- Santiago – Valparaiso
It’s just 1.5 hrs between Santiago and Valparaiso so I arrived shortly after departing Santiago. The tourist information guy was super super helpful and suggested I get the ‘612’ bus to my hostel as it was most “interesting” through the hills. Boy he was not wrong! The bus was like being on a rollercoaster. They fly through the tiny winding roads, that absurdly, were two-way. The amount of abrupt stops, close call crashes and falling off my seat moments there were, I just lost count of! But the view out across the port and ocean was stunning, as he had said it would be.
I got dropped off in Cerro Alegre, where my hostel (Karamba) was. Ben, an English guy who did Geography at UWE, checked me in and gave me some tips to the city. I also met his local friend Aderne, who played drums and was studying music in Valparaiso. Between them, they could offer a fair bit of advice about the city and they also wanted to hear about my experience of Carnaval.
My first activity was to get to the bottom of the hill via an asensor (a lift/funicular) and go to find the ice cream shop, ‘Emporio de la Rosa’. It was meant to be in the Top 25 ice cream shops worldwide and I really fancied ice cream!
The asensor was an experience in itself. Valparaiso is a city built across 45 hills, with just 4 main streets on the flat land at the coastline. Almost all the houses are up the hillside built at alarming gradients. There are 4 ways you can access these hills, which effectively form a neighbourhood each. The first is an asensor, the second a crazy bus, the third is a collectivo which is a kind of shared taxi thing, and lastly, you can walk up lots of stairs! Asensors are most commonplace and cost just $100 Chilean pesos (12.5p).
The ice cream shop was located just one block from where my nearest asensor came down to so that was easy to find. Again, my “no chocolate 2017” limited the selection, but I’m still so grateful for dulce de leche! I paired it with a kind of mint/raspberry thing and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also met a group of English speaking travellers here who were staying at another hostel. I didn’t learn their names but had a really nice bonding session over ice cream whilst they told me about their day at the beach and other travel adventures.
That night I used my leftover potatoes to make roast veg and potato salad for dinner, then sat and watched a Friends marathon with two other girls in my hostel. It was another much needed testing night and although Valparaiso is known for its bohemian nightlife, I still couldn’t fathom the idea of drinking alcohol or partying just yet. Whatever happened to the party girl in me? I think I got left somewhere in Rio!
I didn’t try to get up early for anything the next day, despite it being my only day in the city. Turns out that I’d missed the majority of walking tours in doing so as they all start at 10am (honestly, why such an ungodly hour when they’re made for the traveller types?). However, the only tour which took you in to the local neighbourhood and UNESCO-recognised heritage area of Valparaiso didn’t leave until midday. Perfect for me!
After stopping at Starbucks, I met Esteban my guide and the other 4 people in my tour group in Plaza Serrano. Turns out that around that square was the naval base, ministry of culture in Chile, and the first Hotel in Valparaiso. I had no idea that the city was so pioneering, although largely the fault of Europeans. Turns out that Valparaiso was the first stop for European sailers on their way to California during the Gold Rush, pre Panama Canal. Because of this, the naval base is built in a French renaissance style, the hotels Victorian and many other European influences obvious. This includes the names of the two local, rival football teams, Everton and Wanderers!
Esteban knew his stuff, and I suppose he should do considering he’d lived in Valparaiso his entire life. He showed us many street art murals (I’ve become quite accustomed to street art in SA); Valparaiso held an international street art festival a few years ago and is known globally for it. There is hardly a corner untouched with spray paint which produces such incredible colours and exciting images to see when you walk around the place.
The tour took us through the main port areas, where the sailors stayed, local shops and an original war-time shop, before heading up in to another Cerro for an incredible panoramic view over the city. I was so impressed with Esteban and the city in general and was sad that I couldn’t stay to experience it longer. However, Chile was expensive and I needed to keep moving to get someplace cheaper!
Before my bus, I showered, prepped 4 meals (I had 24 hours on a bus ahead of me), and said goodbye to everyone at the hostel. Rather than take the same crazy bus journey back to the station, I chose this time the asensor and trolley, another form of public transport well used by the locals. I felt I’d done Valparaiso the proper way, seeing its heritage, following as the locals do, and appreciating the place for what it was. Cerro Alegre and the other one near it (which I forget the name of) are undoubtedly more touristic, and I did swing through on my way to visit other areas, but I’m glad I saw the city how I did.