Chile’s second city, known for its dramatic hills and magnificent ocean views, has plenty of family-friendly activities. Keep in mind that the city’s steeply pitched topography setting can be difficult for little ones unused to the climb (and its uneven sidewalks make strollers a challenge, at best). But with beautiful parks, festive beaches and plenty to see and do, you and your family can have a fantastic time.
1) Ascend to the Heights in an Ascensor
One of the most fun forms of public transport ever invented must be the ascensor, or funiculars, modified incline railways that have climbed Valparaiso’s precipitous hills since the late 1800s. Only 16 of the creaky antiques, some with gradients of almost 60°, are still in operation, and cost just CLP$300 (US$0.60) for the ride. Each terminates at a different destination—hiking trails, neighborhood markets, museums and more—all with splendid city views.
2) Get in Touch with your Sea Farer
One of Valparaiso’s most easily accessible ascensores, Artilleria, will take you to pretty Paseo 21 de Mayo, with a market, fine views and more importantly, the National Maritime Museum. While Valparaiso doesn’t have a children’s museum, this interesting exhibition has a teaching room with hands-on information about the Chilean Navy and the challenges it’s faced over the centuries. There’s plenty in here to keep grownups interested as well.
3) Enjoy the Outdoor Art
While you’ll find fabulous murals all over town (Paseo Gervasoni on Cerro Concepcion is a colorful spot), take an ascensor to the Bellavista neighborhood for the Museo de Cielo Abiero, the Museum of the Open Sky. Started by local students in 1973, this project has covered dozens of walls and ramparts with unique murals, some of them faded and old, others newly refurbished. Perfect for folks with creative kids.
4) See the Local Wildlife, Up Close and Personal
Just outside Vina del Mar, a few kilometers from Valparaiso proper, you’ll find the fascinating Zoo Quilpue. While the zoo is home to several of the usual big-name species—elephants, lions, kangaroos, Siberian tigers—most exhibits focus on Chilean wildlife. Humboldt penguins, tapirs, alpacas, condors, macaws and many more, are in smallish but well maintained enclosures with plenty of kid-friendly attractions and play places scattered throughout.
5) Head to the Beach
The northern currents bring bracing Antarctic water to Chile’s chilly coastline, but that doesn’t make the beaches any less enjoyable on a sunny southern summer day. There are 36 beaches in the Valparaiso area. The best are more toward Vina del Mar, but there are several popular spots right in the city, many lined with restaurants, drinks stands and even public restrooms. Currents can be dangerous; a red flag means it’s unsuitable. The most popular beaches have lifeguards during the summer months (December–March) at least; look for the yellow jackets and lifeguard stands. There is good surfing, with boards and instructors available around town; you will need a wetsuit year round.
6) Enjoy the Local Cuisine
While this port city is, of course, renowned for its excellent seafood, Valparaiso’s signature dish is likely to appeal to just about any kid happy. The chorrillana, is basically a pile of fresh-cut French fries, topped with small fajita-style squares of beef, scrambled egg and fried onion (order it “sin cebollas” if you’d rather enjoy it without the onion.) Prices are low, portions are huge and it’s available all over the city.