When we told people about our forthcoming trip to Chile, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for Santiago as a destination but considerably more for the nearby coastal town of Valparaíso with its UNESCO world heritage port area. We arrived in violent rain, which confirmed our decision to pick a hotel that would be easy to find by virtue of being both on the sea front and main road, as a good one. Hungry after our drive we set off up one of Valparaíso’s many hills in search of lunch and immediately noticed the colourful murals that gave a bohemian vibe quite different to the shiny glass towers and manicured parks of the Providencia neighbourhood in which we stayed in Santiago. Having seen practically no other tourists in Santiago, we immediately spotted quite a few on the streets and heard almost as many British voices as Spanish which was quite a turnaround. There seemed to be a large number of funky cafés here too—Valparaíso is clearly a way point on the international backpacker circuit.
After a restorative Italian-style pizza lunch we headed on up the hill to La Sebastiana, former home of Nobel prize winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Perched high on the hill, the rooms provide a spectacular view of the entire of the city spreading out towards the sea below, and Neruda was also an avid collector of unusual, interesting and beautiful objects which were artfully arranged throughout the house. The house was lovely, but it also felt like an oasis of calm and niceness after the walk through dirty and smelly streets covered in dog mess and grafitti.
The next morning we explored the old port area which is the reason for the World Heritage listing. The area definitely has character with its brightly coloured Victorian buildings but the majority were too shabby and run down to be called picturesque and without a guide to bring the place to life we sadly failed to find anything interesting on our own. It was not all bad though as every meal we had in Valparaíso was excellent. Café Vinilo served us a delicious dinner of ceviche and a traditional ham dish followed by home-made palm oil ice cream (which tasted a bit like maple syrup mixed the caramel) washed down with an excellent