Wondering how to take a day trip from Santiago to Valparaiso? This relaxed one-day Valparaiso itinerary introduces you to the highlights, delights, and beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Good to Know: This guide to how to spend one day in Valparaiso comes to us from Kay Rodriguez from Jetfarer about her trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site the “Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaíso.”)
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What to Do on a Day Trip to Valparaiso, Chile
Valparaiso is Chile’s second city, a seaside port city marked by colorful, painted homes sitting on the hills. It’s also an incredibly important historic and cultural hub in Chile, earning it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. As a center point for many of Chile’s governmental affairs, Valparaiso is much more than a tiny seaside town — this massive city sprawls over 11 different hills bordering the sea.
Wandering through the streets of Valparaiso, the story shifts from bustling streets and political humdrum to quiet, colorful homes and murals. The city is home to a vibrant artistic community, and if you’re lucky, you might even run into an artist painting a sidewalk or wall. As a hillside city, you’ll find tons of staircases all over the city that you can wander around and admire.
I’ve been to Valparaiso three times: once on a day trip and twice on weekend jaunts. It’s definitely one of the most unique places to visit in Chile. There are tons of things to do in Valparaiso, even if you only have one day to enjoy it.
7 Colorful Things to Do in Valparaiso, Chile
Here are 7 of my favorite Valparaiso activities if you’ve only got one day in the city.
Take a Free Walking Tour
For people who are super strapped for time, the Valparaiso Free Walking Tour is the best way to see a lot of Valparaiso’s main sights in a short amount of time. The free walking tours begin near the bottom of Cerro Concepcion and take you around to some of Valparaiso’s best viewpoints, historic sites, street art alleys, and more.
Plus, you’ll learn a lot about the history and fun facts in the city.
I won’t give away all of the surprises that the tour offers, but I will say that it’s 100% worth doing one, even if you’re planning on exploring the city again later.
Tours depart twice a day, every day, at 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Tours are free, but you’ll need to tip your tour guide what you felt the tour was worth at the end. I usually tip 6,500 CLP (~$10 USD) to every tour guide I felt did a great job.
Wander the Street Art-Filled Alleys
If you’re only going to do one thing in Valparaiso, I’d tell you to do nothing. Instead, pick a neighborhood and just…wander. The city is famous for its varied and widespread street art, and therefore, Valparaiso’s main charms lie on its quirky, colorful streets.
In fact, one of the most interesting tidbits about Valparaiso is that it’s a defiance of Chilean law — everywhere else in the country, street art is technically illegal. When you arrive in Valparaiso, you’ll find that almost every inch of space on a public, external wall is covered in the brightest, boldest painted street art, which is different than most other cities in the country.
I recommend starting in the Cerro Concepcion area and then wandering from there. You can head all the way to Museo de Cielo Abierto, or simply stick around in the alleys nearby (which are some of the most famous and colorful in the entire city).
Visit Pablo Neruda’s Home, La Sebastiana
Pablo Neruda is one of Chile’s most famous poets, a Nobel Prize winner, and an avid name in the political sphere during the 1960s and 1970s. And, aside from being a massive womanizer, he also had a fascinating mind, which you can catch a glimpse of in his living spaces.
Luckily, one of his three homes is located in Valparaiso, Chile — the beautiful La Sebastiana, which overlooks the sea. Now preserved by the Neruda Foundation as a revered historic monument to this complex man, a visit to La Sebastiana will show you exactly how Neruda himself lived. To see the others, you’ll need to visit Isla Negra or Santiago (this list of things to do in Santiago has more info on his other house, La Chascona!).
A trip to La Sebastiana (or any of Neruda’s homes) is as much a lesson in Neruda’s life as it is a deep look into Chile’s history. Neruda was a high profile man who was closely involved with the nation’s political leaders, including President Allende, who was overthrown in a coup d’etat in the early 1970s. You’ll learn about some of the most pivotal moments of Chilean history in the last century, and how Neruda was involved from afar.
