If you’re in Chile you’ve probably heard of Valparaiso (Vall-para-eezo). It’s the famous graffiti capital on the sea that’s known for its gritty and creative character that you cannot find anywhere else!
And if you’re a penny pinching backpacker like me, I know you appreciate free attractions! “Spending less means traveling longer” is the motto ingrained into our hearts and minds.
Luckily there are some awesome free things to do in this Jewel of the Pacific!
Here are 7.
1. Cerro Concepcion & Cerro Alegre
These two famous sister “cerros”—or hills—are ones you must visit!
And they’re full of hidden gems!
Here you’ll find the popularized photo-op spots, the “We are not Hippies We are Happies” steps and the Beethoven Piano steps! You’ll also hear many different languages and might even have to push your way to these sites and wait for a rare clearing to take your picture—but it’s totally worth it.
Think of it as your Valparaiso tourist initiation.
Also take a stroll around Alegre and Concepcion and appreciate the beautiful street art, enjoy a street performance, or stop by one of the many bohemian café’s for lunch.
There are two large cemeteries in Cerro Panteon. Cemetery 1, where the most influential citizens of Valparaiso were buried, and cemetery 2, which includes the “dissident cemetary” where those not aligned with the Catholic Church were buried in the 1800’s.
I know that some people view graveyards as macabre, but I like to contemplate the deeper things in life. Walking through a site with thousands of dead bodies helps with that.
Remembering that everyone I know will be ending this crazy journey in a graveyard in less than a century puts things into perspective and helps me fully appreciate and live life. I think that embracing and contemplating our mortality is important.
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” —Marcus Aurelius
Plus, the architecture and statues in these places are simply stunning.
Keep in mind that some people will be visiting these cemeteries to mourn, so it’s respectful to remain silent and take photos when others aren’t around.
3. Parque Cultural de Valparaiso
Very close to the cemeteries you’ll find a large white building that juxtaposes Valparaiso’s vibrant vibes. It’s the cultural park of Valparaiso,
and get this…
It used to be a prison!
Now artists have spaces in the buildings to paint, practice dance, theater and circus. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed in those areas, but often artists will host exhibitions for public viewing. At the park you can also find a great view of the city as well as locals and tourists playing ball and hanging out on the grass.
If you want to save more lunch money, I think it would be a great idea to pack your own food and have a picnic on that field!
4. Tours 4 Tips
I’ve taken tours with Tours 4 Tips in Santiago and now in Valparaiso; I like and recommend both tours.
Most guides are from the area and offer tours in Spanish and in English.
They’ll take you to the most popular points in the city and stop to dive into the history and significance of certain areas. And of course in Valparaiso, there’s a lot of talk about street art.
For the Valpo morning tour you’ll even ride the well-known “O” bus, or “rollercoaster bus” which offers a bumpy and scenic ride through Valpo’s colorful hills.
Okay, I know…
this tour isn’t completely free—the bus ride is $250 pesos (less than 0.50 USD) and you tip the guides what you deem is fair for the experience! It’s a good deal.
Tours meet at Sotomeyer Plaza at 10PM and 3PM; each is different. Also, Free Tours Valparaiso is a tour I haven’t taken but that has good reviews.
5. Muelle Baron
Muelle Baron is the pier of Valparaiso where you can get some nice views of sea kayakers, the port, and the Pacific horizon. If you want to kayak yourself, there are cheap $5,000 peso ($7.80 USD) kayaks you can rent nearby.
Sometimes you can even find sea lions sunning themselves near the pier. Chloe from Wanderlust Chloe said that the highlight of her visit to Valparaiso was watching sea lions, but I didn’t catch any!
6. Sunday Feria
There’s a huge “feria”, or market, on Sunday on Avenida Argentina Street from around 9AM-5:30PM. It’s normally very crowded and you can find anything from antique sewing machines to Chilean herbal remedies.
In other words, everything a backpacker doesn’t need.
I still love to browse markets and like finding local artisans who sell their art and jewelry. The street delicacies such as queso empanadas or are also cheap and good here.
I actually did buy a $1000 peso ($1.60 USD) umbrella which proved to come in handy after visiting the pier (did you see those clouds?) and I bought a cute houseplant as a gift for my Couchsurfing host. That plant was later stolen when I put it down to take a picture in Cerro Alegre!
Keep your things close.
7. Polanco Viewpoint
Further down Avenida Argentina Street where the Sunday Market is at you’ll find this gem. It’s by far my favorite viewpoint in the city!
By using the “Ascensor Polanco” or by taking the stairs for a workout, you can reach a the height of the tower for a breathtaking view.
I found someone happily flying a kite when I visited and got a glimpse into the life of cats as I watched them grace the rooftops.
I spent about 30 minutes watching city life unfold from above and taking photos!
The tower connects you to a neighborhood in Polanco that also has great street art but is a residential area. This makes things a little more “risky” in Valparaiso, and a local warned me to put my camera away.
Be smart and go with friends if you venture past the tower!
Unsurprisingly, I got lost finding some of these places (I do that a lot…), so Below is a handy map of the locations mentioned.
Want more travel inspiration? Check out the best photos I took while exploring Valparaiso here! 🙂