A port city in central Chile
, that is also the main base of the country's navy. As such it shares part of the dark history of the Pinochet
Furthermore, there are various "haunted houses" and morbid stories of murderers to keep the dark-minded visitor entertained. Apart from that Valparaiso is also arguably Chile's prettiest city, well worth a detour.
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
What there is to see: Valparaiso's most distinctive feature may be the retro funiculars ('ascensores') that connect so many hilltop neighbourhoods with the lower-lying parts of town, but for the dark tourist the hill that is most significant is one of those without such an amenity, so one has to walk up, namely up Cerro Carcel, or 'prison mount'.
En route you'll find that Valparaiso is a city of the most elaborate graffiti art – just keep your eyes open. Many the graffiti murals are truly amazing. You don't get that level of graffiti quality any more in Europe or the US
As the name suggests, on top of Cerro Carcel towers Valparaiso's old prison – and this could have been a prime dark tourism attraction, but unfortunately this chance has been squandered. The former prison, which was also used to incarcerate political prisoners during the Pinochet
dictatorship, had been closed in 1999 and become a grass-roots cultural centre, called Parque Cultural Ex-Carcel. Former cells were used as workshops, graffiti brightened up the walls, concerts were held, and former inmates conducted guided tours of the complex.
In 2008, the government closed the complex and subsequently proceeded to turn the place into a more "official" cultural centre. This has meanwhile been completed – to the detriment of the dark attraction of the place. Gone are the original prison cells, on top of which you used to be able to walk and make out original prisoners' graffiti. The original walls of the big white hulk of the prison's main building are still there, but it has been gutted and new steel and wood structures have replaced the original interior. A completely new building has been erected right opposite, while the old storehouse, Valparaiso's oldest edifice, has been partly refurbished. As has the original gatehouse, a sturdy, fortress-like structure at the northern face of the hill.
However, there is zero commodification of the place's dark past. Without a guide you'd know nothing about it – such as stories of how during the junta years, guards would line up prisoners against the wall to the south of the complex for mass rape!
Maybe, just maybe, this lack of inclusion of the dark sides will still be rectified (the inside of the refurbished prison building still hadn't been put to any specific use at the time of my visit), but I'm not holding my breath.
Right across the street from the main gate lie two of Valparaiso's old cemeteries. One of them is called Cementerio de Disidentes – but don't expect any real dissidents in the modern sense of the word to be buried here. Instead it's simply a reference to non-Catholics! Still, if the romanticism of old cemeteries is your thing it's worth a look.
Another cool cemetery, this one still in current use, is the Cementerio Playa Ancha to the north-west of central Valparaiso (you need to hop on a bus to get there). It features some extraordinary tombs, some of them graphically reflecting the city's maritime connection ... where else do you find paintings of tanker ships adorning mausoleums!
Playa Ancha is a small beach on the coast nearby – and was horrifically overcrowded when I drove past it (for me that's about the most ghastly sight imaginable) – and has also given its name to a university across the valley. During the dictatorship, this was the site of brutal repressive acts by the junta too – the Navy HQ, barracks and Navy Hospital are just around the corner. The latter, so I was told, also served as a detention centre in those days.
Speaking of the Navy, the infamous "Esmeralda
", a tall sailing ship belonging to the Navy was used as a floating detention and torture centre during the Pinochet
junta years as well. It's still serving as the Chilean Navy's most prestigious training ship and can sometimes be seen in Valparaiso's harbour, which is its home base. But most of the time it'll be "on tour" in other parts of the world (controversially so!).
Back on land, so to speak, there are yet more things that may appeal to some dark tourists. My guide pointed out a number of old "haunted houses", for instance, in particular a couple in which murders had taken place, so that no one wanted to live in the buildings any longer. Superstition is a hard thing to overcome, apparently.
We passed one especially atmospheric house (where a teenage daughter had murdered both her parents), which is still derelict and has become enchantingly dilapidated over the years. It oozes the charm of a classic horror film – and it's a shame that it is probably beyond repair now.
