El Plan, Valparaiso, Chile

A Stroll Through Valparaiso’s Cerro Bellavista

“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…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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. 


The Step Back in Time at Valparaiso’s Cerro Artillería

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Cerro Concepción, Valparaiso, Chile

A Street Art Lover’s Guide to Valparaiso

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves”. –  Henry David Thoreau

Valparaiso is an art lover’s paradise. Known as one of the best street art cities in the world, its 42 cerros (hills) and labyrinth of rundown streets are graced with vibrant works of art that seem to cover every open space imaginable. There are no walls left untouched or staircases without color.

With so much art to see, it is easy to feel completely overwhelmed. Although there are plenty of excellent tours, it is not too hard to explore Valparaiso’s street art on your own. The downside is you don’t learn about the history and meaning of the art however the upside is that you can take as long as you want and see as much as you want to see. Since I’m generally not a huge fan of tours, we decided to do it on our own and I’m glad we did. Despite having sore feet and getting lost at times, it was worth the effort as we truly saw hundreds of works of art all at our own pace.

Our Tour

After a delightful Chilean breakfast, we left our hotel, Casa Galos at 893 Templeman (near #16 on the map), a little past nine o’clock into the foggy cool morning notorious for early summer in Valparaiso. I was hoping for a bit of Santiago sunshine but alas we would be stuck in the coastal fog once again.  At least we had the brilliant colors of the street art popping off the walls to brighten our day.

With a highlighted map in hand filled with squiggles, circles and stars, we plotted out our course for the day ahead in search of the best street art in Valparaiso.

Marked up map of Valparaiso, Chile

We began at the top of Cerro Alegre and headed down Monte Alegre and back up Miramar to see what art we had missed from the day before (Click here to read about yesterday’s afternoon walk). The city seemed to be asleep up here in the quiet Cerro Alegre neighborhood and you could hardly hear the horns, traffic and congestion down below near the busy port and commercial area in El Plan.

With camera in hand, I began to snap away getting lost in the technicolor of imagination of Valparaiso’s glorious street art. In retrospect, I wish I had done a better job documenting exactly where each work of art was located however I have tried my best to break it down by barrios. 

Cerro Alegre

Streets to hit: Start at the top of Cerro Alegre at Templeman and Galos, and head down Galos to Monte Alegre. You can follow both Monte Alegre and Miramar all the way down to Paseo Yugoslavo. Be sure to hit San Enrique and Lautaro Rosas as well as the “Happy Hippies” part of Templeman.

Art you will see:

Some of my favorites:

Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso, Chile
Street Art, Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso, Chile

Time to allow: At least 1 1/2- 2 hours to cover all of Cerro Alegre. This is my favorite neighborhood and has lots of wonderful restaurants in case you need to recharge and refuel before you continue on.

Cerro Concepción

Cerro Concepción is another fabulous neighborhood to view Valpo’s incredible street art and probably wins the prize in the most street art per square foot. It is closer to the port and center of Valparaiso so is much busier than quiet, quaint Cerro Alegre. I also found this neighborhood to be a bit more rundown than Cerro Alegre. However, the contrast between the old and new, the dirt and beauty, is what made it all the more fascinating to see.

Streets to hit: 

After reaching Paseo Yugoslavo, continue back up Miramar and wind down Urriola. Be sure to walk down Galvez to Paseo Gervasoni and Paseo Atkinson (where nearby you can look down off the cliffs to see some of the largest murals in the city painted across a few high-rise buildings). There is also a lot of cool art near the Iglesia Luterana such as the famous “piano key” stairs. You can then wind back up A. Montt towards Cerro Alegre again following any streets you missed.

Art you will see:

Colorful Stairways 

Fascinating Alleyways

At the edge of Cerro Concepción looking down over the cliffs are these giant works of art:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Near Paseo Atkinson and the Iglesia Luterana:

Street Art, Cerro Concepcion, Valparaiso, Chile

Cerro Concepción, Valparaiso, Chile

Cerro Concepción, Valparaiso, Chile

Some of my favorites:

Time to allow: 2-3 hours

After hitting all of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción we were famished and it was time for lunch. We dined at the beautiful, yellow-colored Brighton Hotel eating perched high above Valparaiso and plotted out our course for the afternoon. We would be heading down to El Plan, the business center and up to Paseo 21 de Mayo for a bird’s eye view of Valpo’s port and even more street art.

Valparaiso, Chile Valparaiso, Chile

Stay tuned…Since I don’t want to overwhelm you too much with photos, I decided to break this guide up into two parts. Coming next is Cerro Bellavista and Paseo 21 de Mayo

Like it? PIN it for later!

