A city known for its colorful buildings and vibrant street art, Valparaiso is a place one will enjoy every time you go. I took two friends to Valparaiso twice in one month and both times I discovered a new corner in the city that brought me joy.
The first time I took my friend, to this coastal and mountainous city, we rode a famous ascensor to get a view of the ocean from above. We paid 100 pesos each, or less than 13 cents USD, to ride a funicular/ lift on the side of the hill. As we ascended the city lights shone around us. No one else was in the lift with us making it feel like we were on a cloud. The wooden lift creaked and shook as we rode up the mountain but I felt secure and safe. We emerged a hundred feet higher than previously and wandered the colorful streets. Vibrant and bustling cafes lined the walkways and a constant view of the ocean below followed us. We walked up and down the steep hills that threatened to throw us off. The painted steps invited us to continue the climb. We wandered until we found a sign, “We are not hippies, we’re happies.” This is the unofficial slogan of the city, and upon seeing a street dog happily sprawled out below the sign, I knew it was true.
The street lights seemed to make every wall painting glow. The colors glistened from the moonlight compounding the effects. We climbed the steps higher and higher then paused to catch our breath. We looked down the stairs to admire how far we had come. Then hunger took over our minds and we climbed an entrance into the closest restaurant: Fat Kid. The restaurant’s vibe was hip and edgy but the name and menu suggested a fast-food burger shop. We chuckled at the names of the Fat burger and fat fries but instead smiled with satisfaction upon eating the burgers. There was no view from the restaurant, however, the comfort food made a view unnecessary.
We continued our journey down the hill we had rode up and stopped at AltaMira, a popular beer restaurant. Although I’m not a beer fanatic we’d been told it’s a must-visit and accordingly I chose the strangest beer to try: Banana Pancake Beer. I clutched the pint warily and smelled hints of banana wafting off of it. I leaned in and sipped. The bitter beer taste struck me first then after swallowing notes of banana floated on my tongue. A unique experience to be sure. We sat together, content with our flavored beer, then we heard rhyming beats coming from outside the restaurant. We moved to the window and witnessed a group of young students playing drums loudly. There were two young women beside them shaking their hips and moving their hands and wrists gracefully as though weaving the night air together. The dancers wore big smiles and the drummers concentrated. Soon more young people joined in the dance and drummers passed their drums to students joining in. The circle of dancers grew as did the joy erupting from the music. I leaned my head out of the window letting the sound penetrate my mind. A soft smile spread across my face as I witnessed the joy of young people emerge through full-hearted dancing. I swayed my head to the beat and forgot about the beer and my friend. Other passersby stopped as the music captured them. I sat like that with my head sticking out of the window for an hour. I was unaware of the cold evening air nor the bar I was sitting in.
Eventually, my friend broke the trance and we began our trek home to prepare for the next day.
I’m the morning we wandered more of the painted streets. We stopped at the famous stairs painted like a piano keyboard and posed for pictures. Then we crossed the city to eat at the Portofino restaurant which had an INCREDIBLE view of all of Valparaiso, viña Del Mar, and Concón. Plus the fried spaghetti balls were to die for. We took the long way home walking along the coast for 60 minutes taking in the sights.
The second time I went to Valparaiso I had a bit more time to see the sights. I went with my friend Emma two weeks after I’d gone with Tommy. She had more specific sights to see and we did them all. The first day we arrived climbed hundreds of stairs, took the ascensor up the hill to see views, and made our way to the harbor. We wondered how to find a boat tour but as soon as we neared the water someone shouted “5,000 pesos!” And gestured to a boat. 5,000 pesos is about $5 USD so we figured a $5 boat ride was a cheap and easy way to get a tour of the coast of Valparaiso. We received a ride even higher than our expectations.
Despite the fact they packed 20 people on a boat meant for 10, we go to see sea lions, or Lobos Del Mar, up close. We also saw a stunning view of all the houses and colorful hills from the water. We waved to workers on cargo ships and felt the joy of a 5-year-old when they waved back. The captain cut the engine in the middle of the water and said we had to pay now or we’d have to leave the tour and swim back to shore. It was funny for some and terrifying for others. Once we had paid, the driver tried to start the boat again and the engine stalled. I felt fear rise in my chest for a split second until the engine roared again.
We made it back to the shore with sea legs and wandered around nearby artisan markets in Plaza Sotomayor. Coming from the lowest point in the city we thought it best to go to the highest point. We began our 30-minute trek uphill to the home of the poet Pablo Neruda. His home was beautiful including gorgeous architecture, interior decoration, and a stunning view of the ocean. I was so grateful to be able to witness the views of this city for a second time from the home of a legend.