Last week, we went over the beach paradise of Matanzas, Chile. However, if you don’t have a ton of time to spare (hopefully you only have a couple down days between/during storms when you’re skiing around Santiago) Valparaiso isn’t a bad option. Valparaiso and Matanzas differ significantly. In fact, the only things they really have in common are that they’re on the coast and they’re in Chile. Other than that, the two places are different as can be.
First and foremost, Valparaiso is a city- as far as I’m concerned at least. While Chileans will refer to Valparaiso as a “beach town,” it’s far from my definition of a beach town. That said, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re more into a San Francisco type experience. There’s plenty to see culturally and there are more tourist activities than you can shake a stick at. But, along with being a city, it comes with its own set of city problems: petty crime, graffiti, and lots of trash. However, if you’re willing to look beyond that there’s more to take in than you could possibly take in on a short trip.
I’d suggest taking a day just to cruise around the city. It’s a bit of a maze with tiny side streets and staircases, but the small (and sketchy) trams make the hills pretty manageable. There are some amazing restaurants that are off the beaten path- ask around for some places that you might not otherwise find. Wine is the name of the game as far as drinks go, and several wine bars scattered throughout the city offer an awesome sample of regional wines.
As far as lodging goes, there’s everything from supper budget to supper nice (by Chilean standards). I’d highly suggest going the backpacker/hostel route, both because of price and because you’re far more likely to sniff out local gems from owners/managers there than on the street. I’d highly recommend La Nona– a bed and breakfast. Prices are reasonable (particularly if you have a larger group), and the staff is super friendly. The owner is fluent in English and Spanish, and was born and raised in Valparaiso, so he knows just about everything there is to know. Plus, it’s in the nicer and safer part of town, so I never had any worries about my stuff. Overall, Valparaiso is one of the cooler cultural centers close to the mountains, and is probably the cheapest and most logistically friendly way to kill some time between storms.