A Street ARt Lovers Guide to Valparaiso

Street Art, Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso, Chile

In Search of Street Art in Valparaiso’s Cerro Alegre

When planning our trip to Santiago, Chile there was no question we would spend at least a few days in Valparaiso. Known as one of the best street art cities in South America, this UNESCO World Heritage city is an art lover’s paradise. Its 42 cerros (hills) rise steeply up from the sea resulting in a labyrinth of streets, alleyways, staircases and a handful of rattling ascensores (old-fashioned funiculars dating back to the late 1800’s), all making Valparaiso or simply “Valpo” as the locals call it, one of the most unusual cities I’ve ever visited.

Valparaiso’s grittiness, seasonal fog, run-down 19th century, colorful corrugated-iron mansions and stray dogs make a sharp juxtaposition to its world-class vibrant street art that seems to cover every single free wall, staircase and building in the city. It is literally a walking museum of art and for that reason, has an unexpected charm that is hard to shake. As a street art lover, I knew that I would be in paradise and Valparaiso did not disappoint.

Street Art, Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso, Chile

Cachagua, Chile

A Coastal Walk in Cachagua, Chile

“A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition”. –  William Arthur Ward 

On a free morning in Santiago, we decided to take a break from hiking in the Andes to go the other direction and explore Chile’s stunning coast. Given Chile’s tremendous length (from north to south, Chile extends 4,270 km/2,653 miles), Chile has an extraordinary amount to see along its shores. Ranging from the driest deserts of the Atacama in the north to the craggy terminus of the Andes in the South, Chile’s rich geographical diversity is bound to inspire and soothe the soul.

Our fantastic hiking guide Nico from Coigüe Expeditions had laid out an entire itinerary for us to visit the coast ourselves. Like many middle-class Chileans, Nico grew up spending his summers along the coast where his family owns a summer home. Over recent years, the area has witnessed a huge real estate boom and today these once tiny coastal towns are home to some of Chile’s wealthiest elite.

We left Santiago a little past nine heading west towards the Chilean Coastal Mountain Range (Cordillera de la Costa) that runs parallel to the Andes separating the lush Central Valley of Chile from the sea. I was amazed how quickly the landscape changed from the verdant green valleys to the arid, sparsely-vegetated rolling mountains. As soon as we reached the mountains, we were instantly engulfed in coastal fog and a big temperature drop from the high summer heat of the Central Valley.

A little after eleven, we reached the small oceanside town of Cachagua where we followed the road to the beach and parked our car in the public lot. Unfortunately, the fog had not lifted which I found a little disappointing. It was still incredibly beautiful yet I could only imagine how much more beautiful it would be with the sun out. My dad however was secretly pleased that it was cloudy because he had overdressed and would have been roasting if the sun was out.

Cachagua, Chile

Our first view of the beach in Cachagua

We followed a narrow path down to the beach and I took in the smell of the ocean air. There was a gentle breeze and the mesmerizing sound of the waves lulled me to peace. I instantly pulled out my camera and took a few pictures of the shoreline. It was too bad it was cloudy yet perhaps the weather kept the people away. We had almost the entire beach to ourselves save the pelicans and sea gulls hovering overhead.

Cachagua, ChileCachagua, Chile

Cachagua, Chile

Parque Andino Juncal, Chile

A Magical Hike in Chile’s Parque Andino Juncal

“Frigid winds blow as we turn into the glacier’s gorge. Without foreseeing we begin to step on ice that shines in between the fallen rocks of surrounding towering mountains” – Nicolás Echenique, our guide and the founder of Coigüe Expeditions. 

One of my absolute favorite things to do is to hike and there is no one I’d rather hike with than my dad. Growing up, my dad instilled a deep love of hiking and being outdoors. Over the years, we have continued to hike together as much as possible when I visit my parents in Arizona or on one of our annual trips. Together, we have hiked the Andes of Argentina, Peru and Bolivia, and there was no way we were going to Chile without doing some hiking on our trip.

I was thrilled to discover that many amazing day hikes are reachable right outside of Santiago. On our first full day in Chile, we did an incredible “warm-up” hike to El Morado Hanging Glacier with our own private guide, Nicolás Echenique (Nico) of Coigüe Expeditions and it was a wonderful adventure. We knew we were in for a special treat when we signed up to hike with Nico again in the pristine Parque Andino Juncal, home of the largest glacier in Central Chile.

Adventure Travel Chile TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking
Viña El Principal, Maipo Valley, Chile

Exploring Chile’s Maipo Valley Wine Region

“Start your day with coffee and end your day with wine”. – Saying on a coffee cup my husband got me as a gift. 

I have a confession to make. I absolutely love wine. I have loved wine ever since I studied abroad in France at the ripe age of 21 and spent nine months studying French and sampling as many varieties as my budget could afford. In those days, the cheaper the better and anything under $8 was a steal.

