When trying to figure out our travel plans for 2018, there were a few huge things I knew I wanted to include. Carnaval in Brazil, WrestleMania in New Orleans, Summer Camp Music Festival, and the World Cup in Russia. Attempting to do all four in one year seemed a bit ambitious. Rather than scale it back, though, I decided to just go for it and make 2018 a year-long party. The question was what to do in the other months, most notably how to kick the whole thing off. Cue Valparaiso. This Chilean city hosts a massive party to ring in the New Year with the biggest fireworks displays on the continent. Here’s a little recap of how we raged New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso.
An Intro to Valparaiso
Valparaiso is located on the Chilean coast and is one of the South Pacific’s most important seaports. Once upon a time, it was a popular stopping point for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the Straits of Magellan. This brought many European immigrants to the city, which came to be known as the “Jewel of the Pacific.” These days, most Chileans simply call it “Valpo.”
Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last. When the Panama Canal opened, Valparaiso’s economy took a big hit. Rich families that could afford it abandoned ship and moved elsewhere. As is the case all over the world, economic hardship led to increases in crime. Thankfully, the past 15 years or so has seen a revitalization of the city centered on a booming artistic community.
A City of Art
This transformation started in 2003, when UNESCO named Valparaiso’s historic quarter a World Heritage Site. Since then, artists of all types have been moving in and making their mark. I mean that literally – the city is covered in amazing street art.
There seems to be an eye-catching mural on every corner here, and new ones are springing up all the time. In our 4-night stay, we watched an artist transform the steps outside our hostel into an impressive space-themed work of art.
We thoroughly enjoyed just getting lost in the city’s labyrinth-like streets taking in all the incredible street art. Some of the most famous works here include the “We are not hippies, we are happies” steps and the piano staircase, which is aptly located on Beethoven Street.
Make sure you have a full battery on your phone and camera when hunting for street art in Valpo, as you’re sure to snap tons of pictures.
Ride the Funiculars
Valpo is quite a hilly place, making walking around exhausting. Way back in 1883, the city opened up its first funicular to help people go between the hilly neighborhoods and the low central area. Many of these funiculars still operate today, and they’re extremely popular with tourists.
Sometimes the line to get the funicular takes three times longer than just walking up the stairs. You’ve got to ride them at least once, though.
We took the 30-second ride up on the Reina Victoria funicular and went on a photo scavenger hunt of street art. There are plenty of great restaurants, ice cream shops, cafes, and bars up here for when you want to take a quick break. We ate some amazing empanadas, including one stuffed with salmon and another with a Mediterranean mix. Next up was a nice cafe for some cake and coffees while we waited for the big party.
New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso
Where to Celebrate
The city hosts a big festival at the end of the year with a variety of cultural events. It culminates on New Year’s Eve with a massive party and fireworks show. The fireworks display is said to be the largest in all of South America. Over a million people flock to the city to ring in the New Year. As a result, it’s highly recommended to come a day early and stay a day late to avoid sitting in massive traffic jams from or back to Santiago.
Your best bet for taking in the fireworks is to get elevated. The most popular spot for the NYE festivities is Paseo Yugoslavo, which is accessible by funicular or a short walk. People start to file in around 5 or so to stake out a spot. There are several vendors selling empanadas, pizza slices, and cold beers to help get the party started.
Our Big Night Out
While the scene in Paseo Yugoslavo was fun, we headed back to our hostel to see what everyone there was planning on doing. Since we’re always staying in Airbnb places these days because of our jobs, it was really nice to soak up the social atmosphere of a hostel again. After a nice and lengthy pre-game, we headed out armed with plenty of booze and snacks.
Rather than head back to Yugoslavo, our group opted to head higher to Plaza Bismarck to watch the fireworks. This area is definitely more family-friendly and chilled out. It’s got a nice big green space, so we all posted up and poured some drinks.
We met some awesome people that night and are planning on bumping into some of them on upcoming travels. This is one thing we really miss about just backpacking and staying in hostels vs. being a digital nomad.
A Massive Fireworks Display
The sidewalk started to really fill in around 11:15, so we moved up to ensure we’d have a decent view of the fireworks. When we saw a guy walking around selling mojitos, you know we had to get a few. Before we knew it, it was time for the midnight countdown.
The fireworks display really is impressive and is probably the biggest either of us has ever seen.
In a questionable decision, I decided to bring a bottle of champagne along. I know it’s the traditional drink for a midnight toast, but when you’ve already had several beers and a few cocktails it’s a recipe for disaster. Especially when you’re just drinking it straight out the bottle! Whoops. What can I say – we like to party; sorry if you don’t.
