To The Hills: a Ghost Tour of Valparaíso

It is a strange experience to fall in love with a city. But the maze of streets and colors, the twisting cerros (hills), and the beauty in the crumbling corners of old, storied homes is what makes Valparaíso, simply, magical.

Photo by Hannah Schiff
Photo by Hannah Schiff

Rather than the usual guidebook treasure hunt for the most popular tourist hotspots in a new place, a tour by a local from Valparaíso provides a journey into the nooks of the city that give it its enchanting aura. From the ex-cárcel (ex-prison), to the old cemetery, and into the history of a mysterious cave, this Valparaíso adventure took on the feeling of a historical ghost tour.

Cerro Cárcel is an apt name for this hill in Valparaíso because at its top lies the ex-prison. The city’s theme of beauty in decay is apparent when visiting the cárcel. Many aspects of the prison are still visible. The graceful white building with tiny windows and bars across the glass panes, and some harsh metallic cell doors still on display emit the sense of a dark history. However, at the same time, children run through the central grass field playing with a ball and the sound of a man strumming his guitar on a nearby bench creates a contradictory atmosphere where the darkness of the prison contrasts with the upbeat mood outside.

Photo by Hannah Schiff
Photo by Hannah Schiff

The ex-prison became Valparaíso’s Parque Cultural (Cultural Park) in 2000 after it was official closed in 1999. This mix of dark history with a lively park provides an excellent parallel for all of Valparaíso. The crumbling buildings and the sprawling graffiti paired with winding corridors and an unbeatable view of the ocean makes for a city with an attitude, but also an infectious positive energy.

As the sun continued to set, the next 'ghost tour' destination was the main cemetery (Cementario 2), in which the most important local families have been buried throughout the city's history. Located on Cerro Concepción, the cemetery does not bare the names of the deceased on measly gravestones. Instead, individuals and families are buried in elegant tombs surrounded by twisting cobblestone pathways and lush plants and trees.

Walking through the cemetery not only provides a historical tour of the most influential families in Valparaíso, but it also serves as a tranquil oasis far removed from the busy city at the base of the cerro. Again, even in the eerie gloom of the cemetery, Valparaíso’s magic creates a beautiful space to relax, think, and explore.

Photo by Hannah Schiff
Photo by Hannah Schiff

As the night sky settles in and the tour winds down, the first street lamps turn on, and shimmering light cascades down the hills. At the base of Cerro Concepción lies the final location of the tour - La Cueva de Chivato (The Cave of the Sneak). La Cueva de Chivato is both a boarded-up cave and a Valparaíso legend. At the site of this cave, now covered with stone and only marked by a discreet plaque, there is a myth that whoever walked by the cave would disappear. After hundreds of years of the telling of this legend, it was discovered that, in actuality, bandits would snatch a passerby and pull them into the cave to rob them and kill them - a dark tale for such a brightly colored city.

The Cueva de Chivato adds to the mystical, ghost tour theme of this particular adventure, as the motif of darkness and decay intertwine with the rich and lively culture engrained in years of unique history. Valparaíso is a magical city and unlike any other place on earth.

Ex-Cárcel: Parque Cultural de Valparaíso: Calle Cárcel 471, C° Cárcel
The easiest way to reach the park is on foot: Walk up Av. Ecuador to Av. Bellavista. Continue on Bellavista for 3 blocks and you will reach the park.
However, if walking is not an option, the D3, 607, and 612 microbus lines are another way to get to the park.
To learn about the times and dates of events at the Cultural Center, visit: http://pcdv.cl/

Cementario N°2: At the corner of Calle Dinamarca and Calle Cumming
From the Parque Cultural, turn right onto Calle Aquiles Reed, walk down Aquiles Reed until you reach Calle Cumming. Take a sharp left onto Calle Cumming where you will reach the cemetery.

La Cueva de Chivato: Located at the base of Cerro Concepción.
There is a small alley just past the intersection of Calle Ross and Calle Esmeralda on the left side of Calle Esmeralda. Walk into the alley, and the plaque for La Cueva will be located on a stone wall hidden behind some overgrown plants just a few steps ahead.
Recommended: Continue to walk past the plaque and up the walking path to reach a lookout point.

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