A Complete Guide to Valparaíso

If you’re planning on visiting Santiago, most likely a trip to Valparaíso has fluttered in your mind. Colorful houses stacked on hills in this port city is easily the most popular day trip from Chile’s capital. It’s also often combined with its neighbor, Viña del Mar. This post offers a complete guide to Valparaíso, the advantages of an overnight stay versus a day trip and things to do in both Valparaíso and Viña del Mar.

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A personal note

For the sake of transparency, I spent two weeks in Valparaíso and didn’t leave head over heels impressed. A countryside trip to Pomaire was more my style.

I was prepared to love Valparaíso, so maybe it never stood a chance against my expectations. Nevertheless, I’m all about seeing the good in places and keeping things positive. There are die-hard Valpo fans out there so I’m glad I gave Valparaíso a shot. If I hadn’t, I would still be wondering if I would be one of those Valpo fans!

How to get to Valparaíso from Santiago

Three words: Pajaritos bus terminal.

That’s where the buses to Valparaíso run most often from. You can catch a bus from other parts of Santiago, but the buses run less frequently.

How frequent is frequent you ask?

Every 10 minutes.

And that’s just for one bus company. There are multiple bus companies that serve Valparaíso from Pajaritos. You can buy your ticket directly inside the terminal at the bus counter of your choice. There’s no need to buy your ticket in advance unless you’ll be traveling around a local holiday or special event.

Complete guide to Valparaíso- the Pajaritos bus terminal.
Ticket counters at the Pajaritos bus terminal.

When purchasing your ticket you’ll be asked where you want to sit. If it matters to you, learn this vocab: Ventana (window) and pasillo (aisle).

Shout out to all my fellow window seaters!

If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the ocean during the drive, think again. No ocean views are to be found so if you ask for a window seat, know that either side of the bus offers equal views of Chile’s beautiful countryside.

Pretty much everyone is about to miss their bus since nearly all tickets are purchased on the spot for the next departure. Aside from this chaos, don’t be surprised if the screen shows the platform you need to go to only minutes before your bus departs.

If you’re confused by the screens, just look at the digital screens on the buses since they announce their departure time.

Travel Tip: Pullman is among the most luxurious ways to travel to Valparaíso for a price tag not much higher than the other bus companies. For 4,000 pesos you’ll get to enjoy a sea of leg room, reclining seats, and drivers that are well screened, to name a few.

How to get to the Pajaritos bus terminal

If you’re already in Santiago you can take the metro (bus extension) to the “Pajaritos” stop.

If you’re coming from the airport, check to see if Turbus has an upcoming direct Valparaíso departure. This will save you some time and pesos. The airport bus only runs a few times per day, so worst-case scenario you can sign up for one of the airport’s shared shuttles to take you to Pajaritos terminal. These airport shuttles run multiple times an hour and are much more economical than taking a taxi.

Is it best to visit Valparaíso as a day trip or overnight?

Iconic photo of Valparaíso.

Let’s start with time.

The bus ride from the Pajaritos bus terminal to the Valparaíso bus terminal will take between 80 – 120+ minutes depending on traffic.

The bus station in Valparaíso isn’t overly close to anything of touristic significance, except a bustling outdoor market that’s worth a pass through since you’re already in the area.

Therefore, once you arrive to the bus station you’ll either need to walk about 30 minutes to get to the center or take a taxi.

In other words, we’re talking roughly 3.5 – 4 hours in round trip transportation just to travel to and from Valparaíso. This doesn’t even count a visit to Viña del Mar if you’re hoping to wander over to the yuppie beach town.

My vote, for this reason alone, is to spend the night.

Of course, thanks to the frequent bus departures it’s totally doable to travel to Valparaíso from Santiago in a day and this complete guide to
Valparaíso will cover the highlights. Summer travelers are at a special advantage because you’ll be able to take advantage of longer daylight hours.

But should you visit Valparaíso as a day trip from Santiago?

That’s up to you and your travel schedule, my friends.

Terminal in Valparaíso.
Terminal in Valparaíso.

Other reasons to spend the night in Valparaíso

In case time isn’t enough to convince you to spend at least one night in Valparaíso, here are some others:

  1. Weather. The longer you stay in Valparaíso, the better chance you have of catching clear skies (for at least a part of the day). There were plenty of cloudy days when I visited and it would have been a shame to miss out on the views. The sun makes the colorful graffiti pop, making all those pictures you’ll be taking infinitely better.
  2. Nightlife. Valparaíso comes alive at night. So, by taking a day trip you’d miss out on experiencing all the quirky hole-in-the-wall bars. Early birds, beware- there’s not a whole lot of activity in the city until around 10:00am – 11:00am.
  3. Viña del Mar International Song Festival. The third week of every February people from around the world travel to Valparaíso/Viña del Mar for the International Song Festival. This is the oldest and largest music festival in Latin America. Big names like Marc Anthony, Prince Royce and Elton John have participated. Just make sure to book your accommodation far in advance if you plan on attending.

