the front to Vina del Mar, which is frequent and reasonable, although you have to purchase a travel card for around CLP$1000 before you can use it. Multiple people can share one card. Lastly, taxis and collectivos are everywhere and pretty reasonable – a private cab from the bus station to the old town will set you back CLP$5000-6000, and Uber is similarly priced.
- Also on the getting around front, as the hills are quite fearsome in places, you can take the fun little ascensores. The funicular style elevators cost virtually nothing, around CLP$100-200, and save your legs the pain of another colossal staircase. Unfortunately, quite a few have fallen into disrepair so prepare for the disappointment of getting to one only to find it closed.
- There is street art everywhere in Valpo. Literally, every street is covered in paint, whether good or bad. Most walls, staircases, squares, benches, lampposts – everything – are brightly coloured and interesting. As a result, Valpo is one of the most photogenic cities I have ever been to. Some of the best art is found in the Florida area, down to the open air museum.
- Vina del Mar, a picturesque but touristy seaside town, is 20 minutes away by train. It’s worth a trip for a beach day if you have had your cultural fill.
- As with many artistic cities, Valpo has a very bohemian feel to it, especially in the old town. Although this comes with many pluses, great food, bars, coffee, art – it also brings its downsides. Public drinking is common, there is litter and broken glass all over the place, especially in the narrow streets and stairwells, and petty crime is quite common. Use your common sense, especially with valuables after dark, and avoid the Puerto area at night.
- The food choices are pretty endless, but we highly recommend cosy Gente Feliz for very reasonable Chilean food (approx. CLP$6000-7000 for a main). They normally have a traditional Flamengo show every Saturday night, which requires a small contribution. If you want a table on a weekend, get there no later than 10pm as the place fills up fast. Another great lunch spot is Café Plaza Moro, just down the road from La Sebatiana in Florida. Their empanadas are amazing (CLP1500-2000, two will do nicely) and the staff are insanely friendly.