After Midnight Rager
Speaking of party, that’s precisely where we headed after the fireworks wrapped up. Our group stumbled through the streets of Valpo and up the stairs to reach the party in Paseo Yugoslavo. There was a huge crowd of people dancing to a DJ.
Bottles of pisco and joints were being passed around everywhere we looked. Turns out Valparaiso really does know how to throw a NYE party! Thanks to the champagne, however, this part of the evening is a bit foggy. Or should I say bubbly?
After a massive New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso, the only thing you need on January 1st is some good ole’ hangover food and a little hair of the dog. Rather than go with the typical greasy eggs and bacon paired with a Bloody Mary that we usually opt for, we decided to keep it (somewhat) local.
We grabbed a table at one of the only places that was open and ordered up some ceviche and aji de gallina (spicy creamed chicken) lasagna. Throw in a couple of Pisco Sours and it made for a fantastic New Year’s Day brunch.
I’m aware that all of those things are Peruvian. As my Chilean friend said, “Chile’s food is not very interesting, so we have to borrow from other countries.” As Americans, we definitely know the feeling. Of course, we still tried the local stuff the next day.
When it comes to curing a hangover in Valpo, the #1 choice is definitely chorillana. This thing might as well be called a heart attack on a plate.
It’s a massive pile of french fries topped with stripped steak, fried onions, and scrambled eggs. As if that wasn’t enough, they serve it with huge globs of mayo and thick bread. Wash it all down with a Terremoto.
This cocktail – whose name actually means “earthquake” – is quite the interesting combo. It’s made of pipeño wine, grenadine, and pineapple ice cream. We shared one of each and walked out of the restaurant stuffed and a bit tipsy. The most popular place for this dynamic duo is called J Cruz M and it’s tucked down a sketchy looking alley.
Chill on the Beach
With a compounding hangover and full bellies, we didn’t exactly feel very motivated. There are a few museums to visit in Valparaiso, but we decided to just go check out the beach up the coast instead.
The city of Viña del Mar is about a 30-minute bus ride away and has a long stretch of beach. It’s not exactly the nicest beach ever, but it’s fine for an afternoon where you feel completely useless and incapable of doing anything.
There are a few restaurants on the beach if you want to grab some lunch or drinks here, and there are several other choices on the main street of Viña del Mar. By this point in our trip, we were ready to throw in the towel. It was way too windy and chilly on the beach to go swimming, so we just walked through town and caught the bus back to Valpo.
It would probably be fun to stay in Viña del Mar for a night or two when it’s not so crazy and packed full of tourists. Maybe next time we come to Chile!
How to Get to Valparaiso
Valparaiso is only 120 km (75 miles) from the capital of Santiago, making it very easy to access. There are buses leaving every 15 minutes or so from the major bus stations at Alameda or Pajaritos. Both bus stations are accessible by the Santiago metro. You can just show up and be on a bus within minutes, but if you want to choose your seat and guarantee the time you can grab them online using the Recorrido website. One-way tickets cost about $11-12 and the buses are quite nice. Once in town, you can get a taxi to your accommodation for $5 or just jump on a local bus for $0.50.
Where to Stay in Valparaiso
Valparaiso has tons of options for accommodation. If you’re looking to visit for the NYE festivities, you’ll definitely want to book well in advance. We booked a few months early and even then a lot of places were already full. If you use Booking.com, you don’t pay anything up front and you can usually cancel up to a day before.
We stayed at the Casa Verde Limon hostel and really enjoyed our stay. While we were in a dorm room, it was actually split into two parts so it was almost like we had our own little room. The hostel has a nice common room and kitchen with free tea and coffee. Breakfast isn’t provided, so you’ll want to grab something from the supermarket down the street.
There are plenty of places listed on Airbnb as well if you’re looking for something a bit more private and comfortable. If you’re new to the Airbnb game, you can get $40 off your first booking by using our referral link. Just click here to get started. We typically go the Airbnb route, but since we’re always staying in them now it’s nice to stay in a hostel when we can.
These referral links get you some money off and also help us earn some credit towards our next reservation. As a couple of vagabonds with no permanent home, we rely on Booking and Airbnb to keep a roof over our head and appreciate the support you give us by booking through our links.
All in all, we had a great time celebrating New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso. It was the perfect way to blow off steam after a month of working basically every day and studying Spanish in Lima. Valpo really is our kind of place. It’s got a laid-back vibe, a vibrant art and music scene, great restaurants for all budgets, a craft brewery, and lots of cool dive bars. No one can sum up Valparaiso better than the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who once wrote of the city:
what an absurdity
a crazy port.
What a head
that you never finish
did you have
time to dress yourself,
you were surprised
As someone whose hair is rarely combed and who is more often than not wearing pajama pants, I feel like Valparaiso is the city version of my spirit animal. I’m always surprised by life, too, and even more so after spending New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso.