Of all the cities and towns we’ve been to on this trip so far, those that are filled with street art, none come close to what Valparaíso displays on its buildings.
Olinda, Rio de Janeiro and Recife in Brazil, Bueno Aires in Argentina all have their fare share of street art – and it’s pretty damn stunning, but the quantity, and often the quality, seems far superior in this Chilean port city.
Valparaíso is a city of hills, or cerros, and its history is based on being one of Latin America’s premier seaports. It was a major docking point for ships heading south to the Strait of Magellan, but when the Panama Canal came onto the scene in the early 1900’s, it did some serious damage to the city’s port-based economy, slowing the development of the city.
Many of its residents moved elsewhere, but things began to turn around.
The mid 20th century saw the arrival of artists, entrepreneurs and dreamers and along with them came all of the colour. And then UNESCO knocked on the door, turning the historic quarter into a World Heritage site in 2003.
One thing that makes Valparaíso unique is its funiculars. In a city that contains so many hills, its residents needed a quick way to get to and from El Plan (the flat part of the city by the waterfront) and their homes in the cerros.
The first funicular opened in 1883 on Cerro Concepción and is still in operation today, but of the 26 that were originally built around the city, only 8 are still active. If there’s no funicular in your neighbourhood, it’s either the stairs or a walk up winding streets. Unless, of course, you have a car.
Visitors to Valparaíso are bound to gravitate to the city’s two most well-known and most visited hills – Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción – probably even book accommodation there. They’re the ones with the bulk of the street art as well as the concentration of restaurants, cute cafes and quirky shops.
Read on for a few eateries and places to grab a coffee or something to drink in these two cerros.
The name of this popular corner eatery translates to The Breakfast Room, which is pretty fitting as these guys do breakfast all day. Aside from the breakfast combinations, all of which include a fresh juice, there are pancakes, a variety of egg dishes and a handful of sandwiches.
Espresso is decent here, and the above chacarero (4300) is a typical Chilean sandwich made up of sliced, roasted meat, green beans, tomato and sliced chilli peppers.
El Desayunador, Almirante Montt 399
Further up the hill you can have your coffee (really good espresso), some ice cream, a sandwich – maybe even a brownie or slice of cake. They’ve got most things covered in this small corner cafe, though with the limited seating, it can fill up in no time.
La Morada Alegre, Lautaro Rosas 593
There’s a touch of vintage in this cafe, from the plywood walls and cabinetry, some of the furniture and those pre-loved decorations dotted about.
Food-wise, it’s sandwiches and salads, and for sweets it’s cakes, colourful macarons and dainty little pastries on tiered plates. Gelato is top notch and possibly the cheapest you’ll find on the cerro, and the Lavazza coffee is good and strong.
Leche Cafe, Templeman 352
If you’re after what could be the best coffee in Valparaíso, look no further than this brand new joint at the bottom of the cerro. We found it while exploring the city, and with a name like Third Wave, it had to be good.
And it is. Excellent, to be precise. On our last day in Valparaíso we dropped in and noticed they’d acquired an ice cream freezer, so it looks like some helado is now available, as well.
Third Wave, Ricardo Cumming 1
Also at the bottom of the hill, in another direction, is a hole-in-the-wall empanada takeaway that always seems busy. The attraction here is the massive array of fillings from chicken, minced meat, shrimp, cheese, vegetables – you name it.
Prices are wallet friendly, as well, and you’d expect to pay between 1000 and 1300 pesos per empanada.
Delicias Express, Calle Urriola 358
More empanadas can by bagged and taken away from the small off-shoot by Le Filou de Montpellier in the centre of the village between cerros Alegre and Concepción. The regular menu at this popular restaurant is decidedly French, as you could guess from the name, but due to budget constraints, it was empanadas for our budget snackage.
They all sit in a rotating glass cabinet, ready to be reheated and sold. They may not rock your world, but they will fill the stomach.
Le Filou de Montpellier, Almirante Montt 382
For even more empanada action, head up the hill to La Pató where you can sample some handmade specimens in this tiny bakery takeaway.
Aside from the empanadas, which you can watch being constructed through a peephole window, there are jars and bottles of preserved fruits and tomato salsas to purchase.
Prices for these giant empanadas range from 2000 pesos for a curried chicken & cheese to 2300 pesos for shrimp, corn & cheese.
