Is a Santiago to Valparaiso day trip doable?
With Valparaiso just 60 miles to the west, a Santiago to Valparaiso day trip is easily done. There are many things to do in Valparaiso, Chile (or “Valpo”, as it’s known to its friends) that could warrant a longer stay, but we only had one day before we had to fly off to Easter Island, and one day is long enough to imbibe the artful vibe of this lovely seaside town.
Why do a Santiago to Valparaiso day trip?
Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a splash of color clinging to cliffs by the ocean. Commonly called the ‘San Francisco of South America’ due to its undulating hills and pastel palate, it also shares the distinction of having a grungy edge to its fanciful façade. But Valparaiso takes things up a notch – the street art that covers its buildings and sidewalks might be considered graffiti in another town; in Valparaiso, it is the very reason you should come and drink in its sights. And after having spent two weeks in the desert in Uyuni and Atacama, we were quite ready for some city life!
Valparaiso has a long history as a port of call for ships attempting to sail around South America. Darwin himself visited Valparaiso in 1834 during his famous voyage on the good ship Beagle, and he was very impressed with the high society of merchants and mine owners he found there at the time. However, Valparaiso lost its lustre with the opening of the Panama Canal, which made sailing ventures so far south unnecessary. But as often happens when commerce moves out, artists move in – and enjoying the fruits of their labor is now the main reason to visit.
Fun with Funiculars
We arrived in the late morning, just as the fog was tiptoeing away on its little cat feet, revealing the sun on its heels. The hills provided great exercise as we climbed up one to catch the view of the harbor. It was very slow walking, not only because of the incline, but also because every few seconds we wanted to take pictures of the incredible masterpieces that were peeking out from the sides of buildings or following us up staircases.
After a morning of stairmaster-like climbing, we thought we’d give ourselves a break, so we took one of the many funiculars up a nearby hill to another vista point. These permanently horizontal cable cars used to be a common sight in Valparaiso, with over twenty-six different lines in operation. Now, no more than eight still ply the hills of the city, lifting tourists up and down Valparaiso’s hills in efficient fashion.
Al Fresco with a view
Our Chilean friend and guide for the day, Valentina, knew of a great little café at Hotel Brighton with an amazing view and even better food. We had delicious local fresh fish as we dined al fresco, and Valentina introduced us to a Chilean summer institution – michelada, which is a refreshing mixture of beer and lemon juice. I can highly recommend it!
After an indulgent lunch, we decided to try to work it off by walking to Pablu Neruda’s home, La Sebastiana. We got lost along the way – an activity in its own right in Valparaiso. When we finally did arrive, we were struck by the house’s quirkiness as well as the amazing views that it commanded down over the hills to the sea. I guess we should expect no less of a man like Naruda, who was a poet come diplomat come Nobel Laureate (1972).
Neruda’s poet’s soul is certainly on evidence in the way he designed his house. It reminded me a bit of what you would expect Pippi Longstocking’s house Villa Villacula to look like if it were plunked down in South America. There were playful, nautical themes woven throughout, and a living room with a central fireplace and a well-stocked bar where Neruda used to dress up as the bartender himself and serve his guests. This, coupled with the views, made me want to curl up with a good book and never leave. The house is worth the visit regardless of your interest (or lack thereof) in Neruda’s writings simply for the architecture itself. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, or else this post would be full of them!
We were tempted to go on a harbor cruise after all our walking the hills – it would have been lovely to feel the breeze in our faces as we viewed Valpo’s fanciful architecture from the sea. However, we needed to get back to Santiago in time for dinner with friends, so it was not in the cards. Luckily, my friend Mary Beth was able to make this trip, and she talks about it in her post here so you can get the experience all the same.
Vina Del Mar
On our way back to Santiago, we stopped by Vina Del Mar, which was the Marin County to Valparaiso’s Haight Ashbury. A beautiful town stretching along the coast, it reminded me more of Santa Monica than South America. A stroll along the beach and a stop in a little café along the way is definitely worth it if you have the time to restore your equillibrium after the grit and excitement of Valparaiso.
Kelly’s Top Tips for Valparaiso
- There are many tours from Santiago to Valparaiso that one can take, as well as buses to Valparaiso from Santiago
- It takes about 90 minutes to get from Santiago to Valparaiso by bus/car
- Buses depart about every 15 minutes, so it is easy to find transportation
- Here is the best guide I’ve found for step-by-step instructions to get there
- If you do decide to drive, parking in Valparaiso can be a bit difficult, especially on the weekend, so be sure to scout out a parking garage in advance if you drive
- Be sure to ride a funicular while you’re there!