I had the privilege of visiting Valparaiso, located approximately 120km west of the capital, Santiago, Chile. This was part of a 32-day South American cruise that began in Lima, Peru, and concluded in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Known as the “Jewel of the Pacific”. I remember being told that it was referred to as the “colorful city” because of the countless murals on the building facades. But truthfully, I can’t find anything to substantiate that term, so, let’s just go with “Jewel of the Pacific”! Let’s take a look at a brief history of this major seaport, the 2nd largest city in the country of Chile which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003.
Because of its proximity to the sea, Valparaiso was first inhabited by the Chango people. These nomadic fishermen in 1536, and the Picunche natives who were farmers, were more than likely due to the fertile soil.
In 1818, Chile declared its independence from Spain. This opened up international trade opportunities for the city. It also played a pivotal role in the bases for the Chilean Navy.
The city was also a very popular stopover for ships navigating the Strait of Magellan, They came, not only from the Atlantic but the Pacific Ocean as well. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 put a major hurt on Valparaiso’s sea traffic-based economy. As a result of fewer ships coming to port in the city.
Natural Disasters Played a Big Part
Unfortunately, Valparaiso, like all of Chile is especially prone to earthquakes. In February of 2010, there was an 8.8 magnitude earthquake. Before that, there were high magnitude earthquakes in 1730 (known as the Valparaiso Earthquake) estimated to be 9.1 on the Richter scale, 1906 estimated at 8.2, and 1985 (known as the Algarrobo Earthquake) estimated at 7.4. Many perished in these significant quakes.
In 2014, a huge brush fire raged out of control destroying an estimated 2800 homes and killing more than a dozen people. The area was designated as a disaster zone.
Over the years, Valparaiso has suffered some catastrophic disasters, some natural, some as a result of growing pains, but has emerged as a wonderful, vibrant city- a city more than worthy of exploring!
Valparaiso Fun Facts:
Did you know that Valparaiso has Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the first volunteer fire department in South America, the first public library in Chile, and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world, El Mercurio de Valparaíso? It is technically the 6th largest city in Chile but if the metropolitan area is included, then it ranks as number two.
The City Today:
Valparaiso reminds me of the city in Albania that I call home in that it is built on the sea but is surrounded by beautiful, lush mountains. Being at the foot of the mountains, the city is built on steep hills. One of the features that stands out is the number of funiculars that take you to the top of the hills. Believe it or not, funiculars are considered one of the world’s 100 most endangered historical treasures. Because of this, they have been declared Historical Monuments by the National Monuments Council.
I took one up to an area above the main city and the views were spectacular! The funicular was a bit rickety, and it seemed like a never-ending adventure. But, had I walked up, I would probably still be walking or found dead on the side of a road! A restaurant hosted us with empanadas. Delicious!!!!! The funiculars serve more of a purpose than just making it easier to get to the higher elevations.
Some areas are inaccessible by public transport and the funiculars serve to get people and supplies to those areas. The first funicular (Ascensor Turri) started in 1883 and was operated by steam. Amazingly enough, it still is operational and is used daily. Researching this, I have found various numbers of today’s operational funiculars, ranging from 12 to 28. I’m thinking, I will have to return to Valparaiso just to count the number of funiculars. It’s a thankless job but someone has to do it- might as well be me!
The Golden Age of Valparaiso (1848–1914), saw huge numbers of immigrants make the city their new home and as a result, the city is culturally diverse yet today; from the architecture to the food and everything in between you can see the footprints of European immigrant generations of the past. Many notable people have lived and are still in this vibrant city and are responsible for several foundations that have been formed to preserve “the fabulous” this city has to offer its residents and visitors. Numerous writers, poets, and artists have gotten their inspiration from this bohemian city we call Valparaiso most notably Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda.
Each of the city’s 43 hills has its own neighborhood and mini-culture. Therefore, as with many South American cities, Valparaiso has active nightlife, fabulous restaurants to indulge any foodies and lots of museums, and beaches. Be sure to explore these different neighborhoods for a fuller taste of life in Valparaiso.
Based on my Time spent in Valparaiso, Here, is my list of Must See, Must Do:
- Valparaiso is the only city in Chile where “street art” is legal. Not only is it a modern-day expression of freedom and vibrant color, but there is also an interesting history behind it. During the 1970s and 1980s, Chile was governed under a military dictatorship. It was during this time that a rebellious underground group of artists began their work. Only after the country once again fell into democratic rule, did street art become legal.
- Try an Alfajores Cake. These are popular pastries in South America. They are similar to a biscuit and a cake, with two layers often filled with ‘dulce de leches caramel. If you aren’t a pastry fan or are looking for a meal, the Ceviche is fabulous. With Valparaiso being a huge port city, you won’t go wrong with any seafood entrée. There are also many fabulous locally made beers and wines to try.
- Make sure to hop on one of the many funiculars. Or, if the athlete in you is screaming, take one of the countless stairways to one of the higher elevation neighborhoods.
- If you are a tour kind of traveler, you will find countless themed tours: street art, winery and beer, neighborhoods, cooking, museums, countryside, nightlife and beaches, and water activity.
- Visit the Naval Museum
Shopping in Valparaiso:
You won’t find big shopping centers or malls here. But, if you go to the market at Muelle Prat Pier, you will be taking part in a century-old shopping tradition. Haggling the price is not only acceptable but it’s expected. Handmade woolen articles of clothing such as hats, mittens, and jackets made of llama or alpaca wool. If you want something less expensive, then look for items made from goat wool.
Mapuche are items related to the heritage of the Indians that can be found in the market as well.
Associated with the indigenous people of Chile are:
- Musical Instruments
The Lapis stone is popular with Valparaiso. You can get find some great buys on jewelry with this unique stone. Lapis is used in beautifully designed pendants, bracelets, rings, or earrings. Silver and copper are typically the metals of choice for jewelry.
However you choose to spend your time in Valparaiso, I can almost guarantee you are going to leave with spectacular memories and experiences. It is an awesome city to spend a few hours in or a few days!
Until next time, friends, remember: “To Travel is to Live!”