Much as I love the great outdoors, I’m a city boy at heart. And I’ve been to some fantastic cities so far – Mexico City, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, Medellin, Lima, Mendoza & Cusco stand out – but Valparaiso (or Valpo for short) may just be my favourite yet.
I do like a bit of faded seaside glamour, and Valpo has it in spades. In the 19th century, it was the biggest port in Chile, and attracted immigrants from all over the world, particularly Brits & Germans. You can still see plenty of traces of that era – The ‘dissidents’ cemetary is full of graves that tell fantastic stories of all the Brits and Germans that found their way to the city is one of the best examples.
Elsewhere, the history of immigration to the city can be seen by the former volunteer fire companies, with one one for each of the main immigrant nationalities – the British & German ones sit right next to each other, and still maintain links to their home countries, as can be seen by the fire trucks donated by the home countries.
Valpo isn’t really a city to go admire its museums and galleries – rather, it´s one that reveals its charms best by wandering and wandering round for hours on end. The port itself, and the commercial heart of the city, lies on a narrow strip of flat land by the coast, and for me the highlight of this part was the wonderfully curvy trolley buses.
. Other than that, the city sits perched on a series of steep hills, most of which can be reached by rickety, often English built, ascensores, or funiculars that trundle up and down for less than a dollar a journey.
The hills are where my favourite bits of the city are to be found. They are mostly covered in houses clad in corugated metal, brightly painted, and with fantastic views out towards the ocean. I was lucky enough to have stayed in one, yet another fantastic South American hostel, the Patiperro, in the middle of one the nicest hills, Cerro Alegre.
One of the things I love about the place is the sense of being somewhere that was so grand back in the 19th century but that has faded – not into obscurity, but into its own comfortable, slightly dirty, but still glamorous present. It has a life and energy that many cities ten times its size would kill for.
There’s not much more I can say about the place – I didn´t do much, I didn´t see that many of the ´sights´ (although I did go to Pablo Neruda´s house, which the guidebooks make out to be fantastic for its artsy eclecticism – but to be honest, when you´re in such a fantastically electic city as Valpo, the poet¡s house just paled in comparison), I just wandered, and I fell in love. Oh, except for that feact it´s just hit me that the other city I adored was Guanajuato, which is also a hilly city with lots of colourful houses. If that´s all it takes to please me, can anyone suggest any other places round the world tjat fit that description.
On a final note, if you don’t have the time or the money to visit Valpo right now, you could do far worse than spend some time flicking through the pages of Corrugated City, a fantastic blog written by an English expat in the city that I’ve been reading and loving since my trip began, and is a way better introduction to the city than any guide book could ever be (and it’s not just helpful on the city – I followed his tips on how to make a substitute bacon sandwich when faced with Chilean ingredients and it worked pretty damn well).
You can see all of my photos of Valpo here