Uphill, in the cerros, the steep, twisty streets and the network of stairs looks like they were designed based a drawing made by a five-year-old. This is the Valparaiso you came to see, often described as a “colourful mess” and beautifully described by Pablo Neruda.
But despite the apparent lack of human logic behind city planning—why would anyone choose to invest in real estate precariously hanging on a hill in an earthquake-prone country prone?—life in most cerros is actually pretty normal. Streets are often empty, except in the most touristy hills, and quiet, save for barking stray dogs. After a strenuous climb or a five-minute ride in a cranky funicular, you’ll be treated to a world of peace, almost as if you were in a pueblito in the countryside.
Around El Plan, the coastal strip … well, it’s another story. It’s colourful too, just not literally.
Streets are long, mostly straight and flat, but they are dirty and crowded. Rush hour around Pratt and Aníbal Pinto something I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to be stuck in—everybody is looking for a bus, a shared taxi, groceries and other essentials before going home to a hillside community.
The plateau from Plaza de la Victoria to Avenida Argentina reminds me of Central America—markets spilling over the street, the occasionally chicken running away, avenues packed with people selling everything from rolls of toilet paper to homemade pizza baked in a small oven set on top of a repurposed shopping cart.
The Terminal Rodoviario on Pedro Montt is everything you’d expect from a bus terminal in Guatemala or Nicaragua with plenty of touts offering “great” accommodation and tour options just in case you came to Valpo without plans or a booking.
The port is also a cliché of what ports are about—booze, dodgy streets, crumbling buildings, fish- and pirate-themed souvenirs and cheap boat tours around the harbour.
This isn’t what tourists come to see, but it has its charm.