Travel Tip: Taxi drivers in Valparaíso are known for going out of their way to rack up money on the meter when they have tourists. Therefore, if you take a taxi make sure to barter a set price before getting in. Even better, call a cab with an app.

Best time of year to visit Valparaíso

Summer.

But since you’re probably not looking for a one word answer from a complete guide to Valparaíso, let’s dive a little deeper.

Valparaíso has a humid, temperate climate year round. Even during the summer, highs don’t usually get out of the 70’s although lows can get in the 40’s. Summer is by far the best time of year to visit so that you can take advantage of the relatively warmer and (sometimes) sunny days.

Foggy mornings straight through early afternoon are common in Valparaíso. Then, just when you think all hope for sun has been lost, the skies will part and there won’t even be a trace of a cloud. It amazed me every time!

A complete guide to Valparaíso: Sunny summer day in Valpo.

Things to do in Valparaíso

During my nearly two week stay in Valparaíso, some of my favorite moments were wandering down side streets admiring steep staircases and graffiti. Since you may not have so much leisure time, here is a complete guide of things to do in Valparaíso.

1. Templeman Street on Cerro Alegre

A complete guide to Valparaíso wouldn't be complete without including Templeman street.

Cerro Alegre (Spanish for Happy Hill) as a whole is a cool place to visit and one of Valparaíso’s two touristy hills. However, before you go off exploring all the side streets and cafes, make Templeman Street your first stop.

Get ready for some exercise! This street gives “steep” a whole new meaning. But you may not even notice all your huffing and puffing as you awe at the graffiti and colorful buildings along the way.

You may have seen the “We Are Not Hippies, We Are Happies” sign around, yes? That’s located at the top of Templeman Street.

We are not hippies, we are happies sign on Templeman street, Valparaíso.

Make sure to take some time along the way to stop at the shops and cafes.

2. Reina Victoria Funicular

The Reina Victoria Funicular.

While we’re on the theme of steep, the Reina Victoria funicular makes Templeman Street look flat. A complete guide to Valparaíso absolutely would not be complete without including this gem. The Reina Victoria funicular, located near Aníbal Pinto Plaza, opened in 1903 and first ran off of steam.

It looks, sounds, and is rickety. But maintenance is done regularly, so they say to rest easy.

For only 100 pesos you can take the short funicular ride which, aside from offering an adrenaline rush, also offers city and ocean views. Be prepared to wait in line, especially if you’re visiting on a weekend. They only let 10 people on at a time for comfort and safety.

If you didn’t think it could get any scarier, try taking the Reina Victoria funicular down. You’ll feel like you’re going to fall off the hill!

3. Cerro Concepción

View of Valparaíso at the top of the Reina Victoria funicular.
Iconic view of Valparaíso at the top of Reina Victoria funicular.

When you take Reina Victoria funicular up, your first views will be of the incredible Concepción hill, Valparaíso’s other touristy hill. Here, you can walk to the Lutheran church. This is also the location of the iconic yellow building.

If you’ve looked through pictures of Valparaíso, you’ve surely come across pictures of the piano stairs. These are located on Cerro Concepción leading down from the Lutheran church. Just look for the hoards of people taking pictures.

Travel Tip: Local Chileans, especially from Santiago, take weekend trips to Valparaíso. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, aim to visit on a weekday. Summer is an extra popular time of year so even during the week sites are more crowded than usual.

4. Cerro Cárcel

Colorful street near Cerro Cárcel.

Cerro Cárcel (Prison hill) is overlooked by far too many travelers, but for me it’s a must to include in a complete guide to Valparaíso. As its name implies, the hill is home to a (former) prison. A large cemetery with ornate graves also sits on this hill. It has better views than most of Valparaíso’s living residents!

If reading about the deceased isn’t your thing, the views alone will be enough to make you change your mind. Parque Cultural de Valparaiso (Valparaiso Cultural Park) is near the cemetery and is absolutely worth the visit. Here, you can see the remains of prison buildings and read about their history. It’s common to see people practicing all forms of art in this area. You can also get some great off-the-beaten-path photos of colorful streets in this area.

5. Boat Ride

Valparaíso port.

From the downtown Sotomayor Plaza, you’ll be steps away from the pier, which happens to be the only place in the main area of Valparaíso where you’re able to get right up to the water.

There are a variety of companies offering boat rides, ranging from 3,000 – 5,000 pesos per person. The ride will last 30 – 40 minutes and take you along Valparaíso’s coast for views from the water.

Perhaps most exciting of all- you’ll pass by a colony of sea lions!

6. Eat Empanadas

A complete guide to Valparaíso wouldn't be complete without an empanada stop.

Can a complete guide to Valparaíso really be complete without including empanadas? Chileans are proud of their empanadas and the proof is in Valparaíso.

My favorite empanada shop is near Ecuador Plaza, located across from the Lider supermarket. They have a variety of empanadas- plenty of seafood and meat choices and even a few options for vegetarians. My favorite was the shrimp and cheese!

A far more famous empanada shop among tourists is the Delicias Express. They have over 80 varieties of empanadas with some really unique mixtures. Vegetarians and vegans, you will have a slew of options for a change!

