About an hour Northwest of Santiago lies the beautiful port city of Valparaíso. Built on a series of mountainous hills covered with brightly painted buildings characteristic of port towns, this city has earned its “Jewel of the Pacific” nickname. It was once a very rich city. Serving as the main harbor for the Chilean navy made it a popular stopover for European ships rounding the Strait of Magellan. With these ships came European settlers, influencing the culture with their language, architecture style and wealth. International schools, Chile’s first public library and Latin America’s first stock exchange were all established during this time. When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, it crushed Valparaiso’s economy, as ships no longer needed to sail around South America to get to the other side. Luckily, the city has survived and is enjoying quite a comeback these days.
My husband and I recently got to visit this colorful wonder town and were thrilled to wind through the endless hills. This place is an artist haven. Surely inspired by the bright hillside houses and incredible views, the creative set has taken over the city, inserting their unique styles onto every possible corner. Even the stairs get special treatment!
When talking to a local, we learned it’s highly advised to embrace the art community. Should you own a home in Valparaíso and an artist comes around one day asking to paint your house, say YES! Apparently your house will probably get decorated whether you agree to it or not. You’ll either get a nice mural from one of the local emerging talents, or you’ll get tagged with graffiti. Artists do respect each others work and will not paint or tag over existing work, so it’s safe to say you’ll be enjoying the resulting compositions for years to come. Below is an example of two houses that might have given different answers.
Now, “winding through the streets” sounds like a nice, lazy Sunday afternoon activity. In Valpo, no. It is one of the best workouts you’ll get. The hills feel like mountains and the steep incline isn’t for the faint of heart. Sometimes, it feels like the car you’re in might tip backwards. Check out these stairs!
Luckily, they do have ascensores, or very large elevators to help you up the hills (you can see one next to the stairs). They’ve been saving local legs since 1883 and are still going strong.
This little Pacific jewel is a must see while in Chile. It offers something for every type of traveler… beautiful beaches, a rich history, authentic local culture, delicious food and a legendary nightlife only a 10 minute train ride away in Viña del Mar, but that’s another story for another time.
Heading to Chile? We’d love to hear about your trip in the comments. Or contact us to learn about all of our South America tours!