Just like most port cities, Valparaíso’s first impressions may make you feel a bit insecure about your surroundings, and you may find the narrow alleyways a bit daunting. However the more you explore, and the longer you are here, the more you will feel a welcoming vibe radiating from all the colorful houses and the amazing bohemian street art that defines Valparaíso.
This city truly is a blank canvas for artists from all around the world. Street art is legal in Valparíso, so long as the artist is given permission by an owner to paint on a property. Permission is also needed to paint in public places such as stairways, and other public property.
Failure to get permission and getting caught tagging can land you in big trouble! Just ask the artist that was thrown in jail for 24 hours for painting the popular piano-like stairs leading up to the historical area!
Valparaíso is the second largest city in Chile and is also its largest shipping port. Back in the 19 century, Valparaíso was a major trading hub connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The city went into a major decline due to the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.
Over the past three decades, the city has made a big comeback, thanks to its unique mix of Chilian culture, Bohemian street art, and murals dotted all over town.
Valparaíso is considered Chile’s culture capital. If you spend a couple of hours walking around Plaza Anibal Pinto, or in and around some of the other touristy areas, you’ll understand exactly why. You’ll see endless street art, young people hanging out enjoying themselves, and loads of performing street musicians.
With its historic transit system, houses and buildings clinging to hillsides, and similar climate, Valparaíso is also known as “Little San Francisco.”
In 2003 the historic quarter was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than 50 cruise ships make Valparaíso a port-of-call during the busy four-month tourist season.
The best way to experience the city and its famous art scene.
Unlike most Spanish Colonial towns, Valparaíso has no official town square. It was originally designed as a port; not a city of more than 300 thousand inhabitants like it is today.
Most tourists congregate around Plaza Anibal Pinto to enjoy the street music, great restaurants, and the cafes. Up the hill, in the historic quarter, you can find lots of excellent restaurants, graffiti art, coffee shops, and some great views of the city, all while taking a casual stroll through the cobbled streets. The easiest way up the hill is by using one of the Funiculars. (Elevators)
I strongly recommend you take one of many walking tours on offer. I decided to do a graffiti tour with Valpo Street Art Tours. This excursion cost is on a tip basis only. You pay what you feel the tour was worth. The tour I did was with an awesome guide named Chris, kicking off at Plaza Anibal Pinto.(Just show up around 10:30 a.m.).
Our first stop was an alley, where Chris gave us a brief history of graffiti and tagging. He also showed us some different examples of graffiti, and murals.
The photo on the left shows a style developed in Brasil that consists of long letters. The primary challenge for the Tagger is to climb to a high, and dangerous area to place the tag.
The second photo(top right) is your typical tag, and the third style is bigger with simple letters -known as a throw-up. A throw-up should only take 3 minutes to create. Any longer and the Tagger has a fairly good chance of getting caught and fined!
If shop owners want tagging removed, they can hire a local artist to paint something on the side of their building. Usually, the taggers will respect that art and stop tagging the bare wall.
The desirable side of Valparaíso street art.
What makes this city’s art scene so unique is that you can see graffiti art and murals virtually everywhere. You don’t need to visit different neighborhoods to see everything like most other cities that are well-known for art.
Some of the art you will see is painted by beginners, along with some created by world famous artists. Walking along the streets here really is a unique experience.
Chis guided us through several streets and showed us all of the following street art shown below. He did a great job of explaining the meaning of each painting.
One artist does some of the murals, and others are done by two or more. You can often see the different styles blended within the transitions.
Exciting community project.
A few weeks ago there was a project organized to clean up a street alley that was over 300m in length. This was done by painting sketch art on all the doors and walls. Buckets of paint were lined up along the road, and over 50 artists showed up to revitalize the street. It took them two days to finish. The street now looks great and has an inviting feel to it.
It only took three days for a group of artists that have been working together for over ten years to paint this mural. It depicts of a gruesome event that happened back in 1855. After days of heavy rain, part of the cemetery on the hill collapsed onto the street, scattering the remains of hundreds of bodies everywhere.
World famous artist
This next mural was the most impressive for me. It was created by a famous Chilian artist named Inti (who just so happens to be from Valparaíso). Inti now lives in Paris and makes his living off of the murals that he painted in a lot of major cities around the world.
The streets of Valpareaísos historic center are not very crowded, but please take care when you are walking around, especially at night. There are plenty of pickpockets, particularly around Plaza Anibal Pinto. So please, be vigilant.
How To Get There
Valparaíso is located just over 100km West of Santiago. A very comfortable bus ride (I recommend either Pullman Bus, or Turbus ) from Santiago will set you back around $5 USD. Grab a window seat if you can, as the journey will take you through some very scenic landscapes including endless vineyards and wineries.
There are plenty of good hostels and at good prices. (Average $14 USD for a dorm bed). Check out some reviews on Hostelworld.com
If you have any questions about Valparaíso or the art scene, please feel free to email me or leave a comment below, and I will get back to you. Thank-you for dropping by my blog today!