We came into Valparaiso by bus on a day trip from Santiago. Most people on our tour went back to Santiago with the bus at the end of the day. A few others besides us stayed in Valparaiso, checking into hotels for a couple nights before boarding P&O Arcadia for a cruise across the Pacific Ocean. After flying into Santiago the bus tour made a great way to cross the 70 miles to the cruise port at Valparaiso. Cheaper than taking a cab plus we got to take the tour. The bus went around nearby Vina del Mar before finishing out the tour in Valparaiso.
The first stop in Valparaiso was at Pablo Neruda’s house, just a quick photo stop with no time to go in. He was a famous poet in Chile, though we had not heard of him.
Out the bus window just after we got back from Pablo Neruda’s house we saw a lone horseman riding up the narrow street. A rather odd thing to see in a mostly paved over city of close together houses with nowhere that looked suitable for riding a horse, let alone anywhere for it to live. The horse looks like it could use a good meal and the services of a farrier (horseshoer). Then again the rider looks like he could use a good meal too.
Much of Valparaiso is built on steep hillsides. The city once had an extensive system of funiculars to assist in bringing people up the hills. It’s hard to say how many there ever were because it varies depending on the source. I’ve seen it listed everywhere from 26 – 33. Many of them sit forlorn and abandoned, rusting into history. At least 8 are still in use. The bus stopped to show us an abandoned one set back a bit from the roadway, tucked between some houses. We did not ride any of them on the tour. One of the other bus passengers said she took one down instead of walking with the rest of the group after the bus let everyone out up on a hill. She traded the best part of the tour for that ride.
The walk down was quite interesting. We walked through a well-preserved clean area of older buildings, many with colorful street art (which discourages malicious graffiti as people don’t usually paint over a mural.) Valparaiso welcomes the artists who paint the murals and even has tours people can take around town to see the street art.
The steep hills and colorful buildings make great views looking up or down. Many have cobblestone streets, though some roads are not in the best of repair.
The ground drops so steeply in some areas that the sidewalk gets higher and higher from street level until you come to a stairway at the end or sometimes even middle of the block. A network of stairways runs through the hills so pedestrians have another option besides roads in some places.
Valparaiso has its share of street dogs, which seems common in Chile as Santiago had some too. We saw water someone had left out for them and later when we tried to feed a couple of them some leftover French fries they had no interest at all so they must be pretty well fed. My dog would have snarfed up the fries in an instant no matter how much she already had to eat.
The guided tour ended at the town square in a level area near the sea. The bus parked near a beautiful old building belonging to the navy. A band played loudly in a stand set up in the square. The tour guide gave everyone some time to wander around a bit on their own. He walked the others to their hotel near the town square and told us he’d drop us off on the way out of town as ours was a bit farther from the square.
We stayed at Hotel Diego de Almagro on the road next to the sea. From our window we had a great view of the sea and of a cruise ship in port. We had a couple nights to stay in Valparaiso before our ship came in, but it was nice to know we would see it when it arrived. If that one hadn’t been there we never would have known it was anything but a container port since the next day a container ship sat at the pier where the cruise ship had been. Our ship ended up farther back on the dock kind of behind a dry dock anchored out in the bay.
Directly across from our room we could see a train station, and behind that container storage where giant forklifts would sometimes come and either put containers on trucks or just move them around.
Apparently the tour guide knew which areas to walk through where we would find only clean streets and buildings. In spite of seeing a number of street dogs on that tour we never saw so much as one dog turd on the road or sidewalk. Our guide had said you could find free walking tours at the town square hosted mainly by college students who knew a lot about the area’s history, but we didn’t look for those or for the boat tour around the harbor he mentioned either. Once we boarded the ship we saw the boat tours going around the harbor. They came fairly close to the cruise ship and some nearby navy boats.
Walking around on our own we went through some of the more dodgy areas where you wonder if the urine smell is from street dogs or street people. We had only seen one cat walking with the tour group, but saw more in the non-touristy areas. Probably some pets and some strays. Some of the dogs are pets too, but many are street dogs. We saw very few puppies, just one batch by an abandoned building safely off the road. They have to learn young how to be streetwise and watch for cars or they won’t live to grow old. The dogs are very smart about watching for traffic and knowing when they can safely cross even the busiest streets.
We walked along the road by the sea one day and found a working funicular near the container port. We took a ride up to the top. Like just about all tourist attractions everywhere it exited through a gift shop. Outside we found a few shops and a maritime museum up there. We saw another funicular nearby, but it looked non-functional. We found a couple other working ones later. One near the main square of the touristy area and another visible from the other end of the harbor near an old pier that was open for people to walk around on.
Locally Valparaiso’s funiculars are known as as ascensors. Funiculars operate on a pulley and cable system with the descending car providing counterweight for the ascending car. Valparaiso’s funiculars were built from around 1883 to 1915. The earliest ran on hydraulics. A bit later they used steam engines and in 1906 they built the first with an electric motor.
A walkway went past the maritime museum and had great views of the other nearby funicular as well as the town and the sea. It led to an area that looked like it was intended for people to set up booths there to sell things, but it was empty that day. Beyond that we began coming into a bit more dodgy areas as we worked our way back down to sea level on a rather roundabout walk. From one street we could see a building across the way that looked as if it could crumble at any time, yet it had cars parked on top of it – which is street level for the other side of that building.
Shells of buildings and broken walls dot the city in between viable buildings, remnants of earthquakes past. We saw quite a few on the walk back down from the funicular. We could have ridden it back down as you can go either way, but we saw more of the town by taking a different route. Lots of stairways run between buildings in places where the roads don’t go so there are many ways to get back to the lower part of town.
We walked down one road too narrow for cars. Near the lower part of the hill the sidewalk ended abruptly at a place where the road had dropped in an earthquake leaving just enough road for a bicycle, possibly a motorcycle to pass by. One wall of a partially collapsed building stood on the side where the road dropped away, and buildings still in use on the other. Chile has the most earthquakes of anywhere on the planet so they must just get used to living with the damaged buildings and going on with their lives.
A train runs between Valparaiso and Vina del Mar and a path along the water looked as if you could take it all the way there as well. We walked along the sea in the opposite direction from where we found the funicular to what looked to us like a former cruise ship or container ship pier, now open to the public to walk around on. It seemed like a popular place.
We thought the building in front of that pier was an old abandoned cruise terminal, but it turned out to be the current terminal in use. Although the ship docked at the container pier on the other end of the harbor, passengers entered and exited through the terminal building and buses transported people between the terminal and the ship. Inside the building seats in a waiting area sat next to the check-in counters and the rest of the space was filled with vendors. Wine was a popular item as people could bring as much as they wanted aboard the ship from that port.
Crew milled around behind the counters while passengers piled up in the waiting area until they finally began to process people at boarding time. If you ever cruise out of Valparaiso, arriving early really doesn’t accomplish anything as they did not open the counters early and later arrivals crowded around the roped-off line area, getting in when it opened ahead of the earlier arrivals waiting in the seats. The check in crew inside the terminal was made up of people from the ship rather than people who worked for the port.