Things to Do in Valparaíso
Hailed as the San Francisco of South America, Valparaíso’s Historic Quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its beautiful buildings, street art, and steep hills. Visit to admire the historic architecture and take a vintage funicular up the summits of the cerros, where you’ll find trendy cafes and bars.
Perhaps the most scenic of Valparaiso’s popular cerros, Cerro Concepcion is home to quaint shops, unique art galleries and picturesque views of the stunning Chilean countryside—as well as a whole lot of rolling hills. On clear days visitors can gaze out over the dunes of Concon and even see as far as far off Vina.
The climb to Cerro Concepcion may be steep, but quiet cafes perfect for people watching offer up the ideal place for travelers to catch their breath. Afterwards, the hidden side streets, colorful murals decorating old building walls and spectacular views offer up enough reason to wander slowly from the heights of Valparaiso Heaven back to the reality down below.
Travelers who want a taste of culture and local life will find what they seek on a stroll through the Paseo Gervasoni. This popular walking street winds through massive murals of colorful art depicting images of daily life, portraits of famous Chileans and abstract drawings as well. Visitors say it is an outdoor Mecca where travelers can soak up brilliant local artwork while they also soak up the sun.
Incredible views of the crystal blue bay provide the perfect opportunity to watch ships sail in and out of the bustling harbor and a variety of restaurants, cafes and bars offer outdoor seating that’s ideal for people-watching.
This one-stop Valparaiso destination is home to plenty of Chilean history, art and culture. As a result, travelers will find lots to explore on a visit to Plaza Sotomayor. Named after Rafael Sotomayor, this popular city square lies in the middle of the city’s historic district. Visitors can get up close to the Chilean Navy headquarters, and pay homage to fallen sailors at the plaza’s central monument dedicated to the Battle of Iquique. Afterwards travelers can make a stop at the National Council of Culture and the Arts before wandering to the nearby Customs House or Estacion Puerto, where commuter trains arrive and depart from other Chilean cities.
With close proximity to the Pacific Ocean and a unique mix of clay and sandy soils, the Casablanca Valley is one of Chile’s top wine-producing regions, despite its relatively new arrival on the scene. The first vines were planted in the mid-1980s—more than 100 years later than some of the country’s other notable wine areas.
The art nouveau Baburizza Palace (Palacio Baburizza)was built in 1916 and got its name after Pascual Baburizza, a Croatian businessman living in Chile, took it as his private home in 1925. Baburizza collected paintings from his travels through Europe, and upon his death, his collection and estate were given to the city of Valparaiso.
Today the Baburizza Palace (Palacio Baburizza)houses the Museo de Bellas Artes, Valparaiso’s fine arts museum. Besides Baburizza’s collection of nineteenth and twentieth century European paintings, the museum also showcases a collection of fine art by prominent Chilean artists. The building itself is worth seeing, even for those otherwise not interested in fine art. A nice little onsite cafe is a great place to relax over a cup of coffee and enjoy the view.
Built in 1883, Ascensor Concepcion is the city’s oldest elevator. Once powered by steam, today this electric ride sends travelers up to the Concepcion Cerro, where they are met with charming cobble streets, colorful homes and a handful of cafes, restaurants and bars that serve lunch, dinner and coffee el fresco.
While travelers warn the ancient carriages can feel a little risky, the view from the top (and energy saved by not making the climb on foot) is worth the jarring ride. The elevator makes regular trips, which means cars are rarely crowded and visitors will likely find one departing almost as soon as they arrive.
Ascensor El Peral may not be Valparaiso’s oldest elevator, but visitors say this classic ascensor offers a quick trip to Cerro Alegre and the city’s Museu de Bellas Artes. The rickety ride saves travelers the trouble of climbing steep—if scenic—slopes. While the trip itself isn’t necessarily picturesque, quiet overlooks offer up a chance to take in the view. Visitors can take another ascensor, the nearby Concepcion—the city’s oldest elevator, down the hills for a slightly different look at the landscapes.
