Every travel writer’s got a working list of the world’s most underrated cities. Near the top of mine? Valparaiso, Chile. Being a seaport, Valpo’s got certain harbor-town undercurrents. A creative-but-seedy vibe, a whiff of salt-air decay. It’s the kind of city where people sip paper-cup wine on concrete benches while the sun tucks into the ocean below.
Rising from a big bay on the Pacific, Valparaiso also has to be one of the most visually stunning waterfront cities on the planet. It rolls across 40-plus steep hills, with homes painted in technicolors and walls sprayed with arresting graffiti art.
I fell for Valpo during a stint living in Chile a few years back. Two months ago I returned for New Year’s, for both work and play. (Due to the fireworks around the bay and lights on the hillsides all around, I think it’s one of the best places on the globe to bring in the new year. The poet Pablo Neruda, who kept a home on a Valparaiso hillside, agreed).
Making Valpo better than ever, I found this trip, is the ultra-sustainable new WineBox Hotel. Again, Valparaiso is a port city. This hotel is the first to take advantage of that by stacking 25 decommissioned shipping containers to make the building. (Naturally, they’re painted bright and set off with bold street art.)
The sustainability goes well beyond the containers, too. Old bathtubs and shipping pallets have been repurposed into furniture. The insulation between containers is made from old newspapers. There’s even a sign asking guests to take what we used to call Navy showers (turning off the water while soaping up!)
Navy showers aren’t decadent, but here’s the thing about the WineBox: It does feel special. The rooms are long but well-designed to feel vibrant, with balconies at the ends. And on top of all those stacked containers is a killer rooftop, with a full bar and million-buck views of the city, port, and bay. All in all, it’s one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed. It’s inspiring me to check out more container hotels (and there are some stunning designs out there, from Vietnam to Texas.)
I included the WineBox in this recent Wine Enthusiast story about the world’s best wine hotels. Look for my official hotel review of it in the New York Times soon as well.