Additionally, the views from La Sebastiana are some of the most beautiful in ALL of Valparaiso, so it’s worth popping by just to admire the views of the colorful houses and rooftops amidst a blue, seaside backdrop.
La Sebastiana costs 11,000 CLP to enter and includes an audio guide in either English or Spanish. You can’t take photos inside the house, but you can take photos of the exteriors and the breathtaking views of Valparaiso below.
Ride an Ascensor (Historic Funicular Car)
The ascensores, or hillside funicular cars, in Valparaiso, are some of the most important historic landmarks that you can still ride today. Ascensor is technically the Spanish word for elevator, but given how steep these hills are, these funicular cars definitely count.
As a super hilly city, these funicular cars made it possible for people to build homes and businesses up the hill, as they provide increase access to many parts of the city that were difficult to reach by foot before.
Here are some of the currently functioning ascensores that you can still ride today:
- Ascensor Reina Victoria
- Ascensor Concepcion (currently closed for renovations)
- Ascensor Baron
Simply show up at the ascensor station, pay the small fee, and board the small, wooden car. You’ll usually have to wait until the car is reasonably full before it takes off. At just a few hundred CLP per person, it’s worth riding ALL of them if you have the time!
Go for a Swim at the Beach
What’s a more obvious activity to try on a sunny afternoon in a port city? Head to the beach near Caleta Portales, where you can lie on the sand, go for a dip in the water, and enjoy cold drinks and snacks in the warmth of the Chilean sun.
In the summer, the beach is bustling — tons of visitors and local families flock to the shore on warm days, sitting under rainbow umbrellas and sunbathing for the entire afternoon. There are a few beach kiosks and a small outdoor food market where you can grab lunch or a snack to take with you to the beach.
While you’re at the beach, stop by Caleta Portales, the local market, to see the fish vendors selling their catch of the day.
Don’t get this confused with a nearby restaurant with the same name — the Caleta Portales market is dark, fishy, and full of people. But in those narrow market alleys filled with icy buckets of fish, you can also find the city’s freshest and most delicious ceviche and mariscada.
Join a Boat Trip off the Coast
While you’ll spend most of your time in the hills, there’s a lot to see out on the water as well. The best way to see those epic city views of Valparaiso’s colorful hills is by taking a boat trip out on the water.
On the tour, you’ll learn about some of the history of Valparaiso, including a short description of some of the military and shipping vessels in the harbor. You’ll ride around the shore, looking at different parts of Valparaiso by sea, and your guide will point out different landmarks like the ascensores, Neruda’s house, historic churches, and more.
You’ll also get to see adorable photos of the sea lions that call the port’s pillars and piers their home. They literally pose for tourists and it’s the cutest thing ever.
There are a few ways to do this: the budget way or a comfortable way. Both have their merits and cons, but I’ll mention that I have only done the local way, which is significantly cheaper and a hilarious way to learn about the maritime history of the harbor.
The budget way
On the shore, at Muelle Prat, there’s a nondescript boarding area that offers 30-minute boat tours for just 4,000 CLP per person. The boats are SUPER bare bones and have no shade, and you’ll likely be sharing your wooden bench with several other people, crammed in like sardines. The tours are ONLY in Spanish, so if you actually want to learn something and your Espanol is a little rusty, I’d recommend booking a cushier, English-speaking boat tour. But, if you want to meet some hilarious Chileans and simply take in the views of Valparaiso, it’s a cheap and fun option. Don’t forget to tip the guide at the end.
The comfortable way
You can book a boat tour in advance with an English-speaking guide, which will teach you all about the maritime and port history of Valparaiso. These boats are usually much less crowded, have cushioned seats, and offer English support. The tours are also longer and more in-depth. I’ve never been on a tour like this, but this one looks like a really nice option.
Eat Delicious Seafood on a Seaside Terrace
One of my favorite activities in Valparaiso is grabbing a table at a restaurant with a terrace and simply watching the world go by. If you’re a more active traveler, you might find this suggestion totally boring, but hear me out: terrace dining is a Valparaiso must-do.
Why? Because, as an Airbnb host in Valparaiso once told me, “the portenos LOVE their seafood.”