Over the years, my taste buds have matured and in some ways have followed my travels around the world. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with Malbac after a visit to Argentina in 2009. Its rich, deep and smooth flavor warms my soul, and it is easy to find a good bottle for under $15. Little did I know, it would take a trip to Chile’s wine region to discover a new, incredible variety that I had never heard of before, Carménère.

Maipo Valley, Chile

El Principal Vineyard in the Maipo Valley

Chile is the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world so it is without a question that many tourists plan a day or two visiting some of Chile’s premier wine regions. The heart of Chile’s wine region is in Central Chile which surrounds Santiago. Central Chile produces the most wine in the country and has six distinct wine regions to explore: The Casablanca Valley, San Antonio Valley, Maipo Valley, Cachapoal Valley, Colchagua Valley, and Curico Valley. The Maipo Valley is the closest region to Santiago and also is known for its production of Carménère, my new favorite red variety.

Carménère is to Chile as Malbac is to Argentina yet its history is much more mysterious. The grape originated in the Bordeaux region of France yet was believed to be wiped out after a terrible Phylloxera plague destroyed many of the vines throughout Europe in 1857. Somehow the vine was brought to Chile where it not only survived but thrived. For years, people believed the grape was a very distinctive tasting Merlot yet after DNA testing in 1999 wine experts ruled it was in fact the Carménère grape. Chile’s perfect growing conditions allowed Carménère to become Chile’s leading grape and it is absolutely delicious.

Viña El Principal, Maipo Valley, Chile

On our second day in Santiago, we arranged to go on a wine tour of the Maipo Valley with the lovely, highly-knowledgeable Patricia Garabito Valdes, founder of Wine Wein Tours. Patricia was born and raised in Santiago and began her career as a translator yet soon discovered she was not meant to be inside an office all day. She promptly changed gears and began working as a tour guide in Santiago.

Morado Hanging Glacier, Chile

At the Doorstep of the Andes: A Hike to El Morado Hanging Glacier

When most people plan a trip to go hiking in Chile, they immediately head south to the Chilean Lakes District and Patagonia, a landscape lover’s paradise awash with too many stunning national parks to count. While some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Chile are found south of Santiago, I was surprised to discover that equally as divine landscapes exist right outside of the bustling cultural mecca of Santiago, where over half of Chile’s population live.

When my dad planned a week’s getaway to Chile basing ourselves in Santiago, I confess that I was a bit skeptical that we would find any good hiking in Central Chile. As an avid hiker who has trekked in some of the best parks in Patagonian Chile and Argentina, I naively thought that the best hiking would be down south. However, I was proven wrong and was wonderfully surprised with the intense, dynamic beauty of the day hikes we found right outside our base in Santiago.

While the Andes stretch all the way from the southern tip of Chile to their terminus in Tierra del Fuego, it is in Central Chile where the Andes rise to some of their highest elevations. Just east of Santiago near the Chilean border with Argentina lies the mighty Aconcagua which at 22,841 feet (6,962m) is the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere.

Perhaps what makes Chile such an exciting destination for hikers is the amazing diversity of its landscape. In the north is the Atacama, the driest desert in the world with its salt flats and open barren stretches of land. In the Center, the Andes rise dramatically high with vast glacial valleys and snow-capped peaks whereas in the South, their appearance is startling different: Craggy, jagged mountains rimmed with glacial lakes and temperate rainforest. Finally, at the southernmost tip in Patagonia it is filled with ice and glaciers and is home to the second largest contiguous ice field in the world, the The Southern Patagonian Ice Field. No wonder Chile is such an amazing place to explore! 

Andes, Chile

Flying over the incredible Andes as the morning sun rises

Adventure Travel Chile TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking
Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile

A Stroll through Bellavista in Search of Santiago’s Vibrant Street Art

I have always loved street art and while Valparaiso is world renown for its amazing, slightly overwhelmingly large collection of street art, in my opinion Santiago is not too far behind. Despite not having the sheer size and scale of murals as found in Valparaiso, the street art scene in Santiago is equally as colorful and fascinating. If you adore street art, it is definitely worth your time exploring the Barrios Bellavista, Brasil and Yungay. Since our time was limited, we picked the trendy Barrio Bellavista for our first flavor of Chilean street art. We were not the least bit disappointed.

We began our stroll from our wonderful hotel, the CasaSur Charming Hotel in the Barrio Italia -an up and coming tree-lined neighborhood loaded with delightful restaurants, boutiques and shops- and followed the Parque Bustamante towards the Plaza Italia and the Rio Mapocho, the main river that meanders through the heart of Santiago.