Visitors to the CorporateMuseum of Archaeology and History Francisco Fonck, or the Fonck Museum for short, are greeted by two original moai from Easter Island. The museum was founded in 1937 and named after German physician and archeologist Dr. Francisco Fonck Foveaux, who was based in Chile.
The archaeological collections displayed on the first floor of the museum cover everything from Rapa Nui cultural relics from Easter Island to archaeological items from the cultures of the Peruvian Andes. Natural history takes center stage on the second floor, including an arthropod collection, entomology area and several exhibits on the ecosystem of Easter Island and the Valparaiso coast.
La Sebastiana, up on Cerro Bellavista in Valparaíso, one of famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s houses-turned-museums is well worth the trip for a number of reasons. One, it will get you off the main tourist hills of Cerro Concepción and Cerro Alegre, into a quieter part of Valaparaíso where grandmas come out and sweep the front stoop every morning. The second of course, is the museum itself. It’s set inside a grassy yard, with a café at the entrance. There are descriptive texts available at the front door, and museum docents in every room, as well as an audio guide available in several languages.
Of all of the three houses turned museums that famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda left behind, this is perhaps that one that most encourages you to look out the windows, with multicolored houses perched on the hills all around, and an expansive view of the ocean. Inside the house, there are ocean-related relics like seashells, buoys, collections of books, and carved wooden music boxes, in addition to poems printed throughout the house, that explain in Neruda’s own words, how he felt a need to be close to the ocean, after spending time in landlocked Santiago.
Neruda originally bought the house in the 1960s, and inaugurated it with a big party, similar to the ones he also held every New Years’ Eve to watch the Valparaíso fireworks, which still take place yearly. After his death in 1973, the house suffered some damage, and was later restored, quirky decorations and all, to its current state in the late 1990s, with the help of Telefónica España. The gardens are a pleasant place to sit for a while, and pose sitting on the bench with the Neruda cut-out, a classic La Sebastiana photo.
More Things to Do in Valparaíso
So many of Central and South America’s major cities have winding promenades where locals gather for evening strolls and afternoon festivals. But few are as scenic as Paseo 21 de Mayo in Valparaiso.
This epic walkway climbs through the hills and provides impressive views of city skylines, as well as the colorful homes that make up Cerro Playa Ancha. Visitors can wander through tree-lined neighborhoods and well-kept gardens, relax in a cool covered gazebo or simply spend the day exploring one of the area’s most delightful (and inexpensive) highlights. Paseo 21 de Mayo is the perfect place to capture photos of the epic landscapes and enjoy an afternoon taste of local life.
Former home and final resting place of Pablo Neruda, Isla Negra is one of three house museums dedicated to the beloved Chilean poet’s life and work. Poetry lovers from around the world make the pilgrimage to this museum built to look like a boat and filled with Neruda’s nautical-related knickknacks.
Travelers in search of picturesque beaches, iconic balnearios and extraordinary nightlife will find the ultimate tropical trifecta in the coastal commune of Concón. Home to three of the nation’s top beaches—Playa Negra, Amarilla and Boca, Concón has plenty of options for holiday visitors on a quest for sun and sand.
In addition to idyllic views of the Pacific, travelers will find towering modern buildings alongside old-school concrete apartments lining the streets of Concón. Expansive public gardens, rundown fishing docks and quiet local villages add character and charm to this popular destination. Visitors looking to dance the night away—even long after the sun goes down—can head to Avenida Renaca and Los Pellines—two of the commune’s most lively neighborhoods.
As the second largest port in Chile, Valparaíso Cruise Port is a major destination for cruise liners that now serves as the gateway to nearby Santiago and Viña del Mar. However, hilly Valparaíso is a UNESCO-recognized destination in its own right, with a thriving street art scene, rich history, and proximity to several Chilean vineyards.