Valparaiso used to play a very important role in the second half of the 19th century, when the city was a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during the gold rush. Nowadays Valaparaiso is the art capital of Chile. Droves of travelers have been known to hop on a bus from Santiago to spend a day wandering through the winding Valpo streets, admiring the city’s famous graffiti art.
But like many port cities across the world, Valparaiso is also known for one more thing; it’s rampant crime rate. It was in Valparaiso that I was jumped by three boys who robbed me and roughed me up. My situation was not an aberration; many travelers have succumbed the infamous snatch and grab in Valpo. Here are my ten tips for staying safe in Valparaiso:
#1. STAY ON THE PLATEAU: This was my biggest mistake when I went to Valparaiso. The city is surrounded by numerous hills, some of which house poor and somewhat dangerous neighbourhoods. Stay on the flat part of the city and avoid going up any of the hills unless you are in a tour group.
#2. Less is more: The most common story in Valparaiso is the snatch and grab where young thugs snatch your purse or camera from your hand and then run off. They usually work in groups; one individual will distract you while the other will start tugging on your purse. Leave your day-sack, purse, passport, major credit cards, laptop and/or expensive camera safely locked up in your hostel/hotel. If you don’t need it, leave your purse or day pack at home.
#3. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry: Leave all flashy earrings, necklaces or rings at home to avoid trouble.
#4. Photocopy of your passport: A general travel rule is to never sightsee with your passport on your person. Leave your passport at the hostel/hotel and only take a photocopy with you when sightseeing.
#5. Put it away: If you do decide to take your camera with you while sightseeing than do not walk around with it dangling from your wrist or from your neck. Take your picture and then put it safely back into its case. Make sure your case and/or camera do not have clear logos shown. Logos tip off robbers on the make and model of your equipment. If you can, rough up your equipment with duct tape to make it seem old or not worth stealing.
#6. Stay alert: Most robberies are preformed in broad daylight in highly crowded areas (like the main square and right beside the water), don’t think that just because you are in a big group than you should let down your guard. When I was mugged I was walking up a street in broad daylight with individuals on the street. Instead of helping, a lot of individuals just went inside their home when they saw what was happening. Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.
#7. Always keep an eye on your items: Never take your day pack or purse off your body. If you are eating at a restaurant, never EVER hang your item on the back of your chair. Always put your pack or purse on your lap and wrap some part of the strap around your leg or arm.
#8. Avoid looking like a tourist: Never pull out a map out on the street. Instead duck into a cafe or a story and pull it out. If you look lost than just keep walking with a purpose and enter into a store, cafe or restaurant to check your map or ask for directions.
#9. Don’t get cocky. My two friends thought they would be fine and disregarded all the advice that they were given. They walked through the popular graffiti areas by themselves (these areas are often extremely secluded) and they had their camera stolen.
#10. Be wary help: Some locals will indeed help but others will “help” and instead rob you. A friend of a friend had their camera snatched. While in pursuit a couple of guys came to “help” them and instead tried to snatch their purses.
Please note that Vina del Mar and Renaca are both much safer than Valparaiso. It is recommended that travelers stay in these areas and only travel to Valpo for day trips.