7. Take a Walking Tour

Taking a walking tour of Valparaíso will show you painted stairs like this.

This should be first on your list if you only have one day in Valparaíso. I was impressed by this walking tour that offered almost a complete guide to Valparaíso (although surprisingly, not up Templeman Street). As expected from any good walking tour, it gave insight into local history and culture.

My only critique (aside from not going up Templeman Street) is that the end of the tour was unnecessarily long because they make a stop at the Delicias Express empanada shop. Picture 20+ people ordering empanadas in a tiny shop meant for only a few. Between waiting for the empanadas to cook and everyone to eat, I felt my day whittling away.

My advice to you- when you get to the empanada shop, thank your guide and give him/her their well deserved tip. Then, head straight down the road and you’ll arrive to the Sotomayer Plaza, which is where your walking tour would have ended anyway.

Snap some pictures of the pretty buildings and head to the water where you’ll encounter the port. Take a boat ride if you feel inclined, and by the time you return you’ll be able to walk back to the empanada shop and enjoy your empanada without the wait! Backtrack up that same hill and head to Templeman Street to round off your complete guide to Valparaíso.

Alas, a much better itinerary, especially if you’re short on time!

8. Visit Viña del Mar

Beach in Viña del Mar.

A complete guide to Valparaíso wouldn’t be complete without mentioning neighboring Viña del Mar. Viña del Mar deserves more than a bullet point, so let’s dive into this easy day (or half or quarter day) trip from Valparaíso.

Visiting Viña del Mar from Valparaíso

Valparaíso is old, full of vibrant colors, rough around the edges, artistic, and economical (relatively speaking- we’re in Chile, after all). Viña del Mar is the polar opposite, except replace vibrant colors with pristine white buildings and blue sea.

Speaking of the sea, you may find yourself as surprised as I was that you can’t reach the ocean from Valparaíso, except from the docks at the port. So, if you’re itching for direct contact with the sea- and especially the sand- Viña del Mar is for you.

How to Get to Viña del Mar from Valparaíso

The water is cold for swimming at Viña del Mar.

It’s super easy to travel between Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. There’s an above ground metro that runs frequently along the coast.

Two main metro stations pertain to you- Estación Puerto, which is by the port, and Estación Bellavista, which is between Cerro Cárcel and Cerro Bellavista (home to the outdoor Museo a Cielo Abierto, which is only worth visiting if you’ve exhausted all other Valparaíso sightseeing options).

You’ll need to purchase a metro card, which you can do at the station. Make sure to tell them “Ida y vuelta” which means “round trip” so they know how much credit to put on your card.

I recommend sitting on the ocean side of the train. The barred off coastline in Valparaíso isn’t anything to see, but the views of the ocean when you pop out from under the tunnel will make it worth the wait!

There are two stops of touristic interest that you can get off at in Viña del Mar. Let’s take a look at these.

Miramar Metro Station

The Miramar station will drop you off closest to the ocean. Here, you can walk to Wulff Castle, visit the ship-shaped Cap Ducal restaurant/hotel, and walk along Viña del Mar’s oceanfront boardwalk.

And of course, lounge on the beautiful sandy beaches!

A complete guide to Valparaíso should include a visit to Wulff castle in Viña del Mar.
Wulff Castle at Viña del Mar.

When you get off at the Miramar metro station, look up and you’ll see a small hill. It’s a 10 minute detour to get to the top, if you’ll be spending a full day in Viña del Mar. However, I think the view looking up at it from the road is just as good, if not better than, the views from the hill.

Viña del Mar Metro Station

The Viña del Mar metro station is the stop directly after the Miramar station and is located in inland Viña del Mar.

From the Viña del Mar station, you’ll be a short walk from Viña del Mar’s main square. It’s a nice square with some older architecture- a rarity for Viña del Mar. You’ll also find large, fancy department stores in this area.

Downtown Viña del Mar.

Which metro stop in Viña del Mar is best?

If you’re visiting Viña del Mar and Valparaíso as a day trip from Santiago, get off at Miramar and focus only on the coastal area.

Otherwise, if you’re making a day trip to Viña del Mar from Valparaíso, I recommend starting with the Viña del Mar stop. From there, you can walk around inland Viña del Mar and then make your way by foot to the coast.

General tips for visiting Viña del Mar

  • The waves are intense and the water is cold. Even when the beach doesn’t have a red flag, you’ll likely find that staying beachside is a better option than jumping in the water.
  • San Martín Ave. and Peru Ave. are where it’s at. These are the fancy touristy streets of Viña del Mar.
  • There’s an international market near the main plaza. It’s a good place to load up on Chilean souvenirs…and souvenirs from countries around the world, for that matter!
Hill by Miramar metro stop.
Hill by the Miramar metro station.

Complete Guide to Valparaíso Conclusion

Okay, I’m ready! Chew me out in the comments section for not being head over heels in love with Valparaíso. Even though I didn’t like it as much as I expected, so many people do and I’m interested in hearing your takeaways.