Valparaiso: Road tripping for the win

When we counted off the places we'd love to visit in this world, it seems like we ended up with a laundry list of large cities. This week, we decided to deviate from the list, ditching our extra days in Santiago to explore the Chilean countryside and coastline nearby.

Off to the ocean


Just two hours outside Santiago, Valparaiso is a neat little city with a chip on its shoulder—usually a sign that we're going to love it.

The briefest of history lessons: the town saw its heyday in the 1840s and 50s as one of the most important ports in the world, a crucial pit stop for Europeans on their way around Cape Horn to California to get a piece of the action during the gold rush. And then, just like that, Panama went and built a canal. Burn.


But in spite of its decline, little Valparaiso came roaring back as a cultural landmark through the sheer will and creativity of its porteño residents. All over town, you can find little ways that they've bent the rules to make life a little more fun and expressive.


The city has one of the most vibrant street art scenes in South America, which started out in a pretty unique way. Residents borrowed the partial paint cans and corrugated metal that was abandoned at the docks to build their houses. This gave them 1) a siding material that needed a lot of paint to prevent rust and 2) a mishmash of colors on each house. The colorful look started to grow on the porteños over time.

When the city hit its decline, homeowners found themselves constantly painting over local gangs' graffiti tags. Instead of continuing to struggle against it, they enlisted the help of street muralists to bedeck their homes in color. To this day, there's an inherent respect that the gangs have for the art, so as a sort of unspoken rule they won't mar it with tags.


It's a win-win situation for the homeowners, and fantastic street art is now virtually impossible to avoid in Valparaiso.


Up Next

Hasta luego, Chile! We're headed up and over the Andes for a week in Argentina's most notorious wine region: Mendoza.