You’d be hard-pressed to find a city in Chile, or possibly all of South America for that matter, with as much personality as gritty Valparaíso. A city for dreamers, artists, wanderers, and any traveller with a hankering for an offbeat tune or a mesmerizing story.
Once a major port town for ships seeking refuge after crossing the Magellan Strait, Valparaíso saw its importance crumble after the 1914 creation of the Panama Canal. However, wayward souls have continued to find their way to this charismatic city and have worked to maintain Valparaíso’s reputation as a place for those once lost at sea.
Comprised of 42 hills, Valparaíso, or Valpo as it is known locally, is a tangled mess of colour. The houses themselves are a mishmash of explosive hues, yet it is the graffiti that decorates nearly every street that really steals the show. Local artists have created impressive murals stirring up creativity, imagination, and a passion for photography.
Local businesses are equally innovative and give voice to the progressive nature of the city. Vegan coops where communal eating is the norm, fantastic walking tours of the city directed by informative and entertaining “Wally” guides, as well as whimsical transportation options such as slides and old school funiculars. No one would ever get away with claiming that eccentric Valpo lacks character, that’s for sure!
Where to stay in Valparaíso
There are a variety of fun and friendly hostels in Valparaíso and they are all a bit quirky, just like the city itself! A dorm bed will cost you around $12-17 US. For the extra few dollars expect a slightly more lavish breakfast and some trendy interior design. Here are our favourite picks in town!
Top 5 Backpacker Hostels in Valparaíso
La Casa Azul Hostel: With dorm beds from $12 US per night, this hostel gets rave reviews. Dorm beds have privacy curtains, plug sockets and private reading lights, which is nice. More like a family house than a hostel, the ‘blue house’ enjoys a central location and great views over the city. Free breakfast is included and there are lots of common areas where you can hang out and chat with other travellers. Plus, the friendly staff make this place feel like a home from home.
Voyage Hostel: A fun and sociable place to base yourself in Valparaíso, Voyage Hostel costs just $14 US per night for a dorm bed. The hostel is clean and comfortable with a large communal area and above all, the staff are super friendly and available to help you with anything that you might need. They organise regular hostel activities and events and their rooftop terrace is a great place to grab a beer and chew the fat with fellow travellers.
La Joya Hostel: A super cool place to stay in a super cool city. Located very close to bars, restaurants, cafés and a local arts and crafts market, this hostel will suit arty and party types! With a superb rooftop terrace with amazing views over the city, free lavish breakfast spread, fast free WIFI, relaxing and trendy decor and plenty of travellers to mingle with you may find it hard to leave! Highly recommended. Dorm beds start at $17 US per night which is a little more expensive than most hostels in Valpo, but worth it.
Casa Volante Hostal: Casa Volante is one of the most popular places in town and for good reason. With large communal areas, an attached café and bar, cosy rooms and a friendly, sociable atmosphere, this hostel makes you relax and feel at home from the get-go. There’s a communal kitchen for cooking, outdoor spaces, a table football table, you name it. A free breakfast buffet is included in the price of a dorm which starts at $17 US.
Hostal Po: A stylishly designed hostel with murals on the interior walls to match the graffitied streets of Valparaíso. The hostel has a lovely rooftop terrace complete with hammocks, perfect for chilling and chatting with fellow backpackers. They often host events such as communal BBQs to allow people to mix and mingle. With clean, comfortable beds, free breakfast and friendly staff, the hostel is hard to fault at $15 US per night.
Not found what you’re looking for? Check out more accommodation options in Valparaíso here!
Top 9 Things to do in Valparaíso:
1. Join a Walking Tour
We can’t recommend the Tips for Tours guys enough. Charismatic, informative, and quirky guides will take you on three-hour tours around their beloved city. We suggest joining a tour early on in your visit as Valpo’s sporadic layout can make it somewhat hard to navigate. These guys will not only help you get a lay of the land, but they will also explain the history that has shaped Valpo’s quirky streets, and point out some of the cities best spots!
2. Take a Harbour Boat Cruise
Boats from the harbourfront will take you on a quick (40 minute) spin along Valpo’s coast. A great place to spend a sunny day, take in the impressive cityscape from a new angle, and possibly peek at a couple of sea lions basking nearby. Costs 3,000 pesos per person.
3. Visit the Home of Poet, Pablo Neruda
Located up in the hills is this Nobel prize for literature winning poet’s home, known as La Sebastiana. We found the house itself somewhat underwhelming, but the walk there is stunning, as is the view once you are at the top! Costs 5,000 pesos per person to enter.
4. Ride a Funicular
All over the city lie these quirky ways to get up the surrounding hills. Essentially an outdoor elevator, it’s obligatory to ride at least one, saving your legs the hassle of scrambling up the hills. At one time, there were 30 of these funiculars across the city, and now only 16 exist, which have been declared ‘National Monuments of Chile’. They were constructed by the British in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (The earliest one was built in 1893.)
5. Get lost
As anyone who comes to Valpo will tell you, get ready to walk! It’s imperative to take to the hills, arbitrarily pick a direction, and get perfectly lost. You’ll come across quirky treasures from boutique art shops to quirky cafés and amazing views guaranteed.
6. Eat a Chorillana
This is Chile’s most decadent dish and one that has been described as a heart attack on a plate. Chips, meat, sausages, cheese and onions topped with a fried egg… it’s pretty disgusting, oh but it’s soooo good!
7. Marvel over the Street Art
It has to be said, Valparaíso is perhaps the best city in South America for incredible street art. Your average stroll can turn into a day at the art gallery as you take in the works by all of the talented artists who have contributed to making Valparaíso a unique and creative city. The Cerro Palanco Graffiti Barrio is the most well-known of all the painted neighbourhoods and can be reached via a (you guessed it) funicular!
8. Weekend Flea Market / Wednesday Farmers Market
On Saturday and Sunday on Avenida Argentina, you’ll find Valparaíso’s much-loved flea market selling second-hand bits and bobs from clothes to antiques and technical goods. Here you’ll see the Porteños passion for recycling and reusing. On Wednesday and Saturday, there’s also a great farmers market on the same street.
9. Ride the Rollercoaster “O” Bus
Also called the 612 bus, locals refer to this bus as the ‘craziest ride in the city’. Winding through the hills above Valpo, it’s the fastest (and scariest) way to see as much of Valpo as you can in the least amount of time possible!
Also read our article: Why I Fell in Love with Valparaíso, Chile.
Getting to Valparaíso
Located just an hour and a half from Chile’s capital of Santiago, buses to Valparaíso are frequent and leave from the main bus terminal every 15 minutes.
Places to Head Next:
Santiago: Chile’s sprawling capital is full of culture, impressive gastronomy, and buzzing nightlife. A trip here will undoubtedly help you get to the heart of this country.
Vino del Mar: This beachside resort town is only 20 minutes away, yet feels like an entirely different world. Head here for sophistication, high-rise hotels, and a great slice of sand to sun.
Patagonia: Head south to Chile’s land of ice. Waddle with penguins, marvel at massive glaciers and hike for as long as you desire.