Santiago & Valparaíso

Street art in Valparaiso
Our bus to Santiago, not so Rapido thanks to a 3 hour delay at the border
Not so Rapido thanks to a 3 hour delay at the border

Alex here again to tell you about Santiago and Valparaiso. We were back in Chile after a bus ride that took the best part of 10 hours (4 more than advertised!). We met two really nice English girls on the bus and swapped travel tips to pass the time whilst waiting at the border, this part of the journey took 3 hours waiting in a queue of buses! We’d heard mixed things about Santiago, most backpackers we’d met skip it, or just pass through in transit, but I’d had recommendations from my parents so wanted to spend more time there. We weren’t disappointed and really enjoyed the city.

We had looked at hostel prices before heading to Santiago and been shocked by how expensive it was for a private room, so we decided to use some more of Chris’s hotel points. We checked in to our lovely bit of luxury, a room on the top floor of the Santiago InterContinental with access to the club lounge for free breakfast, drinks and snacks.

The old and the new in downtown Santiago
The old and the new in downtown Santiago

We spent the first day shopping, out of necessity as I had dropped my camera whilst in Argentina and it had stopped working. I wanted a direct replacement for my Panasonic Lumix, but unfortunately Panasonic doesn’t have much of the market share here and we couldn’t find them in any of the shops. We did a lot of wandering around two malls in a very modern and new part of the city and eventually managed to find a tourist discount card which took the price of a Sony replacement down to less than we’d pay at home on Amazon, so we were happy!

Celebrating a successful camera purchase we went out for a curry. We’d found the Jewel of India on TripAdvisor as it was one of the top restaurants in the city. We hadn’t had a good curry since Korma Sutra in Cusco, and were craving something tasty and spicy after our very disappointing curry in La Paz. This place was a little more expensive than we would normally budget, but we decided it was worth it for a change. We had a fantastic meal, we were greeted by the very enthusiastic owner and didn’t even need to look through the menu as he came to chat to us and suggested some dishes. His suggestions were great, we had a few things we wouldn’t normally try and really enjoyed them all. Looking back at the end of our travels I think it was the best Indian we’ve had in South America, with a lovely eccentric host who made the experience.

On the Saturday we took a trip slightly out of town to visit the Concha y Torro vineyard, the home of Castillero del Diablo (a brand we enjoy a lot at home!). We were delayed on route by an accident holding up traffic and decided to walk, we missed our original slot but ended up being the only people on the next tour, fantastic! We enjoyed our private tour, finding out lots about the vineyard and this very large and successful wine company (the first in the world to be publicly traded on the stock market). We tasted some excellent wines and visited the original Casillero del Diablo (Devil’s cellar), where we saw a projection with voice-over all about the legend of the devil living in the cellar (made much more scary by being the only people in the pitch black cellar!). After the tour we went to the restaurant and then the wine shop, where we treated ourselves to a few bottles for later.

a busy junction in Santiago
A busy junction in Santiago

That evening we didn’t need much food and decided to eat at the club lounge in the hotel for free. We enjoyed a few drinks and some food with a couple of games of pool, all with an amazing night time city view.

On the Sunday we planned to do more of an explore around Santiago. We started at the museum of memory and human rights (Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos), which was so interesting and comprehensive we ended up spending several hours walking around. The museum is about what happened in Chile following a military coup in 1973 where General Pinochet killed the democratically elected president and seized control of the country. Between 1973 and 1989 there was a period of military dictatorship where people opposing the regime were tortured or killed, leading to many people disappearing without a trace. Thousands of Chileans fled the country during this time. I didn’t know much about the Pinochet regime and found the museum really interesting and at times very moving as it covered the disappearances and torture during the regime in the 70’s and 80’s and the democratic changes in the 90’s and the attempts to uncover what had happened to those that had disappeared.

Santiago from the top of Cerro Lucia
Santiago from the top of Cerro Lucia

After the museum we walked to the main historic square and past the Palacio de la Moneda building, which was the scene of the start of the military coup we’d just been reading about in the museum. We went up Cerro Santa Lucía, a small hill in the city, with great views of the old colonial buildings right next to modern glass constructions. We returned to the hotel to meet Prisca, our friend from the Spanish course in Ecuador. She was volunteering in Santiago for a few months and we’d managed to time our visit to meet her. It was good to catch up over dinner and we enjoyed an evening in Bellavista, the trendy area of town full of restaurants and bars.

