Valparaiso is a small town about an hour bus ride away from Santiago, Chile. Prior to going to Valparaiso, we had read online about how petty theft seemed to be a big problem, especially for tourists here. A particular story I read online that made me feel a little uneasy was about a girl who actually got mugged in broad daylight on a street with lots of people, and no one helped her when it happened. Because of this, we felt very on edge once we got to Valparaiso. I actually described Minh as if he were a poofy, scaredy cat. He seemed to be really overly cautious and basically assumed everyone we passed on the street was going to rob us.
After checking in to our hotel, we took a free walking tour with Tours 4 Tips. It’s a free tour of the city, and at the end you decide how much you want to tip the guide based on your experience. An average tip is about $8-$15USD/person, or if you can’t afford to tip much, is to leave a TripAdvisor review for them, as it helps publicize their tours. This tour had a lot of interesting facts about the town and how it was the original trading port before they opened up the Panama Canal. It also allowed us to explore the city and familiarize ourselves with the landscape without feeling like we were going to get mugged at every corner since we were with a local tour guide and a large group. It turns out that there is just one side of town to avoid, but other than that, Valparaiso is a relatively safe and pleasant city. Would definitely recommend the tour to any first time visitors to the city.
There are a lot of stray dogs in Chile, and the community seems to care for them by placing water bowls out and putting clothing on them for when it gets cold. This little guy followed our tour group around until the end, he had a cute little purple infinity scarf just like the Apple guy.
A little backstory on the colorful houses of Valparaiso: some of the first settlers into the port town of Valparaiso were Spanish settlers who built their homes out of adobe, but found it was not a good material to hold up to the elements of the water and wind from the sea. Since the city had ships from all over the world come in on a regular basis, these ships would stop in Valparaiso to repair their boats, leaving behind extra scrap metal. People found it a great solution to cover their homes with this material to protect the adobe. The problem with using the metal was that it would rust. The solution? To paint the metal. Again, because this was a port town, the only paint supplies they had was the leftover paint the ships would leave behind after repainting their ships. Most ships would paint their boats bright colors so that they could be seen in the middle of the dark sea, and thus, the reason all the houses are so bright and colorful! Nowadays, they don’t use the metal anymore, but continue to paint houses a bright color as a way to keep the history and tradition alive.
The part I enjoyed most about Valparaiso was the street art portion. The city is really vibrant and colorful thanks to the all the street art around the city. The guide explained that graffiti is technically illegal except on private property. The artist who painted these piano stairs actually got arrested while he was painting them. The community was very upset that he did not get to finish his work of art and when he got released, he finished the rest of the stairs. The guide said it was finished about a week ago, and probably by next week they may be repainted by the city.
In Valparaiso, there is a mutual respect amongst graffiti taggers and street artists. Street artists will not paint over someone’s graffiti tags, and taggers will not tag over another artist’s work. Because of this, in a way to avoid having your neighborhood walls filled up with graffiti tags, artists will approach homeowners and ask if they would like them to create a large mural that takes up the whole wall (leaving no space for graffiti tags). All they need to do is pay for paint and/or extra materials the artist may need. This is a win-win as the neighborhood walls are covered in beautiful artwork instead of graffiti tags, and the artist has a huge mural with their name on it, giving them recognition.
I really enjoyed Valparaiso and would recommend making a trip out there. It’s a very vibrant town with lots of great street art. Every street would have something different – a set of colorful stairs, a huge mural, or even just a small cute doodle. Just make sure to avoid the Southeast area of town past the main square, and you should be fine.