If there is one place that stirs my soul, calls to me and befuddles me, it is Valparaiso. This city is equal parts beautiful, ugly, maddening, exciting, awe inspiring and bewildering. This is the place that for hundreds of years saw the arrival and departure of Chile´s visitors, and was even pillaged by pirates.
The Spanish birthed the city as a port, naming it Valparaiso de Arriba – a completely unoriginal name considering that it was bestowed a further six times across the globe and in multiple locations in Spain itself. The English nicknamed the city Valpo, which has affectionately stuck, but perhaps its most interesting name would have to be Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes del Puerto Claro.
As a port, Valparaiso wasn´t very good – it was far too open during storms – so work began in 1912 to improve it. Land was reclaimed over a period of 18 years resulting in a quay and breakwater that number 700m long and 20 storeys in height. Although the opening of the Panama Canal greatly affected Valparaiso in the past, today the port is thriving with copper and fruit exports, as well as cruise ships.
Valparaiso is also the headquarters of the Chilean National Congress
It has the oldest stock exchange Latin America
The first public library opened here
The Picunche and the Chango people were the original indigenous inhabitants
In 1814 the Battle of Valparaiso was fought between British and the United States ships, as part of the War of 1812
Plaza Victoria was the location of slave trading. Slaves would be brought by boat to Buenos Aires, from there they would cross the Argentine pampas and the Andes by foot before arriving into Valparaiso and taken to Lima. Many would die of hunger, exhaustion, disease and even suicide.
Places To See
Paseo 21 de Mayo for the best views over the harbour and its where you can find the Naval museum and the furnicular Artilleria (Cerro Artilleria)
La Sebastiana, former home of the Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda
Plaza Sotomayor, which is also the headquarters of the Chilean Navy, and where you can join a shared or private boat trip of the harbour
Cerro Concepcion and Alegre (visit Color Cafe for cheap, GOOD food in quirky shabby chic!)
Palacio Barburizza, an art museum, located in the Paseo Yugoslavo
Ascencor Polanco, which is a vertical lift taking you up to the viewing deck of a watchtower
Museo del Cielo Abierto, a series of eclectic murals created between 1969 and 1973. Take Ascensor Espiritu Santo
Explore the Mercado Cardonal and the Mercado Puerto (latter under reconstruction)
Museo Lukas, to discover more about local cartoonist Lukas
Mirador Diego Portales for amazing city views
Note: This city is built for walking – on foot. Pushchairs and even wheelchairs will have a harder time, particularly as some of the most interesting places involve a stairway.
Suggestion: Why not combine a trip to Valpo with one of the Casablanca Valley wineries? Casas del Bosque is reputedly the best, or try House of Morande (family friendly), the Casa Botha restaurant (great food), Attilio & Mochi (independent), Bodegas RE (organic + traditional) or Matetic (heaps of activities!)?
Santiago – a city that is appearing in magazines and soaring up city polls everywhere. A stable place broken only by strikes, car horns, taxi/Uber strife and the odd delinquent. The restaurant scene is thriving, bursting forth as one of the top food destinations in South America with a growing ethnic scene that can rival overseas capital cities. Here is the list of places to see this year:
Quirky and shabby chic would probably be the best words to describe Wonderland. Located in the best barrio for cafes, this addition deserves a mention just for its Drink Me: dessert and drink in one (chocolate is best). It also serves up a pretty decent brunch, that includes baked beans, sourdough bread and bacon.
Yet again, Lalaleelu takes the number one spot for cakes in the city. This tiny, family run establishment thrives, firstly because of its amazing customer service and secondly (its a tie) because of its quality tortas and pasteles that blend fine dining, french pastry techniques and casual. Order the Diablo or the Jeezy Limon.
A few years ago, Tiramisu was the place to go. It´s star has faded a bit since then, but it still remains a good option for those needing something fast, casual, tasty and filling in a nice setting. The pizzas, pastas and breads are all good, as are the desserts, and the service is extremely professional. It is a great option for families and is not expensive.
The restaurant doesn´t have the wow factor that its neighbour, Vietnam Discovery, does, but the food wins by leaps and bounds in the taste stakes. This is genuine, home cooked Vietnamese food – in fact you could easily think you are sitting in Mai´s dining room (you are).
This restaurant is winning in every way. It´s been named one of the 25 best restaurants in Latin America and is frequently lauded by the dining out community, though it has yet to become common knowledge. Excellent value, service and food – make your booking before it really reaches its stride.
Ingredients brought from India combined with lengthy fermentation techniques and prepared from scratch using the best fresh vegetables and meat from Tinajacura, this is the best option for Indian food, south Indian style, for you to enjoy in your own home.
Visually, Zully is a restaurant that cannot be beaten, nestled in a sector with the power to transport you back in time. Its steps are laden with rose petals, there are expansive flower arrangements on each table and the themed rooms are dimly lit, quiet and private – perfect for eye gazing. The food is impressive – visibly stunning – and the restaurant frequently has deals.
Peumayen is a beautiful restaurant. The service is amazing, waiters are bilingual and professional and the food … the food is so good. It might not be for everyone given that it combines various indigenous foods and amalgamates them into a fine dining experience (that means ingredients like horse, testicles etc).
This place is my go-to for a quick bite to eat that is healthy and cheap – bonus points for being vegan. They always have a filling set menu but the real highlight is the cake display – so good!
