Bikes, Beaches, and Street Culture: Valparaiso and Santiago

After a thrilling 25-hour bus ride from Northern Chile and a quick stop in Santiago, we finally arrived in Valparaiso. Joe had visited Valparaiso 11 years before while on the Golden Bear (his training ship), and he had always wanted to return. He could never really nail down what it was about Valparaiso that he liked so much, he just knew that he wanted to return.


Welcome to Valparaiso! (Plenty more street art to come.)

Valparaiso felt very similar to San Francisco, as both cities are covered with steep hills, funky houses, street art, and are port cities (quite possibly the reason that Joe might like it).

Valparaiso was a major shipping port during the California Gold Rush, but eventually lost its prominence when the Panama Canal was built. Despite this, it still maintains a strong maritime presence and celebrates its shipping history.

To manage all the steep hills in the city, they developed and use funiculars. These are basically elevators which run on train tracks that bring you to the top of the hill for a small price. If you ask us, paying the small price was way better than the long walk up.

Valparaiso from the funicular.

In the car riding up! Funny, not may people shell out the money for a ride back down the hill.

Some of the funiculars are over a hundred years old, which made us worry a little as we listened to the numerous creaks while we ascended.

Joe with tracks in background.

Funicular controls. It's a pretty basic system.

Riding the funiculars is a great way to quickly find an incredible view.

Joe looking at the harbor; the same harbor he visited in college.

This town is also a big fishing port, but a few fishermen have found a new catch that nets in more money, tourists.  These entrepreneurs have removed all their fishing gear, and replaced it with seats to take boatloads of people around to visit the harbor. We jumped on this opportunity and took a ride.

***Valparaiso Tip – Get together with about 6 other tourists and hire your own boat. We had only 8 people on our boat as compared to 50 or so on a full public boat, and the cost was only about two dollars per person more.

Seal sleeping on a bulbous bow during the harbor cruise.

Chilean Navy training ship. We would like a ride please!

Also during our time in the city we enjoyed a “free” walking tour. These tours are often found in large cities, and the guides do them solely for tips. From past experiences, they usually guarantee a great time.

We walked up and down stairs and streets of the city for three hours while we learned about the history and checked out some impressive street art.

Stairs painted to look like a piano.

Valparaiso is considered the art and culture center of Chile and this cannot be more evident than in its street art. The graffiti artist and street artist have an unspoken agreement to not cover each others work, so many store and home owners commission a street artist to beautify their establishment and to avoid it from getting “tagged”.

Walking around the city is like going for a gallery walk in a huge outdoor museum.

Enjoy this little virtual gallery walk.

No, this picture is not sideways.

Who's there?

Nice restaurant.

3-D street art coming to get you!

Pigs really can fly!

This lady is somewhat fishy.

Narrow houses fit in where they can.

A sailor's life for me.

Amazing stairs- notice the reflection on the tread part of the stairs.

One of our favorites.

From Valparaiso, we took a long, 15 minute metro ride to the resort city of Viña del Mar. Our motivation for coming here was to enjoy the nice weather, eat good seafood, and sit on the beach. The beaches were absolutely packed in Viña del Mar because we were there during Chile and Argentina’s summer break.

We found a little reprieve from the large crowds at a beach called Playa Negra in the small city of Concon, a short bus ride away. We would take the bus in the morning to Concon, rent an umbrella, eat seafood empanadas, and enjoy the warm sand.

Plays Negra

The capital of Chile, Santiago, was next on our list. Santiago is a very developed city with many sky scrapers and over 7.2 million people. It was easy to spend your day sitting in the main plaza and getting lost in the city.

Big palm tree in the plaza.

Santiago has a great metro system, so we would walk until our feet hurt, and then take the metro back. One afternoon, we went to Cerro San Cristobal for panoramic views of the city. It has a large statue of Mary on the top of the hill and the views were superb.

Big Virgin Mary statue with small chapel on the inside.

Joe with Santiago in the background.

Santiago was a great stop, but was cut a little short because of a bike race in Valparaiso, called Cerro Abajo. This is one of the wildest urban bike races in the world as it make its way from the highest hill in Valparaiso all the way down to the harbor. The race only takes place once a year, and we couldn’t believe that we just happened to be in the area on the right day, so we made a long day trip from Santiago to check out the action.

Along the course, the riders must overcome stairs,

Big jump after bombing the stairs.

Take tight turns with crowds,

He said "oh crap" after hitting the wall.

Ride on walls,

Big wall ride

And fly through many big jumps,

Big jump with ocean views. (Shot with a Nikon. Shhh, don't tell Canon.)

Big jump through a window.

As if all the obstacles were not enough, the riders would also have to dodge the occasional dog barking at their heels or the wayward tourist not obeying the boundaries. It was somewhat scary at times as all that stood between you and a biker doing 40 MPH was a flimsy piece of plastic caution tape.

The guys and girls were crazy as they flew down the hills with such speed that it was hard to capture them on camera.

Trying to get Joe point at the rider, but they were just too fast.

This race was one of the wildest things we have ever seen. The riders were very talented and it was fun to watch as they made quick work of this difficult course. We still can’t believe we were lucky enough to be there during this once-a-year event!

To see the whole course through a rider’s perspective, check out this video.

Now that we have spent some time here, we have somewhat settled into the higher prices and we have enjoyed what we have seen so far.

Joe was stoked to have the opportunity to visit Valparaiso again, and it still remains one of his favorite cities.  Kristen agrees there is just something about Valparaiso.

Now, time to head south to “the end of the world.”

About shoefry

Taking off for a year to see what the world has to offer.
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2 Responses to Bikes, Beaches, and Street Culture: Valparaiso and Santiago

  1. Dee says:

    This was a fun read. Glad you’re enjoying Chile now. Must have gotten over your sticker shock after being in Bolivia for so long. Great shots, especially of the bike race. Valparaiso does really remind one of San Francisco.

  2. Pingback: Chile: Final Thoughts. | shoefry

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