Just about every country has its metropolises, farms, and beaches, but not every country has a paradise. Valparaíso (the word paraíso literally means paradise) is Chile’s most captivating, cool, and unique city, clinging to the steep Pacific coast only 140 kilometers outside Santiago. Once a florishing port, Valparaìso—fondly referred to as “Valpo” by the locals—boasts a whimsical, colorful soul with a newer bohemian vibe. Now an UNESCO world heritage site, the city’s breathtaking architecture alone is reason enough to pay the city a visit. Victorian houses, gothic mansions and Technicolor ramshackle homes intermingle on hillsides. Valparaíso is the new hotspot for boutique hotels, a flourishing art and design community, vibrant nightlife, and one of Chile’s hottest foodie scenes.
Valparaíso shares a chill vibe with its beach-town neighbor, Viña del Mar, a traditional beach resort area about 15 minutes north on the coast. However, Valpo is where the action is these days. The city is split into two levels: the flat part and the hills (there are dozens of them). Most businesses, pharmacies, banks, markets, and fast food restaurants are on the plano, flat area. Residents ride the turn-of-the-century funicular elevators high up into the hills where they live–along with the majority of the hotels, much of the UNESCO world heritage site, cool restaurants, bars, and boutiques. Each hill feels like its own little village to be honest. Valparaiso is reminiscent of Greece’s sloping island cities, a shabbier version of old San Francisco, perhaps a South American reincarnation of Lisbon. Either way, it seems to have gotten stuck in time. Everything is vintage. There always to be some old lady hanging out the window spying on the street below, and some cat meowing off a roof. Even if you go for the day, stick around for sunset. It’s magical. As the sun sinks into the western horizon, the hills light up and begin to twinkle as dusk nears. The lights farther up the coast shimmer. It’s a provincial yet very bustling city. And in Valpo, the Pacific Ocean is always near. In sight, in smell (the air is refreshingly salty), in feel (ahh, that cool ocean breeze). There is no forgetting this city’s nautical roots.
So what’s up these days in Valpo? Everything. Seriously. Every time we do a mini getaway for a couple days, we eat amazingly well, party it up, shop in new boutiques, take in local art, and manage to kick back too. There’s life in the streets, a buzz in the air, that onda of effervescence. Damn, this town is coming up. If you’re coming to Chile, don’t overlook this gem. There’s no other place like. Not in Chile, not on earth. It’s hip, it’s nostalgic, it’s funky, it’s uniquely Valpo. Here’s what we discovered on our last soirée in town. What’s new and rockin’ up a storm from restaurants to ice cream parlors, underground dining, shopping, and the recently unveiled Fine Arts Museum. Enjoy and feel free to share your Valparaíso datos and experiences with other “Eat Winers”.
Almirante Montt 532, between Lautaro Rosas and San Enrique, Cerro Alegre Contact: +56 32 3184827, www.malandrino.cl Open: Wed-Fri 7pm-12am; Sat-Sun 1pm-4pm, 8pm-12am Credit: AE, MC, Maestro, V
A handsome white façade with turquoise wooden doors and shutters reveals a small eatery boasting a huge wood-burning oven to make their crunchy, addictive pizzas. Owner Patricio Caorsi has invested years renovating the space and perfecting the pizzas, which use organic tomatoes to make the killer sauce. Cozy, charming, utterly European in vibe, if a hankering for pizza arrives in Valparaíso, now you know where to go.
Almirante Montt 402, with Urriola, Cerro Alegre Contact: +56 32 3201599 Open: Tue-Sun 12:30pm-5pm, 8pm-12am (summertime) Credit: only cash for now, will soon be accepting all major credit cards (AE, MC, Maestro, V)
Located in the old Cerro Alegre panadería (bakery) this newly opened bistro is the perfect spot for a light lunch or to linger over Pisco Sours with friends. Funky and very porteño in spirit, the menu steers towards Chilean classics, well-executed empanadas, crunchy salads, ultra fresh fish, or the rotating lunch specials. Part art gallery, with big picture windows, it’s ideal to soak up the Cerro Alegre vibe without leaving your table.
Higuera 133, Cerro Alegre (Hotel Casa Higueras) Contact: +56 32 2497900, www.casahigueras.cl Open: Mon-Sun until 11pm Credit: AE, MC, Maestro, V
Part of the swank five-star boutique hotel, Casa Higueras, this is one of the finest restaurants in Valparaíso for dining—and the best terrace. Black linen, low lighting, and the twinkling hills of Valpo all set the stage for romantic dining. With sweeping views of the coastline and busy port below, navigate the menu with Chilean accents and creative takes on traditional ingredients. A complete wine list and great service make this a winner.
