Arty and creative - Valparaíso is captivating and an assault on your senses. Murals, mosaic creations, recycled art and graffiti tags cover every conceivable surface in the hilly streets, which fan out from Valparaíso’s nucleus. It’s a colourful and sensory experience and being less than two hours from Santiago, it makes for an easy day trip from Chile’s capital.
Once in town, head uphill away from the port, to the streets surrounding the funicular. Here you will not only be rewarded with great views over the city, the port and the Pacific Ocean, you’ll also find a memorising and eclectic array of street art. It is so comprehensive, you almost imagine that graffiti gods from another world landed here and made magic - waving wands and splashing colour and artistic works across walls, doors, ledges, staircases and public spaces.
But it’s the local Chilean and foreign artists we have to thank, some of who are paid to lay creative claim to a wall or a door. Valparaíso has become a mecca for street artists from across the world and the city provides an epic canvas for expression. Musicians, writers and artists make this eccentric city their home and traversing the streets, you get the sense that bohemianism is very much alive here. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003 and is becoming one of Chile’s tourism drawcards.
Despite Valparaíso’s fascinating appeal, I am not going to sanitise it. The truth is, some parts of town are a tad on the seedy side. But that’s also what makes it so intriguing. Streets are littered with rubbish as if the garbage collectors have been on strike (and I think they had been when I visited), stairs are strewn with every imaginable piece of human consumerism bi-product, like food wrappers, cans, and cigarette butts. You’ll hear the crunch of broken glass underfoot, a lot. It’s as if no one really cares about doing the right thing and putting their disposables in the rubbish bin, but then again, I don’t know if there are many bins around. Stray dogs and cats roam around hungrily, and in some areas the smell of decaying litter and animal urine and faeces is enough to make you want to gag. Nevertheless, don’t let this deter you. Valparaíso's shortcomings add to its personality.
I can honestly say I have never been anywhere like Valparaíso. It's got gritty charm, creative uniqueness and vibrancy, and the power to catapult your senses into another realm.
- Getting to Valparaíso from Santiago: I took the Metro to Universite de Santiago, and got a TUR-BUS ticket from there, travelling time was about 1 hour 40 mins and cost around US$8. For more information on getting there consult: Frommer's Getting to Valparaiso, Chile
- If you’d prefer a guided tour, rather than walk around yourself, book in with: Valpo Street Art
- Don’t be alarmed but just be smart. Just like anywhere a little off the radar, like some back streets in Rio or Rome, it's best to keep a low profile. Be discreet with your camera by putting it out of sight and not keeping it around your neck whilst you aren’t using it. Dress appropriately: keep your clothes casual, minimise jewellery and wear closed shoes, boots or sneakers
- For historical information on Valparaíso and its heritage listing, visit: UNESCO World Heritage listing
- Google images: “Valparaíso street art” for an insight into this incredibly creative community and their works to get you in the mood