Vegetarian: El Huerto (Providencia)/ Quinoa (Vitacura)
This was a difficult toss up. On the one hand, El Huerto has huge portions that are delicious and spread across various cuisines, but it also has average service and a below average seating arrangement. Quinoa, on the other hand, has a relaxed and calm setting with good service and excellent food but the menu is smaller and portions are definitely so. Varanasi (Vitacura) is another excellent option for vegetarians but it is not strictly veg-only – the menu contains meat, chicken and fish, as well as gluten free and vegan meals.
Joining temples in India, Australia, Uganda, Germany, Panama, Samoa and North America (among others), this center of religious worship welcomes all creeds and provides a relaxing, tranquil setting to commune with oneself or a higher power. The temple is awe-inspiring, perfect for photographers, but it is also incredibly romantic.
A jarring addition to the Santiago skyline, this behemoth skyscraper reaches upward with phallic splendor, providing the most impressive views of the city and leaving the mighty Cerro San Cristobal hill far below. It isn´t cheap to ride up but it takes just two minutes and the vista is worth it, particularly during sunset.
This is the oldest cemetery in Chile and one of the biggest in South America, this is a colossal place to lose yourself amongst the tombs of history. The skeletons contained would fit into 117 football fields and date back 11 generations. Come here to walk or bike, and lost yourself in silence.
Salinas Salt Flats and Reserve
Just outside of Cahuil, near to Bucalemu and Pichelemu, are the salt flats of Salinas. This beautiful setting makes for a pleasant walk, particularly for the bird watchers among you, and can be enjoyed by families. Best combined with the beaches.
You can hike, bike, horseride or casually walk to your hearts content in this biosphere reserve, once traversed by Charles Darwin. This remarkable park is home to a dazzling array of flora and fauna, including the Giant Hummingbird and the majestic Chilean Palm, which is sadly endangered.
Embalse el Yeso (Cajon del Maipo)
The Maipo Canyon is like a detox for the soul – particularly after the city. One of the best ways to escape it all is to detour to the Embalse el Yeso, a huge reservoir that supplies water to Santiago. The drive is scenic and you would be hard pressed to find a better spot to experience the mountains.
This winery has been named the best Chilean Wine Producer at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London for the last two years, and it´s restaurant, Tanino, has been named as one of the best twenty winery restaurants. Aside from the wine (click the link for more information), the winery makes for a lovely day out, perhaps for hiking or bike riding.
The hills are perfect for walkers, art lovers, amateur photographers or those seeking a bit of culture, while the flat city and the port are for those looking to immerse themselves in history. For centuries, Valpo was the most happening place in Chile, port of entry and departure, and throughout the course of time has been plagued by pirates, been a center for the South American slave trade and attracted innumerable artists – all of which have left their mark upon this incredible UNESCO heritage spot.
Where are your favorite spots? Share them in the comments so I can check them out!
If I could recommend two places for people to visit, Valparaiso would be at the top of the list, followed closely by this place: La Campana National Park.
I don´t know why this place spoke to me so much, but speak to me it did.. Perhaps it is because its a world biosphere reserve, designated so by UNESCO. Across the 8000 hectares of the park, you can lose yourself amongst one of the world´s last remaining Chilean Palm forests which, in one of the great travesties of the world, is sadly on the verge of extinction thanks to over exploitation and the encroaching environment of man. This tree is truly a thing of beauty, despite being labelled as ¨a very ugly tree¨ by Charles Darwin, who ascended the looming Cerro La Campana in 1834. The sap from the tree is made into Palm Wine as well as Palm Honey, the latter of which is hugely popular and involves felling the tree and then draining out the sap over several months (yielding around 300 litres of honey). This is now strictly regulated under Chilean law given the tree´s endangered status. In addition to wine and honey, the tree´s leaves can be utilized for basket making and the seeds eaten. No-one knows for certain just how old the trees can grow, but many of the trees in La Campana are hundreds of years old, and up to 40 meters tall. The greatest concentration of Palm trees can be found in the Palmar de Ochoa, a sight which honestly took my breath away as for a minute I almost thought I saw a dinosaur nibbling at the top fronds.
The park is also home to some 320 native and endemic trees and plants, which are pointed out to you by helpful signs. Various Chilean cacti are among them, which are interesting enough on their own. There are 180 different species of Chilean cacti, with the greatest diversity located in the region of Coquimbo, to the north. These are some of the most resistant and unique cacti in the world, with some routinely growing under snow and as high as 2200m above sea level. In fact, the Austrocactus philippi plant is so accustomed to cooler weather that it cannot cope with temperatures higher than 25 degrees celsius and is particularly rare, found only in one location in the world.
Walking around the park honestly made my spirit soar. Plants to look out for include persea lingue, litharea caustica, chusquea culeou, Chilean wineberry, radal, lignum vitae, peumo, boldo, and many others. The stillness – especially after all the noise of Recoleta – was like a metaphorical hug for the soul and was broken only by the sound of the wind rustling the palms and the scuffling of animal feet on the ground. What else might you see in the park? Try chinchillas, foxes, vizcachas, owls, Chilean mockingbirds, diucas, giant hummingbirds, eagles and more.
The Nitty Gritty:
There are several entrances. We visited the section closest to Ochoa (Palma de Ochoa), with the highest concentration of Palm trees. .You enter in with the car and there are short and longer walks to do, including La Cascada trail which leads you to the 30m waterfall. The vegetation is divided into four parts: sclerophyll forest, laurifolio higrophyle forest, spiny thickets, and low altitude thicket. It is not pushchair friendly but there are various resting points, as well camping facilities. Shade is limited and temperatures are dry and hot in summer, and average 11 degrees celsius in winter. Payment to CONAF is required upon entry and ID is necessary. Good shoes recommended as the ground is spiky. Take plenty of water.