We stayed at the Hotel Brighton, a yellow, clapperboard house, perched on the edge of one of the many hills upon which Valparaiso is built. Opinion varies - the poet Pablo Neruda said that there were no hills in Valparaiso, using the geographical definition of a hill as a separate entity. However, the general consensus is that there are at least 42. From our black and white tiled hotel terrace, there were views to the city, the sea, and to a small square, directly down from our bedroom window. When we stood in the square, at the beginning of our free walking tour, the hotel loomed garishly over the group, and we were simply able to point skyward when asked where we were staying. In fact, our walking route eventually took us past our accommodation, to take in the brilliant views from the promenade just beyond it.
Valparaiso was once very grand, an important naval town because of its location, and has a number of fine buildings and monuments that indicate its former glory. However, the building of the Panama Canal put paid to all that - Valparaiso is no longer a stopping point for shipping, travelling between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and has gone into a steady decline ever since. For example, in its heyday, there were thirty one lifts dotted around Valparaiso, to assist with pedestrian transport up its many hills, but now only fourteen remain, most of which are out of service. When we were there, only two were in use. Another, the one nearest to our hotel, was under renovation.
The walking tour we joined was led by Dani, a very knowledgable local who has lived in Valparaiso all his life, even attending one of the many universities in the city. I don't think there is anything he doesn't know about his place of birth - politics, street art, culture, history, and more politics, and he didn't leave anything out. We started about 10.15, and he said to expect his tour to last about 5 hours! Luckily there was a stop for lunch, at a cafe that sold great empanadas (South American pasties).
Valparaiso is particularly known for its colourful houses, street art and graffiti and it did seem that every available space was decorated. Dani said that there is a section of Valparaiso society who feel that this is a bad thing, and that some of the culture of the town is being lost as a result. He took us to a gated alleyway that had once been his favourite tour stop because of the variety and ever-changing nature of its artwork. It was now painted in magnolia - the owner had decided that, although he appreciated the street art, he wanted things doing "the right way" and was only going to allow specially invited artists to decorate his walls. It is true that even the most traditional of buildings has not been spared the vivid decorative treatment. There is graffiti on walls, floors, doors, steps - one staircase was painted as a piano keyboard, and another with a message, "We are not hippies, we are happies". Not quite as profound as the 'poesia' that I saw written on Cusco's walls three years earlier, but very flowery and cheerful, nonetheless. A rare place without graffiti, a telegraph pole, was yarn bombed in protest, and bunting was strung in the gaps between houses. I personally think the wiring in the town is more of an eyesore than some of the less accomplished graffiti and tags (all of it visible, twisted like some Gordian knot, and often hanging within touching distance), and also a serious fire hazard - there was in fact a massive fire in Valparaiso in 2014 that killed 15 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes.
Transport was interesting in Valparaiso too. We saw a VW Beatle, still in working order being driven round the cobbled streets near our hotel, and obviously there was the remains of the lift system for higher ground. My personal favourite however, was the slide that connected one level of ground to another on Concepcion HilI. I may even have used it if it hadn't been for my dodgy back. Chris didn't hold back though, despite the queue of school children waiting for a turn. Most interesting though were the trolley buses, many of which were relics from the 1950s. As we left the town, we deliberately travelled on one of the oldest of these vehicles, and were rewarded with a tune from a busker on a mandolin who serenaded us from the back of the bus.
Would I recommend staying at Hotel Brighton? Probably not. Our room was quite dark and dingy, down some stairs in the middle of the terrrace. The bathroom was fairly grotty, with a Bleasby style 'killer shower' (personal family joke), and the bed was very uncomfortable, with shot springs - extremely painful on a bad back. However, the restaurant was excellent - the food was delicious, and the views from the terrace (where we could have taken the very good breakfast, if we were hard enough) were exceptional.Read more