When I had a few days off between my stay in Santiago and flying to the Atacama, I knew immediately I wanted to spend it on the coast. From Santiago, there are basically two options: Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. The majority of people I talked to agreed that Valparaiso is a lot more interesting, so I decided to stay there during my four days at the coast.
The best way to see Valparaiso: take a walking tour
When my roommate in Santiago recommended a walking tour to me, I didn’t have to think twice. I always love doing those anyway. And the one in Valparaiso didn’t disappoint. We spend a lot of time walking up and down Cerro Concepcion, the hill where most of the restaurants and hostels are located. We visited the harbour, rode a funicular, and got a lot of recommendations on where to eat and drink.
Most importantly, our guide pointed out to us all the best street art. It’s all over the Valparaiso, and it constantly changes and evolves. Murals I admired on this visit might be gone in a few months or a year, replaced by some other work of art. Our guide showed us some of the most impressive ones and explained their meaning to us because a lot of them do have a political or social message. You really cannot go to Valparaiso without spending some time searching for the coolest street art.
The best food in Valparaiso
I had some really outstanding food in Valparaiso. Some of the best are found on Cerro Concepcion. There’s loads of good cafes here, as well as ice-cream shops. But you also find great restaurants, Chilean as well as international ones.
However, my favourite place was an empanada shop our guide took us to on the walking tour. They offer 80 different varieties of freshly made empanadas. I ended up eating there three times during my four days stay, just to try as many versions as I could. My favourite was the empanada with chicken, cheese, and plums. Delicious!
Getting down to the water
Valparaiso has a pretty big harbour. After all, that was why the town was originally built. It started as a fisherman’s village and from there spread out and grew to what it is today.
In the harbour, you can do a half-hour boat tour for 3000 Pesos (about 4 Euro). Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s also cheap, and you get some cool views of Valparaiso from the water. You also cruise close by the container harbour and by the navy ships. And if you’re lucky, you see some seals enjoying the sun on one of the pontoons. Not bad for half an hour, I’d say!
Best views over Valparaiso
Talking about views of the city, as Valparaiso basically consists of hills, there are quite a few places you can get a great panorama from. My favourites were the Sea Museum quarter and next to the Palacio Baburizza on Monte Alegre.
Viña del Mar
I did not completely miss out on Viña del Mar after all. Both cities are only about 20 minutes apart and plenty of buses connect the two. A bus trip there won’t cost you more than 50 cents to 1 Euro, so I decided to spend a day over in Viña.
I noticed immediately that Viña has a very different feel to it than Valparaiso. The latter is very hipster, colourful and artsy, but also somewhat messy and dirty. Viña del Mar is a lot cleaner and tidier, but also has much less character. It looks like any other beach town, really.
Unsurprisingly, those beaches are the main reason people come here. Valparaiso doesn’t really have a lot of beaches, because of the harbour. Viña del Mar has plenty. The water here is very cold, even in summer, so you need to be quite tough to go swimming. But I loved just walking along the beach and enjoying being at the ocean.
In the afternoon I went to the town centre and walked around Viña. The main street is very busy and full of tourists, but go to the other side of the river and it gets a bit quieter. It’s here that you find lots of good and affordable opportunities to eat, as well.
In the end, I liked both Viña del Mar and Valparaiso in their own way. Depending on whether you are after sightseeing and culture or more after relaxing at the beach, one or the other may be more fitting for you. Either way, remember they are only twenty minutes apart, so no reason why you can’t get a taste of both!
Have you been to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar? Which one did you like better, and why? Share in the comments!
I am from New Zealand and am planning my South America trip for next year, beginning in Santiago and going North through Valparaiso, Antofogasta, Atacama then on to Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.
I will probably try and get through Chile in less than 10 days if possible, just because I know how expensive it is.
Do you have any money saving tips there?
Also, how easy is it to travel north from Valparaiso? Are there any other notable stops along the way, or just La Semana and Atacama?
Hi Gagan, sounds like an exciting trip! Travelling North from Valparaiso shouldn’t be a problem, there are plenty of bus companies operating there. There are some nice places north of Atacama, like Iquique, if you’re heading further north through Chile and not straight into Bolivia from San Pedro de Atacama. Coming from New Zealand, Chile shouldn’t actually be all that expensive in comparison 😉
Happy planning and enjoy the trip,