If you love fireworks then you won’t want to miss the New Year celebration in Valparaiso. A few minutes before midnight, just before the fireworks display kicks off, the first few city blocks from the waterfront get their power cut (sorry for those on an artificial respirator) so that those on the hills can better appreciate the spectacle.
Even though everyone calls it the Valparaiso Fireworks, it is in fact a display running along a great part of the coast from Valparaiso, past Viña del Mar and all the way to Concón. There are about 17 different launching points, most of them from boats in the harbour which lasts around 20 minutes. On of the classic parts of the display is the famous ‘cascade’ of Valparaiso which is a “waterfall” of sparks showering down onto the water.
Of course people don’t just come to see some pretty lights in the sky. It’s the partying in the street that makes Valparaiso so much fun. A stage is set up at Plaza Sotomayor, the main square near the wharf, with live bands that last until 8 in the morning. At midnight, the streets are choked with confetti, bottles of champagne spray over everyone (remember to add pineapple ice-cream) and people hug each their family, friends, and whoever else happens to be next to them (depending on the alcohol already consumed some people hug street lights, plants and even try to hug their own shadow). See more about New Year’s Eve Traditions in Chile. Around 4 in the morning you will need to be more careful because of the die-hard drunks and broken bottles on the ground.
When to go?
Due to the large number of visitors, about a million, most of the streets of Valparaiso are closed off to traffic around 5pm. Before then, an eternal line of cars jam the roads where families, wedged in between bags, coolers and their dog, sweat for hours in the intense summer heat.
Our Experience: We left Santiago at 8.30 in the morning and found the way relatively easy going, without any holdups, taking only an hour and a half by car. We know of someone that left Santiago at 4.30pm and it took them over 4 hours to get to the coast, again by car. If you go to Valparaiso any later than that, you may just end up celebrating the New Year from inside of a non-moving vehicle.
If you plan to go by bus, make sure you get your tickets beforehand as you won’t be able to find any on that same day. Also, you need to be prepared to pay triple the normal price for buses.
Where to stay?
Unless you like sleeping in the street, as a number of young people do, it pays to get your accommodation organised well in advance. Hotels, hostels and apartments are usually booked out long before the day comes around. Such is the scarcity and expense at the time of year that many people even drive back to Santiago after the display is over.
For the 2010 New Year we were fortunate to rent an apartment for the long weekend though it did cost an arm and a leg and few clumps of hair as well. You may look at having to pay more than a month’s worth of rent just to stay somewhere a couple of nights.
How do/did you spend your New Year in South America?