Kent's garden in Valparaiso
Kent’s garden in Valparaiso

On the Monday we set off for a few days in Valparaiso on the coast, very happy to leave our big bags with the hotel as we’d be returning in a few days. It was also good to get a bus of only two hours for a change! We arrived in the city and took a local bus up the winding roads to our hostel. We stopped at the address of the hostel, a beautifully decorated house with a garden built into the steep street, lots of vegetables growing in various recycled pots and containers. There we met Kent, the eccentric and welcoming owner of the Hostal Mariposa. It turned out that the building we’d arrived at used to be the hostel but is now used as Kent’s house. He walked us a few metres up the hill to the hostel, explaining how they had been in Valparaiso for 25 years and had created the garden in the street to make sure no one could drive a car past them! The hostel in its current site was newly opened and was just fantastic, one of the best we’ve stayed in. Re-used tin cans and teapots hung on the walls outside as plant pots. Old ironmongery was used everywhere for decoration and all of the furniture inside was reused or built from scrap. The kitchens were the best equipped of any hostel we’d stayed in and the roof terrace was a great social area with a view over the sea and a fire-come-BBQ. We cooked up some veggie skewers and sat around chatting to the other guests, getting tips on what to do in “Valpo”, as the city is known.

Valparaiso from Hostal Mariposa
Valparaiso from Hostal Mariposa

We had three nights in Valparaiso and enjoyed walking around the city and chilling out at the hostel.

Valparaiso is known for being very arty and bohemian, there is a lot of very colourful and creative street art. We took the Grafreeti street art walking tour with our very knowledgeable guide Manuel. He knew all the artists and techniques used and we got to explore the city looking for art. There are some beautiful pieces of street art, we took pictures of lots of the designs and have included a gallery of our photos in this post.

Ancient ascensors in Valparaiso
Ancient ascensors in Valparaiso

Valparaiso is built on several hills and valleys falling down to the sea. It is a relatively old city as it was and still is a port town. The whole place is a UNESCO heritage site, with some amazing old buildings. As a result of the designation and the cost of repair, a lot of the buildings are crumbling and in disrepair. There are several ‘ascensors’, very steep funicular railways to take you up the hills. Not a lot of them are still running but we took a ride in a couple of them, climbing up the hills to give you a great view over the city. The huge modern port is on one side of the town, such a contrast to the bohemian feel of the city streets.

When chatting to people in our hostel we found out about a cooking class (Chilean Cuisine). We’d not really looked into such a thing in South America before, Chile and Argentina really don’t cater well for veggies so we’ve mostly had to avoid traditional food. This course was recommended by people in the hostel and they told us we could get veggie options of all the dishes. We met our chef Ines and the other six people on the course, we discussed the menu then went to the market for fresh vegetables, fish and meat. We proceeded to the cooking school’s kitchen and helped to prepare a salsa, ceviche, avocados stuffed with palm heart salad, pastel de choclo (actually a savoury dish made with meat or aubergine and sweetcorn) and empanadas (again meat or aubergine). Once everything was ready we sat down to a feast accompanied by a Pisco Sour and plenty of wine. It was great fun and we met some really nice people, so much so that we were offered a lift back to Santiago the next day from Daniel and Ana, a lovely couple we met.

Ana and Daniel, who took us back to Santiago and wouldn't take a penny from us
Ana and Daniel, who took us back to Santiago and wouldn’t take a penny from us

Daniel and Ana came to pick us up from our hostel the next day and drove us all the way to Santiago. They wanted to do some wine tasting and we’d recommended Concha y Torro and were happy to visit again. We went for lunch and tasting. They were so nice, great fun to chat to, and even gave us a lift back into the city, right up to our hotel.

We decided to treat ourselves to a second meal at the tasty Indian restaurant that night, knowing we wouldn’t get curry that good for a long while. We generally avoid going to the same restaurant twice when travelling, but this was so good that we made an exception for the first time in four months.

That was it for Chile’s capital city and the coastal town of Valparaiso, both well worth the visit and a nice few days of relaxing and site-seeing. Our next adventure involved hiring a camper van for 27 days and leaving the cities behind as we headed south towards Patagonia. Chris will return with a post on our road trip adventures soon.

Author: Alex Greenwood

Traveller, muddy gardener, sustainability consultant

One thought on “Santiago & Valparaíso”

  1. Love the street art, looks a lot like the stuff we saw in Mission, part of San Francisco (also home to many of the gay and transgender community but that’s another story!). And that street garden was fantastic.

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