Le Pató, Almirante Montt 554
For something other than eating, I’d say head up to Parque Cultural de Valparaíso – or PCdV – up on Cerro Cárcel. On the site of the former jail, the cultural space makes use of two former buildings, including the historic Polvorín (an 1807 gunpowder warehouse), and incorporates a landscaped park with a new Broadcasting Building which houses a theatre and gallery.
During the day the park comes alive with market stalls selling crafts, food, drinks and bespoke clothing. Somewhere to shop, relax or grab a bite or coffee. There’s always something going on in PCdV, so check their Facebook page or website for details.
Parque Cultural de Valparaíso, Cárcel 471
The commercial area of Valparaíso is situated on El Plan, the flat strip of land between the port and the hills. Much of the area is reclaimed land and is a mixture of administrative, commercial, residential and retail – including the working port which is now five blocks further out than where it once was.
Trolley buses speed down busy thoroughfares through narrow streets lined with 19th-century buildings where, during the week, it’s a hive of activity. Come the weekend, though, and it’s a virtual ghost town.
The area around Mercado Puerto, currently under restoration after earthquake damage, is a gritty pocket of the Puerto dotted with local stores and daytime eateries, plus its fair share of drunks and shady-looking characters, especially in Plaza Echaurren.
Here you’ll also find many street stalls selling fresh fruit and veg, and on the eastern part of Cale Matriz there’s a handful of seafood vendors.
There’s plenty more street art around here, so it’s worth poking your head down laneways – with caution, of course, as you don’t want to be flashing your expensive camera for too long in these parts.
For one of the city’s postcard views, keep walking up Cochrane or Bustamante and you’ll end up at Ascensor Artillería where, for 300 pesos, you can catch the historic wooden trolley up the slope for fab views over the city.
At the top there’s a strip of souvenir booths, the Naval Museum and a couple of cafes on Calle Artillería.
Back down on La Plan on Plaza Sotomayor, there’s a small and very busy cafe with a certain Australian flavour. After spending several years in Melbourne, the owners strive to bring a piece of the city’s robust coffee culture to Valparaíso.
Panini, small cakes, pastries and salads, and for the coffee fiends – the likes of espresso-based drinks like flat white and piccolo latte. We had very high hopes when ordering our piccolos, but sadly the coffee was weak and more akin to a regular milky cafe latté.
Melbourne Cafe, Plaza Sotomayor 33
Ice cream is big business in Valparaíso, and not sampling it would be akin to visiting Paris and not trying a flakey croissant. It simply has to be done. Down on the very busy Plaza Aníbal Pinto you can find this perpetually busy cafe and heladería.
Choose from one of 25 flavours, take a seat outside on the street or inside. They also do cakes, muffins and brownies, plus breakfast, sandwiches, pasta and a great selection of local dishes.
Emporio La Rosa, Plaza Aníbal Pinto 1185
There’s a small section of Calle Serrano on El Plan that has a few local-style restaurants where, if you happen to remotely look like you’re looking for somewhere for lunch, staff virtually pounce on you with a menu.
It so happened that we were looking for some lunch after a walking tour we did with Tours4Tips – which we can highly recommend – and we were caught hook, line and sinker by one of the slightly pushy, but very friendly guys at Patrimonio Porteño.
Their menu del día sounded pretty delicious, due to being all about the seafood, and the price was pretty reasonable, as well. Not that I took note of the price.
A really good ceviche for me and a consommé for Dean, to start, then merluza frita (similar to cod) and paila marina (seafood soup with clams, mussels, sea squirts and fish). Very generous with the shellfish!
Dessert was an uninspiring glass of jelly.
Patrimonio Porteño, Serrano 537
Anyone that likes their markets simply has to pay Mercado Cardinal a visit. Its bold yellow and green façade stands out from all buildings that surround it, and it can be found at the east end of La Plan, also known as Almendral.
Built in 1912, the two-level market was shipped from Germany as prefabricated parts, and it’s been one of the city’s premier daily markets ever since.
The top floor is dedicated to small local eateries that all vie for your business. The ground floor is predominantly fruit and vegetables where there’s virtually no room to move. People yell, scream, push and shove, it’s chaotic, it’s a mess, numerous cats sit on crates of produce, and the best part – it’s really cheap.
