“You see over there? That’s where all of the tourists go,” my guide informs me as we stand in the town center at the beginning of our experience together. “And where we’re standing now… is the closest we’ll get to that.”
And with that, we walk in the opposite direction.
I’m exploring Valparaiso, a colorful beach town just a couple of hours (and a quick and easy bus ride) from Santiago. Friends of friends had told me the town is a must-see – and a quick Google image search that showcased Instagram-worthy views on what seemed like ever corner – made it an easy decision.
I’m a solo female traveler, and it’s my first time in the country. My Spanish is, at best, lacking. So I’ve opted to explore with Lokal, a platform that lets you find and book immersive experiences around the world. (For full disclosure, I am now working with Lokal as their marketing manager, but I was not at the time I went on this experience in Chile.)
Lokal connects me with their partners at Travolution, a community-tourism network in Latin America, and it’s in Valparaiso that I meet my guide, Felipe.
The tour takes us up the winding streets of the city, and I keep finding myself glancing back and sneaking just one more photo of the ever-changing view. Throughout our tour, we are accompanied by various locals who share the story behind their city – my favorite of whom was a local poet. Felipe translates his words, and I see the city in a new light – a city full of creativity and movement, which reflects in a sea of dimension below us.
“The core of the program is the connection with the local communities,” Mariana Del Brutto, from Travolution, later explained to me. “It’s a win/win because everyone learns something new. The idea is to travel slow – to have time to share with the community, to learn the local activities and traditions and to participate with one another.”
This type tourism experience is unique – not only because it offers travelers an immersive glimpse into a destination – but also because it’s helping locals connect with their own culture.
“The communities we work with, they are still working and they are doing their traditional activities – whether that’s harvesting or taking care of animals. They are not replacing their normal activities with tourism,” Mariana explained. “This allows tourists to learn more about traditions, and care about them. Tourism helps them to reconnect with their own culture. They are living their real day by day, and that’s what tourists see.”
As our tour continued, we were welcomed into the homes of several locals, and as I stared in wonder at the views from their homes, they explained to me what it’s like to live as a local. We watched as children played in the street below us, and they shared memories from their own childhood. We drank coffee and swapped stories comparing city life in Valparaiso, Santiago and New York City.
“The connection and bond between the travelers and the local community – they are always amazed at how they can learn about one another. The visitors of course come with expectations that they are going to learn something new, but they always leave very surprised at how easy it was to make the connection, a bond, and even friendship with their host,” Mariana explained. “That’s very special because the local people we work with only speak Spanish, and it’s amazing that although there’s a language barrier, you can still make a real friendship and special bond. Some of our travelers keep coming back on these tours because they felt like they were visiting friends or family.”
As we were finishing our tour and walking back down the the town square, a group of 20somethings walked out of their home, and one of them burst out into song, “Valpaaaraaaiso, Vaaaaaalparaiso, ValparaisooOOO!” I laughed, and was taken slightly aback at the group’s energy, and I looked to Felipe for indication as to whether this was a part of the tour as well.
Felipe laughed, and he explained to me that no, this was not a part of the tour, but he allowed them to usher us into their home anyway. We walked to the back of their apartment – which was strewn with art, guitars and DJ equipment (much like those of my friends at home) – and they showed me the most breathtaking view of the day. Their city glistened beneath us, and before I left, one of the guys from the group gifted a single feather earring, handmade, of course, to me.
“Welcome to our city,” Felipe said. “This is Valparaiso.”
You can book the same experience I went on with Lokal here:
Local Look at Valparaiso
This blog is not sponsored, nor does it include affiliate links.
I did, however, receive a complimentary tour. As always, all opinions are my own.