Last weekend we headed to Valparaiso. In case you’re new to Chile, Valparaiso is a lovely port town, located an hour and a half’s drive from Santiago.
Valparaiso isn’t just a holiday resort, but a place of life, of history, culture and art.
In the 19th century, it served as a major port within Latin America, and became known affectionately as ‘Little San Francisco’ and ‘The Jewel of the Pacific. It was, and still is, a hub for art and culture, and was once home to poet Pablo Nerudo, who hid in a basement when the then president outlawed communism.
As soon as you land in town, you really get a sense of the cultural vibe, the laid back beach side feel.
Steep cobbled streets snake past graffiti clad walls and brightly coloured houses. Pastel pinks, blues and yellows to one side, and glorious views of the blue ocean to the other.
We arrived rather late, so first we headed for lunch.
I’m normally a bit wary of hotel restaurants, but Hotel Verso’s had been recommended to us by a local. It was one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed in Chile.
The views, service, wine and food were faultless. It’s not a pretentious, fine dining sort of place, or a deserted, fusty hotel bar. The ambiance is casual, light and fresh, just like its menu.
I snapped a photo before the place filled up…
We chose the ceviche followed by the fish of the day. I generally don’t eat fish unless it’s really, really good. Thankfully here it was.
They also stock some fabulous wines, including a Sauvignon Blanc from our favourite vineyard – Casa Marin.
Service is great, and it’s really child friendly. Special thanks (and apologies!) to our waitress Laura who didn’t seem at all fazed by our kids who were behaving so badly that day.
After lunch we took a wander around town, soaked in the cool vibe and bribed the kids with ice cream to behave better (yes, I know, shocking parenting!)
We then drove down to the port side to spot the sea lions, boats, divers and paddle boarders.
The sea lions were a little shy that day (perhaps they were avoiding our kids’ tantrums?) We ‘only’ spotted about 20, but I’ve heard it’s normal to see nearly a hundred or so of these furry sea beauties.
We never got time to test out the city’s funiculars, to browse among the cute artisanal markets or spend some time on the nearby beaches, but we’ll be back soon for sure.
Need to know
We arrived early to Hotel Verso’s restaurant without a reservation (around 12.30pm), but it soon filled up and you might prefer to reserve. We found it good value, paying around $50,000 CLP for two courses with wine and coffee. While we didn’t stay, friends tell me the hotel is good too. Verso Hotel – address: Mena 665, Cerro Florida, Valparaíso, Chile. +56 2 24957744. email@example.com
In addition to Hotel Verso, nearby WineBox is a funky eco contemporary hotel, with a very cool bar open from 6pm.
Valparaiso is a lovely city and you shouldn’t any problems if you stick to tourist districts. Pick pocketing and muggings are rife however, especially in certain districts, so ditch the SLR and flash handbags. Go discreet.
In general the areas of Cerro Alegre, Cerro concepcion and Plaza Sotomayor are fine. Word on the block is that you might want to avoid the area between the plaza and Ascensor Artilleria, as well as Cerro Cordillera and the puerto (Muelle Prat port). We spotted the sealions at Muelle Baron where we felt fine.
Like most of Chile, I wouldn’t walk any distances at night, even in the supposedly safer districts.
You might want to ditch the stroller and opt for a sling. Narrow, bumpy cobbled pathways aren’t great for buggies, although the wider touristy streets are OK.