And it’s true. There’s seafood everywhere. It is, after all, a seaside city in Chile, one of the countries in the world with the longest coastlines. And, if you’re going to try seafood during your time in Chile, Valparaiso is one of the best places to do so.
Part of the quintessential Valparaiso seafood dining experience, however, is soaking in the views while you’re stuffing your face. This is where the terrace comes in. The best restaurant terraces are not, in fact, next to the water. They’re up in the hills. With sweeping views of the entire city and the sea, terrace restaurants provide you a wonderful view, a wonderful meal, and the absolute best places to watch some of the best sunsets in Chile.
I’ve been to a lot of places in Valparaiso, but my favorite was La Fauna Restaurant & Cafe. Their terrace has a stunning view of the surrounding colorful buildings, a nearby hilltop cemetery, and the ocean. It’s a great place to sip on a house-made Chilean pisco sour and dine on some melt-in-your-mount delicious fish dishes while watching the sky turn pink and orange in the sunset.
Stephanie’s Tip: Prefer to do your sightseeing on organized tours? Here are some of the most popular Valparaiso City Tours:
4-Hour City Tour by Van and Funicular: Check reviews & prices.
Street Art Walking Tour: Check reviews & prices.
World Heritage Half Day Walking Tour: Check reviews & prices.
Pablo Neruda House & Wine Tasting: Check reviews & prices.
Know Before You Go: Valparaiso Travel Tips
How to Get to Valparaiso from Santiago
There are regular buses each day from Santiago to Valparaiso and vice versa. They usually leave every 10 to 15 minutes.
Buses from Santiago cost 3,000-4,000 CLP each way and depart from either Alameda or Pajaritos bus stations, which are both accessible by public transportation. There are several bus stations you can use to arrive in Valparaiso; the most popular companies are Tur Bus, Pullman Bus, and Condor. Each bus takes about 2 hours to arrive in Valparaiso.
To return to Santiago from Valparaiso, simply head back to the Valparaiso “rodoviario,” where you can purchase a bus ticket back to Santiago. Note that this bus station does not announce which bus is going where, so once you buy your ticket, you’ll need to ask the buses on the platform individually to make sure you’re on the right one.
Stephanie’s Tip: If you prefer to go on an organized group tour, check out the “From Santiago: Valparaiso and Viña del Mar Day Tour.” Click here to find out more information on schedules, bookings, and prices.
Or if you’d rather see Valparaiso and enjoy a winery, check out the “From Santiago: Valparaíso and Winery Day Trip.” Click here to find out more information on schedules, bookings, and prices.
How to Get Around Valparaiso
The best and easiest way to get around Valparaiso is by foot. It’s a large city, of course, but many of the attractions and places to stay are within walking distance of each other.
Wandering around the city by foot is part of the fun and adventure of being here — you never really know what beautiful artwork, stunning viewpoint, or colorful cafe you’ll stumble upon while walking through the alleys and footpaths.
There are local public buses you can take around the lower areas of the city, and there are also Ubers and taxis available in more popular tourist areas.
Where to Stay in Valparaiso
While you can do everything on this list on a day trip, I’d also recommend staying in Valparaiso for one or two nights to get a good feel for the city (and catch more of those swoon-worthy sunsets).
There are tons of small boutique hotels in Valparaiso that are both picturesque and affordable. I would strongly recommend staying in the Cerro Concepcion area, as it’s walkable to most of the major landmarks and attractions in Valparaiso.
Here are a few mid-range hotels and budget hostels I’d recommend in Valparaiso:
- La Galeria B&B – A cozy bed and breakfast located in the heart of the Cerro Concepcion area.Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.
- Casa Verde Limon Hostel – This one is a colorful, budget-friendly hostel located at the foot of Cerro Alegre and Concepcion. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.
Kay Rodriguez is the adventure addict and writer behind Jetfarer, a travel blog dedicated to helping time-strapped professionals plan the most epic adventures around the world during their limited vacation time. You can learn more about her adventures on Instagram or Facebook.