Musings about early retirement with no fixed address

Valparaíso Keeps Things Interesting

On any list of the best street art cities in the world, Valparaíso, Chile ranks near the top. This colorful port city is overflowing with street art and graffiti. Nestled into the steep hills on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, it’s full of old funiculars and great viewpoints. We encountered a ton of  wildlife, which was a pleasant surprise. Several earthquakes and a major wildfire also kept things interesting.

I felt like Valparaíso gave off a very strong San Francisco vibe in almost every way. There are a lot of hilly streets, gorgeous old Victorian houses, cool summer temps, and an artistic population. It also features many of the same drawbacks of SF, like being gritty and rough around the edges. This was especially true at sea level, where walking around after dark is probably not a good idea.

This absolute unit of a Moreton Bay Fig tree was a popular hangout spot

I’m comparing it to San Francisco, but I probably have that backwards. Valparaíso was founded in 1543 and San Francisco not until 200 years later. So it’s probably more accurate to say that San Francisco resembles Valpo. Either way, the two places share a lot of similarities. I often felt we had been transported to California, except with better street art.

You can avoid the strenuous climb of these gorgeous mosaic stairs by taking the old funicular for about $.30

In a few neighborhoods that street art is very plentiful and it picked up right where Santiago left off. There were many times when we’d be walking down a familiar street and notice something new just because we were seeing it from a different vantage point. In order to see all of it, we pretty much needed to walk once on each side of the street and once in each direction. It was pretty fun hunting for all of these art treasures and we spent a fair amount of time wandering through the hilly streets in search of it.

The weather during our visit was absolutely spectacular. We were there from January to mid-February, which is the middle of summer. But temperatures on the coast were very mild, with highs in the low 70s (22C) pretty much everyday. It was usually cloudy in the morning, with full sun expected by the early afternoon. For a couple of people who aren’t keen on blazing hot temperatures, we both loved the respite from the summer heat that our stay provided.

What We Did

The only official site that we visited in Valparaíso was the Baburizza Palace. It’s an art museum in a converted mansion. Situated at the top of a hill, it has plenty of great views of the bay. There were some impressive paintings from lesser known Europeans combined with works from local Chilean artists. Almost all of them featured some sort of sea theme. It’s mainly just a good excuse to view some art in a nice setting though. It was worth the $4 entry fee.

Italian Fishermen by Ugo Flumiani
One of many paintings by Hungarian born, but Chilean resident Ladislao Cheney. I liked his work a lot.

We also spent some time next door in Viña del Mar. Both Valpo and Viña del Mar have a population of about 300,000 and they butt up against each other. Despite the proximity, they feel very different. Where Valparaíso is a somewhat gritty port town, Viña del Mar is much more of your classic beach town. It has a long coastal promenade that follows an extensive sandy beach. Here we found vendors selling sunglasses, hats, tarot card readings, art, ice cream, and the like. There are also a couple of malls nearby that offer name brand shopping. The city definitely feels sanitized compared to Valparaíso, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since Valpo could use a good cleaning.

Condos and sand in Viña del Mar

Botanical Garden

The highlight of Viña del Mar for us was not the beach, but the amazing botanical garden. Located in the hills well back from the coast, it has giant groves of Eucalyptus trees, scrub brush hills, and is filled with wildlife. We saw at least a dozen of the largest hummingbirds in the world, which captivated us for a long time. About the size of a swallow, the Giant Hummingbird would flitter over the small lake, hunting for flying insects and chasing off others. They’re not as colorful as some of the smaller varieties, but they’re just as entertaining.

Katie managed to capture this picture with her phone, which was a pretty impressive task as they don’t like to sit still

Hiking away from the tall trees and small lakes into the nearby scrubby hills brought us close to many families of California Quail. I love quail, and listening to their coos and chirps while watching them forage through the underbrush was a real joy. Many groups we spied on had very young chicks that were barely more than balls of fluff. Super cute! (That Wikipedia article doesn’t list Chile as a habitat, but I’m certain that’s what we saw. I found multiple articles stating that they were introduced in the mid-1800s and are thriving in Central Chile. That makes sense because the climate is almost identical to much of Central California.) 

