By the time I reached my final destination of Santiago, Chile I wasn’t quite in the mood to explore another large city. I wouldn’t quite call myself a travel snob but I wasn’t in the mood for making too much effort in meeting new people. After a young traveller who had just started his overseas adventure came into the hostel one early morning bruised and bloodied after being mugged on a night out, I thought it would be a good time to split and find a place to chill out before I flew out.
Situated 100km north of Santiago, Valparaiso was once a bustling port town servicing the ships that would navigate back and forth across the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans and also known to sailors as “Little San Francisco”. Back in the glory days, it was the birthplace of Chile’s first stock exchange, volunteer fire department and public library. When the Panama Canal was finished, it pretty much put the seaside town out of business and turned it from one of the most affluent cities to one of the poorest.
Nowadays, despite being still an economically poor city, there are signs of recovery with more ships passing through from the increase in exports as well as those that are too large for the Panama Canal. As an initiative to cleanup and rebuild the city, the government incentivized any new renovations by home owners with excess paint and materials from the shipping yards to be used. As a result, looking over the city, you can see the multi coloured homes dotting the hillsides like a giant tapestry.
While Chile was ruled under a dictatorship, graffiti was used as a form of protest against the oppressive government. When the country moved to a more democratic form of government, it was embraced as a form of art and now artists from all over the world come to Valparaiso to showcase their work. From doorways, stair cases, windows, roofs, inside restaurants and even lamp posts. No space is spared in some creations to create three-dimensional pieces of art.
Many people come here for day trips but I ended up staying for 5 days in the Bellavista area, using it as a base to wander around for days enjoying the various surrounding cerros and suburbs and eating a tonne of empanadas. There is a beach in the neighbouring town of Viña del Mar but I was happy staying in this part of town and didn’t feel the need to see it. If you’re in the area, book a guided tour with Perro Tours. Jorge who runs the tours has an excellent grasp of the city history and the stories behind the street art of the area. There are quite a few unsafe areas as well so I would recommend doing some form of tour first to become orientated on where and where not to go in the evenings.