Destination to Watch: Valparaíso, Chile

by  Elissa Garay | May 7, 2013
Valparaiso, Chile
Valparaiso, Chile / StreetFlash/iStock

A colorful architectural jumble of old clapboard houses and crumbling mansions, the captivating port town of Valparaíso comprises Chile’s cultural core. A UNESCO-protected gem of a city, the hodgepodge of hills and rickety cable cars here make for fascinating ambles, but “Valpo” may very well be South America’s most underrated locale. In the midst of a tourism renaissance, a bevy of happening little eateries, hotels, and boutiques have been cropping up about town. Recently back from a five-night stay there, I’m fresh off the ground with some of the best value recommendations for sleeping, eating, and taking it all in.

In Valparaíso, it’s all about getting lost in the city's magical maze. Wander the hip hills of Cerro Concepción and Cerro Alegre, home to some of the city’s best boutique hotels, bohemian shops and galleries, and trendy eateries, where graffiti artists and muralists have seemingly been given free reign, and intermittent panoramas of the port and hilled city regularly peek through.

John Garay

For a little  guidance on your saunter, hook up with a free three-hour guided walking tour taking in Valparaiso highlights with the Tours 4 Tips or Free Tour Valparaíso tour companies, offered two times daily from Plaza Sotomayor, or Plaza Anibal Pinto, respectively (the guides work for tips).

Nearby, have a whirl on one of the city’s rickety century-old funiculars – our favorite was the Ascensor Artilleri, where for just 20 cents, you’ll catch a lift to a lovely overlook with fantastic vistas of the port.

A testament to the city’s artistic legacy, Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda kept a home at La Sebastiana (entry $8.50). The five-floor residence stands in testament to Neruda’s one-of-a-kind character and eclectic tastes in his most intimate space, with colorfully accented rooms and a design scheme that speaks to his love of the sea; it features great views over the city and port.

Also worth a peek, the recently re-opened Museo de Bellas Artes (entry $2.15) showcases a renovated space for a fine arts collection spanning 19th and 20th century European and Chilean artists; it's set in the attractive Palacio Baburizza, an art nouveau mansion dating back to 1916.

Come nightfall, have a taste of the local nightlife and music scene at waterfront institution La Piedra Feliz, with live salsa, jazz, rock, and more bands taking stage in several different rooms – entry fees apply, but as an added value, during our stay, Hotel Fauna guests got free admission passes upon request.

For a lip-smacking lunch or snack, chow down on some of the best empanadas in town at Donde Lucas, set in the Cerro Bellavista neighborhood (just a stone’s throw from Pablo Neruda’s La Sebastiana). Pair fresh-squeezed juices (from $2.50) with tasty empanadas ($1.80 to $4.25 each), served up by lovely hostesses in the company of “Lucas” – the eatery's well-loved (and well-fed!) feline namesake.

We stayed at the hip little six-room Hotel Fauna, set in the buzzing Cerro Alegre neighborhood and helmed by a refreshingly efficient and friendly staff. With architect owners behind its vision, recycled materials from demolished houses around town have been reinvented as accents in the inspired rooms, touting contemporary, individualized design schemes. The busy top-floor restaurant (pictured above) serves up respectable fare with sweeping views of the city and harbor to go with. The two-year-old property is already in the midst of an expansion project to meet growing demand, and is slated to tack on nine more rooms and an expanded restaurant terrace this summer. Room rates are $150 for standard rooms (note: they lack much natural light), or upgrade to a splurge-worthy room-with-a-view for $30 more; breakfast and Wi-Fi is included in the rate.

Incurable travel addict, longtime travel scribe, and mindful money-saver Elissa Richard is currently indulging her insatiable wanderlust on an epic 14-month journey around the globe – intent on making it every step of the way without busting her modest budget. Follow her along the way as she reports back with budget-savvy travel tips from the mountains of Transylvania to the wilds of Tasmania, and from the little-trodden temples of Burma to the bustling bars and clubs of Buenos Aires. A vagabond in search of value, just for ShermansTravel!

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