The guide book said it was a bit rough around the edges, that you'll either love it or hate it, and that there was a good chance of being mugged, but surprisingly we quite liked it! This place has UNESCO world heritage status due to its unrivalled history of a major port prior to the opening of the Panama canal and the unique 'ascensors', small funicular railways acting as lifts from sea-level into the hills. The colourful streets up in the hills were tired but still charming in places.
After a long walk with our bags from the bus station and cursing the Lonely Planet that directed us to a couple of run down and closed hostels, we eventually found a nice family run hostel for a fair price, and discovered a great little café nearby where we ate most of our meals for the next few days. It was here we also discovered a really nice duo playing Spanish-language music (we bought the CD) that added to the good memories of this town.
We took a ride in the ascensors and climbed many steps, and started to take an interest in shopping again. We tried to follow the tourist map, but discovered only a couple of areas were really well policed and active for tourism. Other places on the map were just left to ruin, like when we walked up some steps past a disused ascensor trying to find the maritime museum...a police van soon cornered us and a fairly chatty policeman jumped out and kept repeating "peligroso!" (Danger!) as this was no place for tourists, especially with a camera. That’s not what our map said...but anyway we moved on quickly.
One of the days we walked by a small corner of the harbour and witnessed the Chilean navy singing a senior officer onto shore to be greeted by his wife after what we think was an extended term at sea. Quite a jolly sight..
A few days in Valparaiso was enough and we left on good terms, heading 20 minutes along the coast to Vina Del Mar, which although not far in distance was quite a different town.