Charming and gritty. Colorful and grungy. Vibrant and desolate. I've never been to a place with such contrasting traits. Valparaiso is a port town on the coast of Chile with much of the town built into the hills. It has the best street art in Chile and it's winding streets and old funiculars make it fun to explore. Valpo was quite the bustling merchant and financial hub back in the day. But it went through a decline when there was an earthquake and the Panama Canal opened in the early 1900's. It's become popular again for artists and tourists and was named a Unesco World Heritage Site.
We arrived at the bus terminal at 10am and didn't see much to be impressed with quite yet. The city is pretty dirty below the hills and the crowd seemed a bit seedy. After walking a mile, we turned left and started walking up into the hills. This is the touristy area and has a much nicer vibe than everything at the bottom of the hill. The city is filled with colorful street art, ramshackle houses, restored and also run down mansions, and cute guest houses turned into hostels. We stayed in an old mansion that was turned into a hostel/hotel.
Besides the extreme hills, the city is easy for getting around on foot. There are beautiful old buildings, abandoned warehouses, cute cafes, and even a Starbucks. For the most part, it feels genuine and the tourists haven't overrun it too much. We learned that there's something going on pretty much every weekend in Valpo, besides the crazy club scene below the hills. There was a free jazz performance on Saturday night in one of the parks and a craft fair on Sunday down by the main square.
We arrived on a Saturday and left on Monday so we saw what Valpo was like during prime weekend time. People definitely come to party. Due to our jet lag, we were out by 8am Sunday morning and the city was mostly empty except for people still out from the night before! Unfortunately, we saw all effects from the night before; beer bottles and trash everywhere, the smell of urine around every corner, people passed out on side streets and pockets of people still drinking. It was crazy.
We decided it would be a good time to climb most of the way up into the hills and do a scenic walk through the neighborhoods. We saw several stray dogs along the way. One of them stayed with us for the duration of our walk. He was a German Shepherd mix and so sweet! He walked next to us or in front of us the whole time, as if to lead the way. If he got distracted by a smell, he would run to catch up with us. If we stopped to look at the view, he sat down and patiently waited for us. We got separated from him in a crowd of people and decided it was best we try and leave him. He saw us walking away and started to come after us but then stopped and stayed behind. Heart broken.... but he would be fine and it's not like we can take him home!
There was a Red Bull sponsored bike event later in the day and we got a pretty good spot to enjoy some of the jumps. We could have spent a few more days in Valpo, easy, but we left early Monday morning to take a bus to Argentina!