Valparaiso - The Petty Crime Centre of the World

Trip Start Aug 26, 2005
Trip End May 26, 2008

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Flag of Chile  , Valparaíso,
Friday, January 20, 2006

Jag and I finally crossed the frontier between Argentina and Chile and arrived in Santiago. Other than getting robbed at the border, there is nothing to tell. We spent 2 long and boring days there and fled to a port town on the Pacific coast called Valparaiso, possibly the dodgiest place ever visited by mankind.

'Valpo' as the locals call it, is the central port for the whole of Chile, supplying Santiago and the surrounds. The city is surrounded by the ‘Siete Cerros´ or ‘7 Hills’. The rolling hills loom above the busy port and are covered in colorful houses, similar to ´La Boca´ in Buenos Aires and just as dangerous. There are a number of Funiculars (trams) that take you to the tops of these hills. Its either that or one hell of a staircase, so for the lazy Chileans, the Funiculars are a good option. There are a few streets that are safe enough to walk in, but if you stray from the main road you are in trouble. Big trouble, as we were to find out.

One of these hills is called ´Museo Cielo Abierto´ or ´Open Air Museum´. Jag and I went for a walk across the hills looking for the famous ´Open Air Museum´ wandering through all these colorful streets looking for it. There were so many amazing brightly coloured buildings but no ‘museum’ to be seen. Eventually, when we decided we had looked everywhere for this famous museum, we decided to enlist in the help of a shop keeper, as to the whereabouts of this museum. She laughed in our faced and said, ´you’re in it, It’s the houses and streets´. ´Wow, that’s a really shit house museum’ we said.

After a little lack of caution we had strayed too far off the safer streets and walked past a few of the dodgy looking locals that stood up and said ´hello gringos´ as we passed by. We knew we knew we were in trouble. We had wandered too deep into the favellas now that there was no way out. The only way, it seemed was to just keep walking up. The locals that we had passed were beginning to congregate behind us, blocking the possibility of backtracking. We were getting deeper and deeper into trouble. Jag and I now realized we had a problem. Deep in the ghettos of ‘Valpo’ nobody can hear you scream. We realized that if we went up any further we probably would never come back down. We took off our watches, hid our cameras in our pants and decided to go back down, through all the tough and rough looking kids that were snickering and making remarks as we went past earlier. Oh dear we are in trouble.

We summed up our chances and carrying only 1 camera and a few dollars between us, and some rubbish old Casio watches, we thought we would take a chance, and if approached, just hand over anything without a fuss and hopefully escape without and blood being spilt.

We turned around and started heading back down the now crowded narrow streets towards the port. As we past the locals, they stood and began walking after us. Oh no!!!! We were scared now, real scared... We picked up pace and looked back to see a group of dodgy looking characters coming down the hill towards us. Before we knew it we were sprinting down the hill as the locals got closer. With ghetto locals chasing down after us we ran through their slums, down the hills, sweating and shaking with fear. Past the local scumbags, and filth of fucking Chile, that so quickly we had grown to hate. We hate this Country. Chile is a disgrace.

We arrived, eventually, at the hostel door, busting in, fearing the worst, but we fought each other to get in the front door and away from the madness we had just experienced in the hills, vowing never to go back. We sat with racing hearts in the hostel and heard the stories of other travelers that had made the same mistake as us, but unfortunately not had as much luck. Earlier that day two other backpackers in the same hostel had been robbed. One at knife point by a mob of kids. He lost his cameras, money, credit cards and passports. In the exact spot we had just ran from. We were lucky.

There is so much diversity on these hills, Huge fortified Mansions are surrounded by cast iron ´ghetto shacks´ and the top of society somehow integrate themselves with huge electrified fences and barbed wire, in some of the worst housing I have ever seen. Stray dogs and cats roam the streets and the homeless outnumber the housed.

Valparaiso is the home of Chiles Naval Fleet, where 6 big naval vessels are docked. It’s also the crime epicenter of the world. The Lonely Planet warns about this place and I´d like to reiterate the fact that it really is damn dangerous! I would advise every traveler to stay away and if you do decide to come here...well, just don’t!

For 1000 Chilean pesos (about 3 Aussie dollars), we took a boat tour around the Harbour, getting up close to the Navy ships and checking out the dry dock, where a huge tanker was being re-sprayed. Basically the tour was a small circle outside the docks. It sucked pretty badly and the highlight of the tour was pulling faces in the group photo at the start. The photo cost 3 times the amount that we paid to go on the tour in the first place, which we thought was pretty funny.

Valparaiso was visited many times by the notorious Pirate Sir Frances Drake, who was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world. Back in the day Valparaiso was a popular port and hangout for Pirates and Sea scum, most of whom still live in the hills and valleys here. Valparaiso was also visited by Russel Crow in the movie ´Master and Commander´. They come here to repair their ship.