My guide had even more stories about murderers, ghosts, etc. associated with various locations in Valparaiso (including in more central parts), but I will not give all of this away here. Suffice it to say that it was a superb tour – and I can only recommend it (see details below
Originally I hadn't even planned to include Valparaiso in my Chile
itinerary in 2011/2012, especially as I was aware that the prime attraction, the ex-Carcel, was no longer worth it. My plans only changed at rather short notice because the tours of Sewell and El Teniente (see under Chile
), which I had originally been more interested in, had been suspended by CODELCO (cf. Chuquicamata
). In hindsight, even though Valparaiso can hardly be considered a particularly dark place, I am glad that this way I got to see this charming city and went on this tour. In fact I wish I'd had more time to explore this unique place more extensively. Maybe one day when I go back to Chile
on the Pacific
coast of central Chile
, a good 60 miles (100 km) west of the capital Santiago
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: Fairly easy to get to from Santiago, but somewhat more challenging to get around in once you're there; needn't be too expensive.
: Most foreign tourists will usually travel to Valparaiso from the nearby capital Santiago de Chile
(except for those arriving by cruise ship, of course). There are very frequent bus connections by a whole range of companies, with Tur Bus offering the most frequent ones. The journey takes between one and a half and two hours and a single ticket costs less than ten USD. There is talk of a new high-speed rail connection between the two cities, which could cut the journey time by half, but it remains to be seen if that ever materializes.
Within Valparaiso, walking is the most enjoyable means of getting around, except where the characteristic funiculars ('ascensores') ease the ascent to the steeper hills. But for longer distances (e.g. to the western districts) you'll need to get a local bus.
When I visited the place I had a tour with a local guide arranged through the Santiago
-based company La Bicicleta Verde - see this sponsored page
! The special tour they arranged for me and my wife back in 2012 (note that this was not the same as their current regular tour of Valparaiso!) cost 80 USD for the two of us (it would probably more now), lasted ca. 2-3 hours and included all bus tickets. It may not sound cheap, but the value for money it offered was well worth the investment!
Accommodation options for those who want to overnight in Valparaiso are predictably plentiful, given it's Chile's second most touristy city, and cover a wide price range, from a good number of very cheap hostels to a couple of luxury boutique hotels, and a very good range of mid-price options.
Food & drink
needn't be expensive either – this being a coastal city, fish is naturally a particular focus of many eateries, and many traditional places are quite inexpensive. I found the Cinzano Bar, with its faded maritime chic, perfectly agreeable (on Plaza Anibal Pinto).
Time required: My flying visit to Valparaiso lasted only half a day (as a return trip from Santiago) and that definitely felt way too short. One or two full days would be much more appropriate to do the place justice.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
In a rather vague sense, one might consider the modern building housing the National Congress a somewhat dark-ish sight. The Congress was moved to Valparaiso from Santiago shortly after the military coup in 1973 on Pinochet
's orders, and hasn't been moved back yet. The building itself isn't exactly a showcase of modern architecture (some would say it's downright ugly) but you can cast a contemplative glance at it on your way to/from the bus station which lies just north of the Congress.
For other, much more alluring dark combinations see under Chile
, especially Santiago
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Valparaiso is primarily rather a non-dark tourist destination. The main attraction is the unique urban landscape of the place (now recognized through UNESCO
World Heritage status). This is dominated by the hilly terrain, with over a dozen characteristic funiculars ('ascensores' – many of them truly antique, but still functioning) connecting the lower parts of the city, its main commercial districts, with the hilltop neighbourhoods. The latter are in turn characterized by many pretty Victorian houses. It's certainly a place that is fabulous for just wandering about in – but make no mistake: all those hills do render this more strenuous than in many other places. The occasional help of the 'ascensores' only alleviates this a bit.
Those who, unlike me, aren't totally horrified by the very concept of crowded beaches and even like them (though how that's possible will forever remain a mystery to me) may actually prefer Valparaiso's neighbouring coastal town of Vina del Mar, central Chile
's principal beach holiday resort. The two twin cities are connected by their own metro, which is the most convenient and quickest means of transport between the two.
- Valparaiso 01 - ex-Carcel
- Valparaiso 02 - now a cultural centre
- Valparaiso 03 - the oldest building of the city
- Valparaiso 04 - dissidents cemetery
- Valparaiso 05 - which in this case merely means not Catholic
- Valparaiso 06 - Cementerio Playa Ancha
- Valparaiso 07 - praying hands, hollow eyes
- Valparaiso 08 - worshipping shipping
- Valparaiso 09 - view over the bay
- Valparaiso 10 - formerly abandoned haunted houses
- Valparaiso 11 - still abandonned, derelict haunted house
- Valparaiso 12 - National Congress
- Valparaiso 13 - just one of those cool graffiti
- Valparaiso 14 - Cerro Concepcion
- Valparaiso 15 - one of those iconic funiculars
- Valparaiso 16 - the most horrible sight of Playa Ancha