You can’t visit Valparaiso without exploring its not so beautiful parts. The continual juxtaposition between old and new, pretty and ugly, peeling paint and brilliant works of art, give Valparaiso a fascinating contradictory twist and feel. Of course, it can be difficult to ignore some of the unpleasantries of a big port city such as the rundown, falling apart streets, the garbage, the sticky smells, the dog poop and the residual grime. But this is what makes Valparaiso all the more interesting.
One such place where you will truly see some of Valparaiso’s startling contrasts is in El Plan (the commercial district) and the port where the history of Valparaiso began centuries ago. Today, it remains the central hub of activity with congestion, traffic, noise, dirt and all the things you’d expect to find in a major seaport. This area is remarkably different than the lovely Cerro Alegre and Concepción just a ten to twenty minute walk away. Yet it is a must-see part of town in order to get a full understanding of Valparaiso.
As we headed down to El Plan after lunch in Cerro Alegre, we followed Monte Alegre once again to Paseo Yugoslavo where we could have taken our first ascensor (funicular) but the Ascensor El Peral was closed for repairs. Instead, we descended a long series of concrete stairs down to Plaza Sotomayor, the most important historical square in the city which features several impressive buildings as well as the Monumento a Los Héroes de Iquique that dates back to 1886.
Once we passed through the square, we entered the heart and soul of El Plan which was filled with businesspeople, small shops, shady looking characters, rundown buildings, and a darker shade of graffiti which somewhat matched the seedy feel of this place. We were told to hide all valuables and be aware of pick-pocketers. I had heard a few stories about petty theft so I heeded the warning from our hotel and kept my camera tucked hidden inside my jacket. We followed Serrano Bustamante to the Plaza Wheelwright seated below Paseo 21 de Mayo on the hills above.
I shot a few of these pictures along the way with my handy iPhone and included them to give you a feel for the area. The bright sunny colors of the street art in the more prosperous hills of Valparaiso seem to have disappeared and instead the art is slightly sinister feeling and dark. I found the art moody and reflective of some of the struggles of this area that has fallen a little off the economic wayside.
Cerro Artillería, located in the southwestern hill of Valparaiso, received its name and prominence as a strategic military lookout area and base. Atop the hill is the Paseo 21 de Mayo, a square that has the best view of Valparaiso’s working port in the entire city and also is home to the fantastic Museo Naval y Maritimo for those who want to learn more about the city’s maritime past. I loved this museum and found it definitely worth a visit.
To reach the top of Cerro Artillería, you can either walk directly up the hill or else take an ascensor. We decided that It was time to take our first ride on an ascensor and quite honestly judging by the looks of it I was a little bit nervous. Built in 1892, the Ascensor Artillería is one of a handful of ancient funiculars transporting the people of Valparaiso for over one hundred years. Given Valparaiso’s steep terrain and multitude of hills (there are 42 cerros in all), these fascinating cars are part of the protected cultural heritage of Valparaiso and are considered historic monuments. They also save the legs and knees from all the hard walking.
We arrived swiftly at the top, and walked over to check out the lookout of the port below. Quite frankly, it was absolutely fascinating to see the scope and size of Valparaiso’s port. Containers were being loaded one on top of the other by bright blue cranes. The buzz and noise of the port could be heard all the way on top of the hill. I could only imagine what this must have looked like hundreds of years ago as it developed and prospered into one of South America’s most important ports.
After checking out the foggy views of the port, it was time to head back to our hotel in Cerro Alegre. Our fabulous staff at Casa Galos had given a recommended route to follow and we stuck with it since it had given us a lot of success doing our own self-guided walking tour. Instead of taking the ascensor back down, we followed an old-crumbling walkway down which was filled with art.
View of El Plan from above as we headed down.
To reach the walkway, we walked a short distance north of the ascensor station and hung a left. The street was just as I had expected. Uneven, rundown and of course filled with art on every free inch.
By three o’clock we were back at our hotel for a short break before checking out the last neighborhood of our trip: Cerro Bellavista. My head was spinning from so much eye candy yet I was determined to do Valparaiso right. I would see and capture as much street art as possible.
What an incredibly colorful visit!
Thanks Lulu! Glad you enjoyed!
I had no idea Valparaiso was so big! I would really enjoy all those long walks all over the city and hope I can get back to Chile someday to check this place out.
Yes it is huge and Vina del Mar is actually at the far north end, another city that is known as the “garden city”. We didn’t make it there as were so busy the three days we were there.
I can see why your head would be spinning with so much beautiful art.
Yes! Not only taking so many photographs but then getting home and realizing I had so many and wasn’t sure how to use them. Valparaiso really is unlike any place I’ve ever been. Without the art, it would be perhaps a place people would pass by but the art gives it so much to see, it is quite astounding.
This post illustrates beautifully one of the things I love most about your as a traveler: You truly *experience* places by going beneath the touristy veneer. You also always seem to find beauty in these places, even when you describe them as “not so beautiful.” Great post!
Oh thanks! What a nice compliment! I guess I really want to learn about a place and know it. I felt like we got a great feel of Valparaiso. And yes I always look for the beauty in the world. A good way to be! 🙂
You have done a wonderful job of capturing the feel of the city Nicole. The street art is amazing. How long were you and your dad in the city?
Thanks LuAnn! So we arrived mid-day so did a partial walk that afternoon, had one full day and then left the next morning around 1 pm. That was plenty for us and all you truly need. If you don’t have a hotel, I loved our place, Casa Galos. It is lovely and located in a nice quiet street with walkable dining options.
Thanks Nicole! We were thinking 2-3 days and you’ve confirmed it. I will check out Casa Galos.
Also, make sure to visit Pablo Neruda’s house which is a museum in Bellavista and I liked the Naval Museum as mentioned in this post (but I didn’t write on it). Other than the street art and these museums, you will have had your fill and be ready to head to your next town!
I have put together some spreadsheets of most of the areas we hope to visit, along with sights to see. I had the Pablo Neruda house on the list and will add the Naval Museum. Thanks again for the tips. It is greatly appreciated.
Awesome LuAnn! I am so grateful that my tips and posts have been helpful! I always wonder if anyone reads them and to know that I’ve helped you makes it all worth the effort! 🙂
You are helping us a lot!
Makes me smile!
Great post! There are many sides to a city and you are showing them well. The amount of street art is almost overwhelming!
Thank you Marilyn! Yes it is overwhelming! After two days I took at least 500 pictures of street art! I have never been anywhere like this before.
This was a super interesting post as I knew nothing about Valparaisos and you did a nice job describing the contrasts in the city. I love the different large murals, which remind me of the city of Lisbon. I particularly like the mural with the two children with the blue faces. Something so memorable about that one!
Thanks so much Peta! Yes Valparaiso is amazing! I haven’t been to Lisbon but would love to go. Thanks for stopping by!
Wow! This is the first time I am hearing about Valparaisos and it seems so outstanding. Those murals are definitely worth checking. Adding Valparaisos to my bucket list thanks to your post!
Wonderful! Thanks and feel free to check out my other posts on Valparaiso. It is a great city!