Emporio La Rosa
Plaza Aníbal Pinto 1189 Contact: +56 32 2745832, www.emporiolarosa.cl Open: Mon-Fri 8:30am-9:30pm; Sat 10am-9:30pm Credit: AE, MC, Maestro, V
Down on the plano, flat ground, and looking for a snack? Head for Plaza Aníbal Pinto at the base of Cerro Concepción and Alegre. This famed Santiago ice cream parlor has now shacked up a local in Valparaíso by popular demand. Chileans are locos for ice cream—and almost consume as much as they do wine. Stop for an empanada or a double-stacked cone with fun favorites like lucuma, manjar, or cherimoya alegre (custard apple with orange).
Almirante Montt 418, between José Grossi and Paseo Dimalow, Cerro Alegre Contact: +56 32 2216253 Open: Mon-Sun 10am-9pm Credit: cash only
Recently opened, if you have an ice cream weakness, forget you read this recommendation and by all means don’t go inside. This darling local is full of love from its nostalgic chic décor to the sinfully addictive ice cream coming in oddball flavors and names like Chocolate Africano, Delirio Porteño, or Galaxia. The perfect balance of creamy sweetness, if you love coffee the espresso is primo.
Prietas con Papas
Pop-up restaurants and underground dining are becoming all the rage. Want to discover indigenous Chilean ingredients and classical recipes with a nouveau twist? Add in a shot of adventure as to the venue and your fellow diners. Check out Prietas con Papas. Don Prieta will hook you up with all the details for certainly one of the most memorable dinners of your life.
Bar Nuevo Pajarito
Salvador Donoso 143, with Chacabuco Contact: +56 32 2258910, http://pajaritobar.blogspot.com Open: Mon-Sat 4pm-4:30am Credit: cash only
Valparaíso’s Bohemian vibe and nightlife is legendary. If you want to hit the town, this century-old bar has recently been resuscitated with new, young blood. A great hand out for potent cocktails and live music, it’s low key but buzzy vibe will always make the beginning of a great night out on the town. Go late, after 10pm when the action may begin.
Paseo Gervasoni 408, Cerro Concepción Contact: +56 32 2591149, www.kipu.cl Open: Wed-Mon 11am-7pm
Secluded off the scenic Paseo Gervasoni, this beautifully decorated shop has high ceilings, white walls, wooden floors and natural light pouring in. Focusing on traditional, high quality handicrafts, here you can find the precious clay figurines, Figuras de Talagante, depicting rural life in Chile. They also have Mapuche Indian weavings, jewelry, shawls, and wooden bowls from the south, among others.
Palacio Baburizza (Museo de Bellas Artes)
Paseo Yugoeslavo 166, Cerro Alegre Contact: +56 32 225 2332, Hours: 10am-6pm, Tues-Sun (Museums closed Mondays)
After nearly thirteen years of prolonged renovation, the Fine Arts Museum in Valparaíso just reopened. Make a point of visiting this living artifact, whose architecture whispers of another (gloriously affluent) era. Designed by architects Arnaldo Barison and Renato Schiavon in 1916, this art nouveau palace has intricate detailing in its woodwork, wrought iron, and central turret. It was the then-home of Croatian-born immigrant and nitrate baron Pascual Baburizza. Although Baburizza died in 1946, the city of Valparaíso acquired the property and turned into a historical moment. Baburizza was an avid art collector of both European pieces and local art, including renowned porteño painter, Thomas Somerscales. Now renovated and opened, not only can you take in the grounds (which for my taste have a Wonderland Tea Party feel to them), you can also head inside to see the interior and paintings. Not to be missed.
Where to Slumber:
The first boutique-design hotel to open in town, Higueras is beaming with a chic-nostalgic style. Set in a gorgeous 1920s Victorian mansion overlooking the port and bay below, Casa Higueras is a more than a hotel—it’s a total experience. Sloping into the hills of Valparaiso, it exudes comfortable and luminous living. Contemplate the picturesque port with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the privacy of your terrace, dive into the infinity pool, or dine at the excellent Montealegre restaurant. You won’t want to leave this exquisite historical oasis.
Need some help planning your trip in Valparaíso with lodging (and great rates), expert guides, visits to the markets, discover fishing wharfs up the coast, and the best seafood empanadas, and beyond? Or how about leveraging your journey there to stop off at boutique and garage wineries in Casablanca and San Antonio making sublime Syrah, earthy Pinot Noir, and knock-out Sauvignon Blanc. Drop us a line at email@example.com to inquire about our private, custom-made itineraries on you trip to Chile.