It was a typical hot, summery day in Santiago and the city was alive with the bustle of people and students going to and from class at one of the country’s top universities in Bellavista. As we crossed the bridge at Pio Nonio, I couldn’t help but notice that even the walls surrounding the river were painted in graffiti. It was a sign of what was to come. I also wondered why the water was so brown in color and was soon to learn that it was due to all the sediment coming from the melting glaciers that feed and nourish the entire Maipo Valley surrounding Santiago with water and life.

Rio Mapocho, Santiago Chile

As we crossed the river, I saw that the bridge was covered in locks. Curious, I asked our hotel what it meant and they said that the locks are placed on the bridge by couples to represent unbreakable love. The couples write their initials on the locks and then throw the key into the river to symbolize everlasting love. I found it quite interesting.

After we crossed the river, we were finally in the infamous Barrio Bellavista, a bohemian neighborhood known for its artists and intellectuals as well as dining and late night partying given its numerous bars and discos all smooched together within the narrow streets between the river the the Cerro San Cristobal. Bellavista is also home to “La Chascona“, the historic home of Chilean Nobel laureate poet Pablo Neruda, which is now a museum open to the public. We didn’t have time to visit but did see his other house in Valparaiso which is definitely worth a visit.

Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, ChileWhile the nights are known for its wild carrete (nightlife), the quiet, calm afternoons in Bellavista are perfect for exploring its colorful streets and snapping photos. I felt ridiculously giddy at my luck at having such brilliant sunshine and not a soul in sight as we wandered the charming streets.  I instantly noticed that the colors felt like they were bursting off the walls and sides of the buildings. They were so incredibly vibrant and bright.

Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile

Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, ChileBarrio Bellavista, Santiago, ChileBarrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile

Morado Glacier, Chile

A Father/Daughter Trip to Chile

On the morning of my departure to Chile, I woke up feeling the normal jittery rush of anticipation and excitement that travel brings me. You would think that after all these years, I’d somehow get used to it but that same restless nervousness about going on an adventure far from home never seems to leave me. After a restless night’s sleep of tossing and turning, it was finally time to start the long haul to Santiago. The babysitter had arrived to help out with the kids and our family dog, the dinners were made and frozen in the freezer, and my bags were packed with everything I’d need for the next nine days. All I needed to do was get into the cab and I was off.

This trip marked the 13th trip I’d taken with my dad since I graduated college. Over the years, we have been to many special places together ranging from the Himalayas of Nepal, to the vast stretches of rugged earth of Iceland, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the bush of South Africa, the urban jungle of China, and the mountains of Argentina, Bolivia, France and Peru. Together we have experienced a lot of adventures, and in all of my travels, I have never ever met another father-daughter traveling duo before.

It took me some time to realize that it was unusual and not something you see every day. Mother and daughters traveling together is much more common and I too have been fortunate to have traveled with my mom. But a father and a daughter traveling together was something unique. Despite the occasional awkward stares of those who thought I was his much younger wife, traveling as a pair has started many conversations of curiosity among strangers and opened many unexpected doors. It is something I would never trade for anything and an experience I hope to continue with my own children down the road.

Sunrise over the Andes

Juncal Glacier, Chilean Andes

Serenity Found in the Chilean Andes

“Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity”.- Thich Nhat Hanh

I just returned from a little over a week in Central Chile and am filled with the serenity of being in one of the places I love best, the mountains. While I have much catching up to do, I will take it slowly and allow myself time to reflect on what a remarkable experience I had. There is nothing like being outside in the mountains to take you away from all the worries and problems in this world. Far away from the internet, the ugly news and media, I feel so utterly free I could cry in tears of joy. If only I could keep that serenity inside me forever. But we all know it is not possible. The constant bombardment of news is difficult to ignore and hard to bare. So I will work on trying my best to avoid it.

I look forward to sharing my trip with you. In the meantime, here are a few pictures from my six-hour hike to the Juncal Glacier, located two hours outside of Santiago in the heart of the Andes.

“Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people”. –  Jawaharlal Nehru

Juncal Glacier, Chilean Andes

Los Glaciares National Park

My Top Five Wild Hikes

I just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” a dark, raw and fiercely humorous book on how one woman finds herself during a three-month long trek through the wild Pacific Crest Trail. The book is powerful, emotional, honest and inspiring, and Strayed uses her brilliant memoir to take a hard look at self-discovery, heeling and change.

Of course when times are tough, we can’t always pick up our bags and leave town. Yet, I often find that there is no better way to escape and reflect upon life than to go on a hike, and the more remote and wild, the better. I have been fortunate to have done many wonderful adventurous hikes over the years.  Although every hike I’ve done has been special and has brought me to a new place, there are a select few that have truly inspired me and are unforgettable.

Here is a list of the top five wild hikes that are bound to get your mind thinking.

Adventure Travel Argentina Chile Guatemala Iceland Nepal TRAVEL RESOURCES Trekking/Hiking