Valparaíso, Chile: A Pastel World on Stilts

Seventy-four miles from Santiago, the city of Valparaíso is home to a multitude of ascensores (funiculars). These vintage cabins on stilts jolt happily up sheer wooden tracks to creaky station houses perched high on hillsides above. They hoist weary walkers away from modern day hustle, up to a breezy upper world on a daily basis.

Santiago Chile Valpo
Photo by Galen Brown

Her tumble-down streets and ascensores may be rightly preserved (by UNESCO, to be precise), but Valpo could never feel like a museum. Cafés, restaurants and nightlife abound, and it’s only sensible to break up your day of wandering the photogenic streets by checking out some of these zesty spots.

Santiago Chile Valpo
Photo by Galen Brown

The two very winding, Bohemian areas of Cerro Concepción and Cerro Alegre are where many can be found. The areas are serviced by Ascensor Concepción but can also be reached by Ascensor El Peravia, bringing you up next to the Palacio Baburizza, a surreal-looking wooden building and home to the Museo de Bellas Artes.

While Ascensor El Peravia is half the price of its quirky sister, neither one will break the bank; a one-way leap sets you back around CP$200 (US$0.20).

Places to Eat

Skipping up the rainbow steps of Templeman street above Ascensor Concepción you will come to the jolly orange façade of Restobar Templeman on the corner of Templeton and Lautaro Rosa. Ask for a café con leche on the balcony for free biscuits and a view overlooking winding streets, irregular roofs and the hazy ocean.

If you want something special for lunch, Pasta y Vino on Templeman serves the finest fare around. Pop in to make a reservation in the morning if you can. Rich duck ravioli, fettuccini Gorgonzola baked and served wrapped in a paper parcel, and simple but delicious spaghetti carbonara are just a few of the treats available (main courses from around CP$7,000, or US$11). Served with a cold glass of sauvignon in an intimate and rustic setting by very attractive waiters, fear not--you can simply roll down the hill afterwards if you’ve eaten too much.

Places to Stay

Santiago Chile Valpo
Photo by Galen Brown

If you'd like to stay the night, the Zero Hotel with a pale blue façade is a high-end boutique option. Its terraces and rooms overlook the hillside and the Pacific (rooms around CP$123,000). The B & B Casa de Manuel is far cheaper (rooms around CP$12,000) but also charming. With a purple façade and bright colorful shutters, like all of Valpo, it belongs to another time.

For the hardened traveler--or at least, one on a budget--the Hospedaje on Pierre Loti sits cobalt blue at the end of a row of lavender, sky, mint julep, rose and russet houses. In the ground floor dormitory, bandana-clad youths dangled from attractive solid wood bunks, and a glance through the open door of the next room revealed a more surprising antique: a dear old lady peeping from her bed sheets. The family’s rooms traditionally are on the ground floor in these hospedajes, while the remaining guest rooms extend up beyond the wood staircases. (Rooms about CP$7,800)

Main Town and Mercado Central

Santiago Chile Valpo
Photo by Charlotte Mountford

Though the hills of Valpo are the main attraction, don't forget the main town below. Among many sites the Plaza Sotomayor, the old naval heart of the city with its impressive Naval Command Building and sword-wielding statues, harks back to Valpo’s time as a great naval power to Chile.

A few blocks north, the Mercado Central (Central Market) is half full of life, half derelict, and housed in an old-fashioned warehouse. From Avenida Blanco, slip into the gloom of the market, past some of the more, well, sorry-looking fruit and vegetable stalls, and go left up one of the great, fading staircases.

Santiago Chile Valpo
Photo by Charlotte Mountford

At the top is a tiny marisqueria, a fish café with no apparent name and amazing smells wafting from behind its net curtains. Packed with locals having lunch, a troubadour sings and strums on his guitar most afternoons to the energetic response of diners clapping and crying out in unison.

Next to the galley kitchen and tables a small adjacent area forms the family’s sitting room, complete with a TV on which rests a great framed photo of the madre de la casa, a matriarchal figure who stares sternly out at the festivities.

As you're plied with cola and serenaded by the dim light of the Mercado while children scramble onto your knees, it might feel like another world. Luckily, it's a quaint port town called Valparaíso just 74 miles away from Santiago.

Restobar Templeman

510 Lautaro Rosas

Phone: (56-32) 317 9565

Pasta Y Vino

352 Templeman

Phone: (56-32) 496 187

Zero Hotel

343 Lautaro Rosas

Phone: (56-32) 211 3113

Casa de Manuel

576 Abtao

Cellular Phone 09 203 7415


51 Pierre Loti

(56-32) 495298

Mercado Central

Between Cochrane and Blanco (at San Martin)

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