As has become custom with Jag and I, we cannot leave a new city until we have a big night out. If it wasn’t dangerous enough during the day in ‘Valpo’ we thought we would try our luck with the nightlife. Saturday night has been designated as party and drinking night in an effort not repeat the Mendoza binge. So we hit a Gothic pub before going to a club called ´Huevo´ or EGG. Its three levels of action and rooftop Salsa lessons kept us entertained, needless to say I got right amongst it and picked up a few new salsa steps, which I took downstairs to the dance floor and cut sick.

The Egg closed way too early at 5am just as we were bringing out the big moves. Ready to be chased, we stumbled outside and made a zig zag back to the hostel. In style that seemed so unlike the Valpo that we had got to know, there wasn’t a knife or a chase and we made it back safely to the hostel and got a good sleep.

The next day with hangovers raging we headed off to a nearby beach town called ‘Vina Del Mar’. It was a dull and miserable day but we kicked on to this famous beach resort. Walking around the headland wasn’t a good idea, but we limited what we carried and took the risk. Around the headland we encountered a military base and a few old WW2 cannons and armament. We had a play, and carried on our way to ‘Vina Del Mar’. There is nothing entirely spectacular to report about the place, its, just a messy beach with lots of tourists. So we walked a little further to the next beach called ‘La Renaca’. A camera crew strolled up to us whilst we were sitting on a bench and proceeded to publicly humiliate us in front of the locals. What happened was this: two fairly hot girls put bibs and baby hats on us and started rubbing us down with some kind of baby sun screen. This part was ok and mildly entertaining, to be honest, we quiet enjoyed it. All this happened while being filmed. Then we were fed out of a bottle full of some kind of sweet alcoholic beverage. The two hot girls then bent us over their laps and spanked us, and made us sleep on their shoulders, after our public nap we were woken and made to dance ring-a-ring-a-roses, before our 15 minutes of fame had expired and they thanked us with another spank and headed off to the next group of unsuspecting tourists. We were left questioning what it was all about and came to the conclusion that it must have been an ad for baby sunscreen?

This is the second time I have been filmed in my time in South America. The first was in Mendoza when a camera crew came up and asked us what we thought of the chicks here. Along came a few more questions, some that I didn't understand and I responded with ´Si - es muy frio´ - ‘yes, it’s very cold’.

The beach provided mild entertainment for the day and after a greasy lunch from a street side stall, we returned to our hostel and spent the afternoon watching ‘Anchorman – the legend of Ron Burgandy’. TV is a luxury out here and when we find one, we tend to watch it as much as possible as we are never sure when we will find the next one.

It’s the 25th of Jan and I'm still battling my way through Chile with Kiwi buddy Jag. We left Valpo and traveled South to a big surf break called Pichilemu.

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Neil Theasby on

I have just returned from Chile and visited charming Valparaiso. I have several "issues" with this rather childish, hysterical portrait of Valparaiso and Chile in general. Firstly, nowhere in history books is Sir Francis Drake described as a "pirate" - he was the favoured emmisary of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Secondly, I think it is downright racist to classify Chileans as "lazy" - the hills up from the "plata" are very steep - especially for older people or families with young children. Thirdly, there are various spelling mistakes in the piece - from "Crow" for "Crowe" to "finicular" for "funicular". Fourthly, anybody who thinks that clubbing till five in the morning is how to have a good time in an amazing and beautiful country like Chile needs their head examining. Valparaiso is no doubt a tough port city but visually quite unique. As in any though city, you need to keep your wits about you to avoid tricky situations or worse - becoming the victim of petty criminals. Personally, I think I would have joined the local "scum" in chasing the arguably racist author of this trivialised account down the hill!

muzz_travelling on

Mr Theasby, thanks for your comments on my 'BLOG' entry for Valparaiso. I'm sorry you feel that way about MY OPEN AND HONEST OPINION of what I considered a very dangerous location.
I have no idea how long you spent reading through the hundreds of blog entries as i traveled overland from Ushuaia to Mexico City , over the course of three years from 2005-2007, but i assure you i did not come to my conclusions without consideration and investigations. In fact, i have been praised on numerous occasions (and also had many articles from this blog published in a variety of travel magazines) about their HONEST and FRANK account of places i visited.

Onto the Pirate, Sir Frances Drake. You may want to do a little more reading to discover the Spanish colonies that he attacked, the gold he plundered and his attempts to capture PANAMA! You may find that after these actions, most would consider him a PIRATE.

Now - Classifying Chileans as 'lazy', if you read some more of my blogs, you might find that i do not simply classify All Chileans as 'lazy', I classify the entirety of LATIN AMERICA AS LAZY! And i had three years to come to that conclusion.