Mercado Cardonal, bordered by Brazil, Rawson, Yungay & Uruguay
As far as places to grab a drink in El Plan is concerned, we made it to just one bar during the week. The Puerto area comes across as being a bit of a no-go area after sundown, so it was afternoon beers at this atmospheric drinking hole before heading back up the cerro for dinner.
Bar Ingles is an English style pub with impossibly friendly service – especially from the vivacious Marcella. Or should I say flirtatious? The beer’s cold, the free nibbles were tasty and the menu is all about typical local food, carne and fish.
Bar Ingles, 870 Blanco
If some further swilling is required, there’s plenty going on back up on Alegre and Concepción.
It may be a little on the pricey side, but the beautifully architectural El Internado is well worth checking out. The space offers a variety of indoor and outdoor areas to sit, eat or drink – even play pool – and the scenic outlooks are as stunning as the design.
El Internado, Pasaje Dimalow 167
You don’t need to be staying in this beautifully restored art deco hotel on Cerro Alegre to enjoy a drink or food. In fact we stayed across the walkway at Hotel Ecomusic, so why not take advantage of their fab cocktails or Danish edibles?
Take a seat in the leafy courtyard beneath the 3-storey mural, or inside the restaurant-bar and sip on pisco sours or excellent mojitos. They have a good selection of Belgian beers, as well. Probably should have tried their Brussels waffles or beer stew with Belgian fries.
ViaVia Cafe, Almirante Montt 217
We tried our best to seek out the budget-friendly eateries around Alegre and Concepción, and we can safely say there’s much to be had. One of the cheapest would have to be this unassuming little joint at the bottom of the hill.
From the street it appears to be nothing more than a small shop selling booze, but wander past the counter and you enter a local hangout with several small rooms, a hodgepodge of furniture, maybe even a cat sunning itself on a tabletop. A perfect spot to chow on local, homemade food, catch up with mates and drink a pint, or two.
We dropped in for the lunch menu del día, which set us back a whopping 2500 pesos. We weren’t expecting the greatest of gastronomic experiences for $5, but the vegetable soup and fried fish were actually really good.
The sliced banana squirted with raspberry jam, however …
La Rosita Del Puerto, Ricardo Cumming 67
If we can play favourites, the menu del día at Cafe Del Pintor was so good that we returned a second time. The 8900 peso price point may be significantly higher than somewhere like La Rosita, but the location and quality of food can explain that.
Soup or salad to start off with, then either a delicious beef stew with mash or hake in lemon sauce with the most divine mushroom risotto. It was that risotto I was wanting again on our follow-up visit, and it was just as good the second time.
The extra virgin olive oil is fab, the vino is great, even the chocolate-caramel mousse was good.
Cafe Del Pintor, Urriola 652
Further up Cerro Alegre, where the tourists aren’t as numerous, is this little gem. Gente Feliz is a favourite amogst locals for the food, the warm service and the occasional live music.
For us – a few quiet drinks – decent mojito and an enormous glass of red – with paila de carne (6800), stewed beef with cheese. Loved the crusty homemade bread roll. Merquén replaces the black pepper in the shakers on the table. Nice touch, as I adore this spice mix.
Other menu items include chorrillana, ceviche, pastel de choclo and a couple of fish dishes.
Those that like their pisco sours can try one of seven varieties that use either Alto del Carmen or Los Nichos pisco. There’s always the traditional, but why not try ginger, green pepper, kiwi or avocado in your pisco sour?
Gente Feliz, Monte Alegre 592
Hostal restaurants tend to be a bit hit and miss, but that’s not the case with Hostal Mito. These guys put on a very decent set dinner menu for 8900 pesos, which came recommended by an Aussie guy that was on our walking tour. And he wasn’t wrong.
A simple, yet delicious salad with smoked salmon and strawberries, then a juicy hunk of conga eel on grilled polenta, with tomato salsa and beet sauce. It went down really well with a Kross golden ale.
Dessert was a good helping of berry tart on a bed of banana.
Cafe Restaurant Mito, Almirante Montt 605
How we got to Valparaíso from Santiago.
Buses run regularly from Santiago to Valparaíso, and we chose TurBus which leaves every 15-20 minutes from Terminal de Buses Alameda. It takes 1½ hours to get there.