On the Chilean coast, an hour from the capital of Santiago lays a little treasure, called Valparaíso. The size, however, does not reflect its historical importance. Throughout the years it has served as South America’s biggest seaport, playing an essential role during the gold rush in California, in addition to being home to the first stock market in all of Latin America. Today it draws more attention for its art scene.
The Labyrinth of Hills and Funiculars
Valpo, as the city is commonly known, is a maze of colorful hills. From the shore, the streets go up, up, up, until you get one of the best views of the Pacific ocean. The steep hills form the shape of an amphitheater and open up for a myriad of tiny shortcuts where no car can pass. All the steps and narrow streets form a pedestrian labyrinth that is sure to whip you into shape. And should you decide to skip the hike, there are beautiful, old funiculars to help you reach greater heights. This is one of the reasons Valparaíso is on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites; out of the 26 original, 8 of these lifts are still in use. The ride costs next to nothing, and the view is of course spectacular.
The Colorful Street Art of Valpo
The next thing that catches the eye is all of the amazing street art that covers the city’s surface. And I mean cover – almost every house has been personalized by graffiti. The result is a wonderfully colorful display of art in all its variations. It has become quite a hub for graffiti artists, who arrive from all over the world to decorate the walls of the city. And the inhabitants are not hard to convince; most people instantly say yes if someone wants to use their house as a canvas.
Meet the Graffiti Artists of Valparaíso
During my stay in Valpo, among the graffiti artists who stopped by, was a British couple, the lovely Daniel and Charlotte. Here is one of their great pieces – the lady who owned the house was thrilled with their work, and would always come out with cookies or other treats. Dan and Charlotte are still painting their way across the world.
Another graffiti couple, Ella & Pitr, came and renewed the hostel I was working at with this old lady – just one example of the great art these Frenchies have left behind around the globe.
Cerro Abajo: The Thrilling Downhill Bike Race
A treat not to miss is the annual event of Cerro Abajo – an incredible downhill bike race, famous for its insane jumps and turns, not to mention all the steep steps the riders literally fly down. Each year international athletes come to Valpo to compete over who finishes the 1,7 km course the fastest.
Valparaíso is truly one of a kind. In addition to the countless graffiti masterpieces, the amazing views, the sunny weather, and the delicious food, the people here are the friendliest you’ll ever meet. As the birthplace of the people’s president, Salvador Allende, killed in the coup d’état in 1973, Valparaíso remains a proud outpost, where people know and appreciate each other. A subculture of punk rock, combined with a strong sense of solidarity and community, completes the picture.