Wow! Valparaíso! I think Cerro Concepción must be the coolest place I have ever worked. Even the Chilenos say that Valpo is unique… and it is. The city seems to be on some other strange path, much like the digital nomads themselves. But Valpo is legit, and certainly interesting, and comes highly recommended as a city to visit, and to live in as well.
As to what makes Valpo so unique, I have my own theory, based around the mixture of elements there. There are really a lot of seamen, a large farmers’ market, many students attending the 8 colleges and universities, a large community of artists, many descendants of the gypsies, and I must mention the crazy high-flying sea-lions (don’t miss them!). However, it is not divorced from reality. On the contrary, there are thousands of dockworkers and fishermen, workers in the farmers’ market, and so on.
I ended up living in the Valpo area for some 8 months, and I thought it was the most stimulating place I have stayed in my travels. Part of the reason why the area is so satisfying is that there are really 4 cities for the price of one, all spread out around the large bay. There is Valpo, then Viña del Mar, then Reñaca, then Concon. If you get tired of one place, you can go spend the day at one of the others. Santiago is also just a 2 hour bus ride away, but, frankly, I never felt the need to go there.
I should also mention the artistic offerings, for which the city is justly famed. There are the many murals and sidewalk artists, and then sights such as the band of young women in rat costumes, who come dancing and frolicking down the hill, complete with accompanying pipers. Yes, really. At the bi-annual Teatro Container Festival, which is highly recommended, there was the French troupe of blue aliens with spiky hair, who came hurdling over the fence into the musical mosh pit after their performance. The most famous South American poet, Pablo Neruda, had a house here, because he drew inspiration from the city, which is famed as a source of creative inspiration.
For digital nomads who want to rent a place and stay for a while, I’m going to play it safe, and recommend renting in Viña. It is quite normal, safer, and has been rated as having the best beach walks in South America. There is quite a pleasant train which runs between Valpo and Viña, going alonside the ocean, which is just about a 10 minute ride, and practically always includes wacky performers of various types. I rented in both Valpo and Viña, and Valpo is certainly the more distinctive experience. But I remember one young lady telling me how she was constantly preoccupied about safety in Valpo, and how this concern dominated her experience there. There is an issue with thieves in Valpo, which cannot be denied. I sometimes think of it as the “City of Thieves” from the Conan the Barbarian’s novels. This is why I’m recommending Viña as the safer bet for renting (although, honestly, it is just a 10 minute ride away, and thieves know how to catch the train too). But then Viña also has proper garbage disposal. So there is that as well.
As far as the good nomad cafes, most of them are on Cerro Concepción in Valpo, a hill which is the main visitor attraction in the area. It would be remiss of me to not mention the peculiar history of this hill. During colonial times, the locals avoided the hill, believing that it was inhabited by a demon, who liked the hill for soothing vibrations. The people were frightened of the strange emanations. When the colonial settlers dynamited a part of the hill, a cave was discovered inside, and misfortune befell the colonist who had ordered the blasting. When a later colonist dynamited again, misfortune also befell him. As for the peculiar soothing vibrations or emanations, I think they are honestly tough to miss. Cerro Concepción feels completely different from the bustling city streets below.
Alright, let us get to those cafes…
I mentioned earlier that you really get 4 cities for the price of one. So I’m going to give at least one cafe in each of the other cities around the bay.
Viña del Mar
Viña is pretty large, but strangely lacking in nomad cafes. There was one decent one, but it closed. It’s a good place to rent though, and a really major beach destination. The area around 5th Street (including 4th, 6th, and 7th Streets) is particularly recommended for visiting and strolling around, as well as the section of coast going from the flower clock to the castle.
Reñaca is kind of an upscale beach neighborhood, and is considerably smaller than Valpo or Viña. It has a seriously nice beach though, and is just about a 15 minute bus ride from Viña. Note to joggers, walkers and bikers: the stretch between Viña and Reñaca is one of the reasons Viña has been rated as having the best beach walks in South America. It’s maybe an hour walk. I used to come here for the day like once every two weeks, work in one of the cafes, and hang on the beach for a bit. Nice little change of scenery.
The main thing I noted about Concon is that the Jumbo supermarket there has the best selection of foreign cheeses and other imported food products. It’s kind of a suburb, to be fair. I would go there maybe once a month, just for a change of scenery, and to get stuff from that supermarket. And get a bit of work done too of course.
Cerro Concepción in Valpo is really the main visitor destination. But if you staying for a while and renting a place, all three of these locations around the bay are suitable for renting. Viña is the most central though.
Wow! Writing about Valpo is making me miss the place. I had such good times there. I should also mention the New Year’s celebrations, which come with highest recommendations.
Also note that you can do visa hops from the Valpo area, going to Mendoza in Argentina and returning. I did this 3 times, and never had any issues. Also, there’s a secret bus, going from Santiago to Mendoza at 2pm, with Turbus. I ran into it by accident, but could never find anything about it online. Only here on Technomadic Sphinx, my friends. Secret buses.
Alright! Enjoy your stay in Valparaíso folks! Watch out for lurking demons now!