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Finding Color and Culture in Valparaiso

Okay, guys and gals. We escaped the heat of Santiago and made our way to the port city of Valparaiso. I have to admit something. I am not having a love affair with Chile. Chris wrote a little bit about our initiation by fire in Santiago. The city was hot, busy, and the Spanish here is very different. My Spanish isn’t great, so that’s my own fault. But in Chile, they speak very fast and there is slang for everything. Even basic questions like, “Where are you from?” are different here. I completely recommend getting your Spanish in order before coming. Google translate, to the rescue.

Chris is amazing and just rolls with it. I, on the other hand, have been dealing with some pretty major culture shock and anxiety. It’s loud, busy, and chaotic here. All the time. People are more animated than Minnesotans are at a Vikings game. There is construction everywhere. People shout on the street. The seagulls constantly cackle. Street dogs bark and fight. I’m sort of getting used to things, but I’m mostly wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into. I’ve turned into a little bit of an anxiety-ridden coward in Chile. But, onward…

Tours in English: Muy Buenohouses in valparaiso

Valparaiso was a welcome transition from the insanity of Santiago. On our first full day, Chris and I did a walking tour with Tours 4 Tips. If you’re coming to Chile and nervous about anything, take one of these tours! I wish more than anything we had done one in Santiago. It probably would have made me feel more comfortable in the big city.

We had a fantastic bilingual guide named Camilo on the tour. He was awesome. One of the best things about the tour was that we took public transportation including a bus and streetcar with help from our guide. It was like “Public Transportation in Valparaiso 101.” It sounds stupid, but when your Spanish is already bad and the Chilean Spanish is harder to understand, the “how to take public transportation” training wheels was beyond helpful. Thanks to Camilo’s advice, we took a city bus to nearby Viña del Mar with zero problems.

American Influence in ChileEmily with street art in Valparaiso

Camilo is young, just twenty five years old. He has only known democracy in Chile, but his two parents lived through the dictatorship and hold very different viewpoints. His father served in the navy and for a short time worked closely with Augusto Pinochet. Camilo’s mother had a brother who was taken and tortured. The film “No” is one on our to watch list after hearing Camilo’s stories.

As much as this is a giant cliche, travel really is something which opens your eyes. I won’t get overly political here, but it’s a bit disconcerting when you learn how much your government has done to influence another sovereign nation. I learned about the Pinochet dictatorship, the American CIA’s role in overthrowing Salvador Allende, and “the disappeared” in high school. Watching a documentary is a completely different thing than meeting people who have been affected by things your government has done.

I’ll save the anecdotes about how often we’re seeing our current president splashed all over Chilean media…

Colorful Valparaisostreet art valparaiso

But, yay! Pretty houses! Camilo showed us another layer of richness to an already colorful city. Valparaiso experienced its golden age during the second half of the 19th century. Before the opening of the Panama Canal, people from all over Europe stopped in Valparaiso on their way to California during the gold rush. In just one of the city squares you could see French, German, British, and Italian architecture.

The city is well known for its colorful houses, antique elevators (acensores), and brilliant street art. I’ve never experienced anything quite like wandering the narrow streets and staircases on the hills of Valparaiso. Even after the tour, we spent a lot of time exploring the streets and taking in the artwork. We also checked out a craft brewery and had our first pisco sours. The city also has an abundance of stray dogs. I wanted to adopt all of them.stray dog in valparaiso

We really enjoyed our time in Valparaiso. It had a great vibe, was less intimidating than Santiago, and there was plenty to keep us busy. Next, we’re headed to La Serena for a few days on the beach before taking some time in the Elqui Valley. More to come!


  1. Joey Joey

    Love your posts! Glad you are on to different adventures!!! So so envious! Being out of your comfort zone is okay… stretches you!

    Love you!

    • Emily Haley Emily Haley

      Yes, it does! Thanks for your note and for reading 🙂

  2. Becky Montgomery & Dave Haley Becky Montgomery & Dave Haley

    Pisco sours… Not my favorite drink. Becky, however, bailed me out and finished mine. Thanks for the updates, especially the pictures. Have the time of your life and keep them coming.

  3. Becky Montgomery & Dave Haley Becky Montgomery & Dave Haley

    The contrast between the big cities in Chile and MN is vast. However, as you found with your guide, the people are amazingly warm and generous. You do have to be on guard with your possessions where ever you travel – I almost had stuff stolen out of my purse in Saint Petersburg, Russia even when I had it on me!
    We had our first psco sours in Cusco. It comes as part of the meal at some of the larger restaurants in Peru – it’s considered their national drink!

    Enjoy the calm and slower pace as you spend time on the beach and driving through Chile.

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