Chile’s cultural capital Valparaiso
After a long flight from London to Santiago, via Madrid, most people want a comfortable hotel in the city, just 20 minutes from the airport to relax in for the afternoon. As Chile is so long, with the highlights of the north and south so far apart, it is impossible to avoid taking several domestic flights, which inevitably results in revisiting Santiago as flight schedules rarely coincide. Latin America Tour Consultant Katie Parsons recently discovered a good alternative is to stay in Valparaiso, just 50 minutes from Santiago airport.
Valpo, as it is called by its residents, is like no other city in Chile. It has a unique charm that can be likened to the colourful, aluminium-framed houses of the La Boca district of Buenos Aires, or a mix of the small, narrow streets of Lisbon with the rundown allure of Havana. Despite being a popular port of call for cruise ships, the city was virtually overlooked by those on board as it was seen as the point of access to Santiago, which is just one hour away. However, since being named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003, the fortunes of this distinctive city have started to change. Many small boutique hotels have opened, attempting to entice people away from the more glamorous neighbourhood of Viña del Mar, the beach playground of the wealthy Chileans.
Valpo is effectively two cities rolled into one: the less inspiring flat shopping and business district of El Plan near the port; and the winding labyrinth of rambling streets and alleyways, with the colourful houses made from corrugated iron that sit perched on the edge of the many cerros or hills rising precariously above. Each cerro has its own unique identity but it is Cerro Alegre and Concepción that attract the most visitors with their very individual and bohemian style.
The best way of exploring the hillside is by way of the 15 different ascensores, funicular-type lifts built between 1883 and 1916. The oldest of these is Ascensor Concepción which climbs to Cerro Concepción from where you can wander for hours along picturesque street passageways, past photogenic houses and climb seemingly never-ending staircases up to the higher cerro. The Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda had one of his three houses, La Sebastiana, on Cerro Bellavista, which showcases Neruda’s eccentric style and is filled from the basement to the crows-nest-like attic with quirky items collected on his extensive travels.
On a quiet residential street in Cerro Alegre, Hotel Zero is the perfect place to relax, either for a couple of nights after the long flight from London, or at the end of a tour of Chile before going home. Walking down the street you would miss it if you didn’t know it was there, but once inside, a beautiful converted house opens up in front of you, providing an instantly calming and relaxing atmosphere. The high ceilings and huge windows shower the rooms with light and if you have a room at the back of the house, from the exquisite beds there is a view across the bay and to the port far below. A similar view is afforded from the hidden sun terraces or panoramic winter terrace where breakfast and the Saturday brunch are served. Reflected in the hotel’s honesty bar, the very friendly owners and managers have successfully created a true, relaxed home-from-home gem, which makes you very reluctant to leave.