Sea Life

The coastal area is also full of great wildlife and we saw a ton during our stay. Most of that was spotted in Valparaíso, as the rocky coast is more appealing than the sandy beaches for many of these animals. We saw a number of new-to-us sea birds like the Inca Tern with its Salvador Dalí mustache and the Blackish Oystercatcher with its bright orange bill. We really enjoyed watching the Peruvian Boobies dive like a missile into the water from many meters above and the massive Peruvian Pelicans gliding just above the waves.

A gathering of Inca Terns on a sea wall ledge

We often saw Marine otters hunting, and found a large collection of South American Sea Nettle jellyfish on one sunny day. There were also gobs of sea lions, especially near the coastal fish market. The seafood sellers like to dump their leftover fish heads and spines on the nearby rocky beach, which attracts these giant beasts to come and fight with the gulls, and with each other, over the scraps. 

It’s entertaining to watch, but also probably good that pictures don’t have a scent for your sake
The rocky shore also a popular cormorant habitat

But the absolute highlight of our ocean critter-spotting was when we saw a wild Humboldt penguin. It was hunting for fish near a small local beach. We sat and watched it surface and dive for at least an hour. They like to stay under for minutes at a time, and then resurface for just a couple of seconds, so that hour probably only included a dozen sightings. We saw this fella early in our stay and spent the rest of our time looking for another one, but never found one until our very last day at the coast. We were quite excited then too, realizing that the first time wasn’t a fluke. Seeing penguins in the wild was a real thrill for us.

I can assure you that there is a penguin in the red circle, even if you might not be able to zoom in enough to see it

Natural Disasters

Speaking of thrills, we experienced a few natural disasters during our 6 week stay. We felt 6 earthquakes, including one that woke us up at 3:00am with some pretty strong shaking. That was apparently only a 4.6, but it was centered less than 9 miles away, so we could really feel the force of it. We also witnessed 3 different house fires, including one that was close enough to deposit ash on our rooftop patio.

We loved this thriving bathtub jade plant

But those were nothing compared to the massive wildfire that ignited a month into our stay. It was a nice sunny Friday. We had our patio door open and were preparing to leave when I checked the weather. My forecast said “smoke”. That’s weird. So I went up onto our rooftop patio to check it out and sure enough, something big was on fire across the way. It wasn’t until later that we learned that it would become one of the worst wildfires in Chile’s history. We were upwind, so our air was fresh and clean, but it was certainly close enough. Unfortunately that wind was blowing at a sustained 30mph, with gusts higher than that, so by the end of the day, the nearby fire had only gotten worse.

Smoke blanketing the towns across the bay

Saturday brought even more wind at similarly high speeds and the fire continued to rage out of control. It was even closer to us now, although luckily we were still upwind. At some point on Saturday evening, we lost power. As darkness started to descend over the land, we could see the orange glow from the wildfire that was just over the next ridge. We lit a couple of candles and were sitting in the relative darkness trying to read.

The reading wasn’t very productive, as our attention was much more focused on deciding if we needed to pack up in case a hasty retreat would become necessary. With our power out and the wildfire bearing down closer than ever, that’s when our candle-lit apartment started shaking from yet another earthquake. Luckily that one was mild, but it was almost comical and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. The power came back on about an hour later and cheers went up throughout the neighborhood. The fire also came no closer.

The ocean breezes saved us both from being in direct danger from the fires and also from having poor air quality most of the time. But of course those same winds stoked the wildfires that sewed chaos and destruction on nearby communities. Over 100 people died and thousands of houses were incinerated. Wildfire smoke blanketed next door Viña del Mar for days. The botanical garden that we loved so much was almost completely destroyed. I don’t even want to think about what happened to those little quail fluff balls. 

We felt simultaneously helpless and lucky. Our apartment was in a good location to be protected from the fires, but that was just dumb luck. We also previously decided to extend our stay from 4 weeks to 6 weeks, and that was lucky as well since our initial departure date would’ve been right in the midst of the road closures that took place to fight the fires.

Where We Stayed

We rented a rather luxurious one bedroom apartment on the top floor of an apartment building that had its own private rooftop space with awesome views of the surrounding area. I’d consider this one of the fancier apartments that we’ve ever booked. I never thought that we’d need to use our massive private rooftop to keep tabs on a wildfire, but we were certainly glad to have the viewpoint for both fire and non-fire days.

The sprial staircase leads up to our rooftop
We ate dinner al fresco a number of times. Not pictured is even more space that functioned as a sun bathing area. It was huge.

