If there is one place that stirs my soul, calls to me and befuddles me, it is Valparaiso. This city is equal parts beautiful, ugly, maddening, exciting, awe inspiring and bewildering. This is the place that for hundreds of years saw the arrival and departure of Chile´s visitors, and was even pillaged by pirates.
The Spanish birthed the city as a port, naming it Valparaiso de Arriba – a completely unoriginal name considering that it was bestowed a further six times across the globe and in multiple locations in Spain itself. The English nicknamed the city Valpo, which has affectionately stuck, but perhaps its most interesting name would have to be Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes del Puerto Claro.
As a port, Valparaiso wasn´t very good – it was far too open during storms – so work began in 1912 to improve it. Land was reclaimed over a period of 18 years resulting in a quay and breakwater that number 700m long and 20 storeys in height. Although the opening of the Panama Canal greatly affected Valparaiso in the past, today the port is thriving with copper and fruit exports, as well as cruise ships.
- Valparaiso is also the headquarters of the Chilean National Congress
- It has the oldest stock exchange Latin America
- The first public library opened here
- The Picunche and the Chango people were the original indigenous inhabitants
- In 1814 the Battle of Valparaiso was fought between British and the United States ships, as part of the War of 1812
- Plaza Victoria was the location of slave trading. Slaves would be brought by boat to Buenos Aires, from there they would cross the Argentine pampas and the Andes by foot before arriving into Valparaiso and taken to Lima. Many would die of hunger, exhaustion, disease and even suicide.
Places To See
- Paseo 21 de Mayo for the best views over the harbour and its where you can find the Naval museum and the furnicular Artilleria (Cerro Artilleria)
- La Sebastiana, former home of the Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda
- Plaza Sotomayor, which is also the headquarters of the Chilean Navy, and where you can join a shared or private boat trip of the harbour
- Cerro Concepcion and Alegre (visit Color Cafe for cheap, GOOD food in quirky shabby chic!)
- Palacio Barburizza, an art museum, located in the Paseo Yugoslavo
- Ascencor Polanco, which is a vertical lift taking you up to the viewing deck of a watchtower
- Museo del Cielo Abierto, a series of eclectic murals created between 1969 and 1973. Take Ascensor Espiritu Santo
- Explore the Mercado Cardonal and the Mercado Puerto (latter under reconstruction)
- Museo Lukas, to discover more about local cartoonist Lukas
- Mirador Diego Portales for amazing city views
Note: This city is built for walking – on foot. Pushchairs and even wheelchairs will have a harder time, particularly as some of the most interesting places involve a stairway.
Suggestion: Why not combine a trip to Valpo with one of the Casablanca Valley wineries? Casas del Bosque is reputedly the best, or try House of Morande (family friendly), the Casa Botha restaurant (great food), Attilio & Mochi (independent), Bodegas RE (organic + traditional) or Matetic (heaps of activities!)?
For more fun day trip ideas have a look at:
La Campana National Park, one of the last places to see the Chilean Palm;
General Cemetery, Chile´s oldest with up to 11 generations buried;
Quintay, picturesque fishing village with a whaling history;
Museo Interactivo Mirador, for a fantastic day out for all the family;
The South of Chile, highlights from Pucon, Caburgua, Frutillar.