Valparaiso, Jewel of the Pacific
Where is Valparaiso? Chile is that long, skinny country on the Pacific side of South America extending from Cape Horn at its southern tip to Bolivia and Peru in its north. Halfway along this stretch is the harbor of Valparaiso, today as it was centuries ago, a port of great importance to those sailing not only the Pacific waters of South America but also those venturing the Cape to far away destinations in the Atlantic and Europe.
Some Amazing Facts About Valparaiso
As with any great port city, Valparaiso has attracted cruise ship traffic. Your South American cruise may start or end in this colorful city nicknamed “the Jewel of the Pacific”. Largely unfamiliar to many, here are some things you should know about Valparaiso before your visit:
- It is the second largest metropolitan area in the country, and home to the Chilean National Congress.
- It boasts a number of firsts such as home to the oldest Spanish language newspaper in the world that is still printed today, the oldest stock exchange in Latin America, and South America’s first volunteer fire department.
- It boasts one of the most beautiful fireworks displays in the world at New Years.
- Chile has earthquakes – many earthquakes. The day this article was written there were 6 earthquakes in Chile, one of 76 in the past week – the latest one recorded just 4 hours before was 5.4 on the Richter scale. But Chile covers a long stretch of the continent so these may be far afield from Valparaiso. Buildings are constructed to withstand most quakes and to move with the shifting earth. Occasionally, a whopper comes along and there are deaths and destruction (the last big one in Valparaiso itself was over a century ago). Besides its hilly terrain, this is probably one reason Valparaiso is also known as “Little San Francisco”.
- The city besides occupying a narrow stretch along its bay also spreads itself over forty-five surrounding hills.
- One of the most popular hills to visit is Cerro Concepcion, which is known for its colorful houses and street art. Here, you’ll find plenty of cafes, restaurants, and boutiques, as well as stunning views of the city and the ocean.
- Another must-visit hill is Cerro Alegre, which is home to some of the city’s most beautiful architecture. This hill is filled with charming colonial-style houses and narrow cobblestone streets, and it’s a great place to explore on foot.
- Funiculars called ‘ascensores” provide easy and cheap access to all parts of the city. Only one is vertical. There were originally 28; now there are only twelve working, the oldest of which started service in 1883. Fifteen are declared Historical Monuments. These are the number one recommended activities in the city. At the top you have spectacular views from many look out points.
- If you’re looking for a bit of adventure, you can take a funicular up to the top of Cerro Polanco, which offers stunning panoramic views of the city. From there, you can hike along the hillside to Cerro Cordillera, where you’ll find the Museo a Cielo Abierto, an open-air museum featuring some of the city’s best street art created about forty years ago by local art university students.
- If art is your interest, all one needs to do is walk about the city – it is around every winding corner, twist in an alleyway, or up a steep stair. Street art is literally everywhere.
- What about historical importance? With an old quarter of the city declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003, there are many buildings and monuments to see. The best way to get an overview of Valparaiso’s history (it was founded in the mid 16th century) is by visiting the Villa Victoria which houses a much praised museum.
- Another popular attraction in Valparaiso is La Sebastiana, the former home of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. This beautiful house has been converted into a museum, and it offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of Chile’s most famous poets. The house is located on Cerro Bellavista, which is also home to several art galleries and cultural centers.
- If you’re interested in history, you can visit the Plaza Sotomayor, which is the heart of Valparaiso’s port district. This plaza is surrounded by historic buildings, including the Edificio Armada de Chile (seen below), which houses the Chilean Navy headquarters.
- No street numbering became the root cause of all the colorful houses in the city as a means to identifying your address. You will bedazzled by the variety of colors of not only the street art but also the houses.
- Another must is to take the Ascensor Conception to Paseo Gervasoni and wander an area of cafes, shops and bars. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to find a seller of jewelry featuring lapis lazuli. This semi precious gem is only to be found in Chile and Afghanistan. What a treasure to take home as a souvenir.
· When it comes to food, Valparaiso has some of the best seafood you’ll ever taste. The city is located right on the coast, so you’ll find plenty of fresh seafood restaurants serving up delicious ceviche, seafood stews, and grilled fish. If you’re a fan of wine, you’ll also be pleased to know that Valparaiso is located in one of Chile’s most famous wine regions, so you can enjoy a glass of Chilean wine with your meal.
With all the “popular” destinations in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Europe and Far East, the cruise destinations in South America are often forgotten. One should be aware that this continent is waiting for you to explore and discover the treasures in history, culture and incredible scenery that await you. Valparaiso is just one “jewel” awaiting your discovery.
Feature photo, fisherman’s catch, the fish market, and streets of the historic city centre courtesy of Bigstock. All others courtesy of AdobeStock.
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