What We Spent

For a really nice apartment, we found the price to be pretty reasonable considering the amenities we received. We paid $1863 for a six week stay, or about $43/night. The rest of our spending was kept low by participating in free activities like walking along the coast searching for sea critters or climbing hills to find street art. Our total spending for the 6 weeks we stayed in Valparaíso came to $3153. Adding in our regular bills like mail service and insurance bring the grand total to $3489, or $81/day.

Valparaíso did a good job keeping our attention. We were always on the lookout for street art wherever we went. We made sure to be on alert when walking by the sea in case the elusive penguin showed itself. The wildfires were certainly scary, even if it never got to the point where we were at risk. And the earthquakes are just part of the charm I guess. It’s probably not the best destination for a novice traveler, but it’s fine with some experience and street smarts. It also helps if you like to be home before dark like we do. Between the ample wildlife, colorful street art, fantastic weather, and luxury apartment, we enjoyed our stay.


  1. Ryan

    Thank you as always for your amazing photos…! We also appreciate the gritty places and stays.. was there any language barrier during your stay or was English also an option in most places?

    • Eric

      Hi Ryan,
      Like everywhere in Latin America, some basic Spanish helps a lot. Our Spanish is not good, but we do okay with transactional stuff. (I want to buy this, how much, hearing the amounts, no we don’t need a bag, etc.) And we’re getting better the more time we spend in Spanish-speaking countries.

      Valpo is a tourist city and has frequent cruise ships stopping in port, so there’s definitely some English around, especially in the most tourist heavy parts of the city. But it can be hit or miss. I did find that most people were happy to let us muddle through in our bad Spanish instead of switching to English, even if they spoke both. So we definitely got to practice more.

  2. Beth

    That’s awful about the wildfires. Glad you were safe!❤️

    • Eric

      Thanks Beth.

  3. Mike

    Can you speak about what type of insurance you have while slow traveling? Company, coverage, accessibility to doctors and cost?

    Great post with lots of info.

    • Eric

      Hi Mike,
      We just buy an international policy from a major carrier like Cigna, Blue Cross, or IMG Global. We’ve used each of these in the past, with our current policy being through Cigna. It’s basically a catastrophic policy with a large deductible, usually $10k depending on the policy, so I don’t expect we’ll ever actually have to use it. Healthcare in the vast majority of the world is very affordable. You can read about the time when Katie broke her wrist when we were in Budapest here:

      and here:

  4. Jason Hull

    Interesting that you said that Valpo could use a good cleaning. We thought it was sparkling compared to Santiago, where my wife’s shoes were a magnet for dog poo.

    Crazy brush with the fires. I had a similar thought that a previous commenter did – that’s one of the rare occasions where you might have actually been close to using travel insurance for evacuation.

    • Eric

      Huh, that is interesting Jason. While I didn’t mention it in the post, I think it’s a minor miracle that we escaped without stepping in dog droppings during our stay. It was quite prevalent on the sidewalks all around town, and they are pretty narrow in some places. We had no issues at all with that in Santiago.

  5. Lyn Klages

    So glad I know people who see the world!

    Love ya, aunt lyn

    • Eric

      Hi Lyn,
      We’re happy to share. Thanks for coming along.

  6. Paula Kramer

    I hadn’t seen much from you lately but your Mom put the link up. I am always intrigued by your life of exploring the world. Some of the places you visit, I have never heard of. As we sit here in the cold waiting for our calves to start being born, I let my mind wander to the places you are. I’m so glad you share the experiences you are having. Ever think of writing a book?

    • Eric

      Hi Paula,
      Thanks for thinking of us. I wouldn’t hold out much hope for the book though. That sounds like a lot more work than this blog, almost like a job. Wouldn’t want that!

  7. Noel

    Valparaiso sounds like a cool place. The way you describe the morning marine layer does remind me of the SF bay. Interesting to think that Chile is sort of a bizarro world alternate universe version of California.

    Did you guys indulge in any of the domestic wine or local brews, any takes on them? Also do you mind sharing which mail service you use?

    • Eric

      Hi Noel,
      I did have a pretty good beer, the Calafate Ale from the Cerveza Austral brewery that’s located down south in Punta Arenas. There beers were for sale everywhere in both Valpo and Santiago.

      We use Dakota Post for our mail service, but that’s mostly because of their help with South Dakota residency. It’s adequate, but if you don’t need that, then I think Traveling Mailbox is better.

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