As for the spleing mistkes, you will again, notice that this is a BLOG entry. The majority of these entries were thrown down in the 5 minutes that i had while waiting for buses and transport to my next destination on SPANISH keyboards. I thought i did quiet well considering. You will be please to hear that I have spent the last year since returning home, cleaning up these messy entries and converting them into legible pieces which i have been submitting - successfully i might add, to various travel journals. You can view the 'almost' cleaned up entries here:

Clubbing is an amazing way to meet the locals. The particular club we visited in Valpo was called Huevo. We arrived at the clubs and were the ONLY non locals there. This of course generated much attention, of the good kind i might add. We joined a roof top salsa lesson with a whole bunch of locals, which we ended up spending a few drinks chatting to. they gave us a great depiction of the their life in Chile and how they see other backpackers. We mixed with all kinds of people that night and, being OPEN about new experiences and trying new things, like clubbing with the locals, you too might find that it is not actually about getting shitfaced at a pub, its getting shitfaced with a whole bunch of locals learning their language, hearing their stories, dancing their dance, listening to their music. You might want to try it out Mr Theasby and next time, immerse yourself into the locals world.

If you did read through my entries, you will discover that over the course of my fifteen months through South America, i did not have one item stolen, nor experience - personally any ill fated adventure. It was all part of the experience and I wouldn't change a minute of my three years, NOR could I change one comment on this blog. Thanks for your feedback anyhow and i hope you enjoy reading my response. Maybe read through a few other entries to discover just how open and immersed i was in the local cultures. Try it one day.

Herb on

Still, it's a load of cr*p. My girl and myself walked the streets and climbed the hills of Valparaiso for 48 hours, day and night, without a single problem. What you call the ghetto, thousands of people call 'home'. Consider that.

Anya on

Petty crime capital of the universe?
I spent 9 weeks living in valpo this summer. I am a 21 year old girl. FYI I am very pale - I certianly don't look chilean. I felt much safer taking public transport and walking around by myself there (drunk at 4am!), than I do in my hometown, Perth Australia. Yes, there are places best avoided by gringos, but they are easily avoided and certainly not the majority of the city. If you have any powers of observation you can tell when you are moving into the "suburbios" or you can ask any waitress etc and they can tell you which areas to avoid. No more caution is needed than in any other big city.
And those "SCUM" that you met are my FRIENDS now. I found all the anarchists, homeless kids, hippies, students and punks to be super friendly and without agendas! More than you can say for most people in the west.
Chileans aren't lazy either - they just realise there is more to life than work! something us west aussies could do with finding out as we split up our families and work crazy hours to chase the big money in the red dust!
For tourists Valparaiso is an interesting vibrant city filled with history and some of the nicest people you could meet! It's a must for anyone interested in photography and a really great place to learn spanish, coz everyone is really friendly and happy to talk with you. Yes, life is tough for people there, unemployment is high and social security non-existent. Those things considered crime is actually not that high.

Carolina on

Anya: I liked what you said.

I live in Viña del Mar, I don't speak english as well, I hope you'll understand. I felt very bad when I read those words telling that Chileans or Southamericans are lazy or criminals, we live honestly, and everywhere there are thieves, but not everyone is a thief here, I don't think that Southamerica is the only place you can find them, I love my hometown, I've never been robbed or stolen, so if you are robbed is because you were trying to get it! don't expose you to those things. And don't say we are lazy or robbers; now I am preparing for a competition "Olimpiadas de actualidad", and I will be on other competiton of athletism, I am the best in my class, i don't think it is lazyness.

Ximena on


Im one of those "scums" you mention in your blog. Im from Valparaiso and i live in a Hill. Anyone like you, who says that is an "experienced traveller" should know that there are parts in any city that you shouln't visit. If you are not aware of that, you are stupid. Same if you like to show off your flashy displays of wealth. Sorry to hear that you didnt enjoy my city.

Simon on

Yes. Well healthy debates all around. All I can do is agree that you my friend are not a seasoned traveller. Just another pale guy with 'ganas' to call himself so. I am lived here now for almost 5 years, in that time being assaulted once. Wrong time, wrong place and at the weekend on my way to work very early not paying attenetion. This experience though mildly distressing did not serve to colour my judgement in such a negative way as yourself though. Pobresito. If you arer so put off by such experiences and feel the need to go way over the top. Maybe, just maybe you should stay at home and keep wrapped up. Honestly, it's soft guys like you that make us a desired target.

Kansan Gringo on

I did not enjoy Valpo either. What some people are calling "charm" and "character" I call a mess. Some here have been defending the people that live in Valpo by saying it is their home. I do not throw trash all over my home or city. I found the city dirty and rather unsettling. If, indeed, this city is your home show some respect for your own "home" by not throwing garbage on the ground and spraying grafitti on every wall. If the locals in a town can not even show some respect for their own city how can you expect visitors to enjoy your town?

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