“Valparaiso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you”. – Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

One of the most famous Chilean poets of all time, Pablo Neruda spent a big part of his life living in the winding hills of Valparaiso at his house called La Sebastiana. Perched up high above city, La Sebastiana afforded Neruda sweeping views of the sea and bustling world below which inspired Neruda with much of his great work. Located in the neighborhood of Cerro Bellavista, an area favored by artists and writers, La Sebastiana (which is now a museum) is just one reason why Cerro Bellavista is worth a visit.

Cerro Bellavista is also home to a large, fascinating collection of street art including the Museo a Cielo Abierto, a labyrinth collection of outdoor murals painted in the 1990s by various Latin American artists with the goal of reinventing the neighborhood. You could easily spend a morning or afternoon just checking out Cerro Bellavista as there is much to see and it is quite different from Cerro Alegre and Concepción.

We headed over to Cerro Bellavista on the afternoon of our last day in Valparaiso. The staff at our hotel told us we could take the city bus (local bus O or 612) from Cerro Alegre or we could simply walk. Given my love of exploring a city on foot, we decided to walk and once again I’m glad we did as we were able to get an in-depth and more personal view of daily life in Valparaiso.

As we left our hotel in Cerro Alegre we headed slightly north uphill to the start of Avenida Alemania and followed its winding path along the hills. It was the first time that we were clearly in a residential neighborhood and it felt good. There were no tourists walking around this part of town, toting cameras and taking selfies. Just people going about their day-to-day business.

Along the way, I noticed that even the houses, concrete walls and garages were painted and decorated in brilliant art. Once again, Valparaiso did not cease to amaze me. Art every single step of the way bringing life to a rather messy, run-down city.

Some of the street art painted on residential garages and walls…

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Although these works of art are not as well-known as some of the more popular masterpieces located down below in the trendy Cerro Alegre and Concepción, they resonated with me. I wondered the true meaning and symbolism behind each piece. 

Some of my favorites along the way…

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As we continued along Avendia Alemania, I craned my neck to look up even further into Valparaiso’s steep hills.  It was hard not to miss where the illegal homes were built upon the very tops of the hills without basic services such as running water, electricity and paved streets. It was the first sign of poverty I’d seen in Chile which is one of South America’s most prosperous countries yet still has its issues like the rest.

Along the way, I also looked down to capture these shots of Valparaiso on a foggy early summer day. It was here, seeing the city from high above that Pablo Neruda’s famous words rang true, ““Valparaiso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you’ve never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you”.  

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Street Art, Valparaiso, Chile

Like most of the street art in Valparaiso, the Museo a Cielo Abierto began as a social and cultural project to try to revitalize a deteriorating neighborhood and bring it back to life with beauty, art, and tourism. Sadly, many of the pieces (there are twenty in all) are in poor shape and I found a lot of Cerro Bellavista to be need of fixing up. Instead of the “Happy Hippy” population that gravitates in Cerro Alegre at Templeman street, a lot of the stairways and walls were filled with ugly graffiti and unsavory characters hanging out drinking during the day. It is not a place I’d want to explore at night. Unfortunately more work and investment needs to be down to fully reinvent the neighborhood. Parts of it made me feel a little sad. 

There were some beautiful treasures of inspiration around Cerro Bellavista. Here are some of my favorites.

Cerro Bellavista, Valparaiso

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By the end of the day I was ready to leave Valparaiso. My mind was overstimulated with all the art and it was time to go. All in all, we spent about two full days in Valparaiso and it felt like the perfect amount. We had done everything we had set out to do and were ready to move on. Perhaps the perpetual fog, grayness of the sky and rundown state of the city was also getting to me as well. I often wonder what the city would be like without the street art for the art is what truly makes it special. Hopefully the increase in tourism will help stimulate the local economy and bring in even more improvements to Valparaiso. Much work needs to be done to preserve the crumbling streets and walls of this UNESCO World Heritage City. Every dollar counts.

Author’s note: I hope you’ve enjoyed my series on Chile. This is my last post on our trip. If you would like to read my other posts click here.Stay tuned as I’m on the move again soon! Can’t wait to share my new travel stories and adventures.  

19 comments

  1. Thanks for the tour, Nicole. Loved seeing the beautiful artwork. Our Antarctic cruise left from Valparaiso, but much to my dismay, we had no time to explore, as our taxi from Santiago arrived only just in time for boarding. 😯

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! If you ever go back to Chile, you will have to make sure to stop in Valparaiso for a day or so to see the art. Antarctica is a dream of mine! 🙂

  2. It’s always sad to see one of these urban renewal projects that doesn’t quite get off the ground isn’t it? But I hope that in time Cerro Bellavista will grow into its promising name. In the meantime, it sure was a privilege to tag along with you on this adventure!

    1. Oh thanks! I know I had a lot of street art posts but I really wanted to give people a feel of what Valparaiso is like. I know that tourism has been huge so the more that people come to see the art, the more rebuilding they will do.

  3. I never saw a more wonderful collection of street art, Nicole, but there’s always a fine line between the artful and the pure down at heel and unloved. A city of that size is always going to have it’s poor areas, however wrong that may be. The graffiti capital of the Algarve has a good percentage of poverty. Street art is often a protest, isn’t it?

    1. Thanks for the nice message Jo! Yes very true. I really enjoyed doing the street art walks on our own yet next time I do one I’d like to go with a guide who is knowledgeable on the history and meaning of the art. It would be great to gain a deeper understanding of it all and yes it is definitely often a political statement. Thanks for following me around on all these street art walks!

  4. I’m amazed you saw all this in only two days! I agree with your comment that exploring a city on foot is the way to see all kinds of hidden surprises, plus you can stop for photos. Many cities in Mexico have a double decker “turi-bus” and we always go on it first to get an idea of the city, then start walking!
    Oaxaca (as I’m sure other cities in Latin America do) also has areas of people building shacks on the hillsides with no services.
    Thanks for the tour of Valparaiso!

    1. Marilyn, I’m so glad you like my series on Valparaiso. My poor dad, we just kept walking all day long and into the early evenings. He is a great travel companion! Yes seeing a place on foot is my preferred method. I really loved it. Thanks again for reading and commenting! I have yet to make it to Oaxaca or Alaska! Can you believe it?

  5. Love that Neruda quote! It certainly speaks to the look and feel of the city that you have captured. I would love to speak with the artists and learn the message they were attempting to convey. It is an interesting question that stripped of the street art, what would Valpo look like? I imagine pretty grim. Looking forward to seeing it for myself. I cannot thank you enough for writing these posts Nicole. I have literally cut and pasted sections of your posts into a document that I can carry with me when we are in Valpo. It almost feels like cheating, but given all the time we have dedicated to planning this trip, I am so very grateful for your assistance. Big hugs to you!

    1. Yay, I’m so happy LuAnn! You made my day as I spent a lot of time and effort in these posts and knowing they are useful makes me feel very good! As for a guide, although I liked doing it on my own if I go back I’d try to find a personal local tour guide – not someone who does groups as there are plenty – but a local who could explain the history and meaning behind a lot of the art. I’m sure the hotel would have a great recommendation of the right person. There is Tours for Tips but that is a group tour. I would highly recommend it! Best of luck and can’t wait to follow you!

      1. Thanks so much Nicole. I will check with our hotel about a local guide as I would love to learn more about the local history and that artwork.

  6. I love tos color explosion and hope that Cerro Bellavista can find its footing and prosper. I very much enjoyed traveling Chile with you and am curious to know where you are going to take me next.

    1. Oh thanks Lisa! I am actually preparing to leave for Kenya in two days! Post coming soon with details! 🙂

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