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Lovers of right angles beware: when you enter Valparaíso, you’re entering a labyrinth that defies all structural reason. Streets twist whimsically as though with a mind of their own, leading the willing traveler through a maze of candy-colored buildings and graffiti-covered walls. The best way to approach the city is to take a walk with no particular destination; your inner photographer will love you for it.

The city, with an urban population of about 265,000, consists of two distinct parts: the 45 hills or cerros, and the streets that run along the coastline. These two parts couldn’t be more different. Wandering through the cerros can feel as though you’re the only person in the city, with only stray dogs and intricate, vibrant graffiti to keep you company. Down by the waterfront, however, speeding micros and colectivos flood the streets, and locals with purpose to their stride fill the sidewalks. Down here, you’ll find all the city’s practicalities—grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, tourism offices—but you have to look hard for the same otherworldly charm you’ll find up in the hills.

The city’s architecture, which ranges from British colonial houses to impressive Yugoslavian palaces, is a testament to Valparaíso’s diverse sociological history. The region was originally inhabited by a tribe of native fisherman called the Changos, when in 1536 a ship of Spanish explorers arrived and renamed the bay and valley “Valparaíso,” becoming the first of a long line of Europeans to make their home in the bay.

The city’s beginnings were full of tragedy, devastated by earthquakes and pirates (the legendary Sir Francis Drake, for instance, sacked the city in 1577 on his hunt for Spanish gold). But by the 19th Century, Valparaíso had become one of the most important ports in the Pacific Ocean, known by many as “The Jewel of the Pacific.” With its economic prosperity came intellectual prosperity. Valparaíso became the first city in Chile to open a public library, a women’s secondary school, the first to have a telegraph and telephone service, and the first city in Latin America to establish a stock exchange and volunteer fire department. As the city’s accolades poured in, so did European immigrants—from Germany, England, Italy, and France.

This prosperity came to a halt, however, when a massive earthquake and subsequent fire in 1906 killed over 20,000 people in the city. This disaster, followed by the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, caused the city to fall into an economic despair from which it has yet to fully recover.

Recently, however, Valparaíso was rediscovered by a wave of young moneyed artists from Europe and Santiago, who literally gave the city a new face by covering walls and buildings with elaborate graffiti murals and reinvigorating the presence of the arts in Valparaíso . In 2003, UNESCO recognized the cultural significance of the city by naming its historic center a World Heritage site, placing it among the ranks with Prague, Venice and the Great Wall of China.

Neighborhoods in Valparaíso : Congreso Nacional, Cerro Concepción, Cerro Alegre, Cerro Panteón And Cerro Cárcel, Parte Antigua, Muelle Baron, Cerro Bellavista, Cerro Santo Domingo, Cerro Barón, Cerro Cárcel and Cerro Artilleria.

Other places nearby Valparaíso : Horcon, Papudo, Zapallar, Viña del Mar, Quintero, Cartagena, Quintay, San Felipe, Portillo and Maitencillo.

By Lauren Yero
I am a recent liberal arts graduate who travels as a compulsion. I have lived in several regions of the US as well as briefly abroad in England and...
01 Aug 2008

Top Places in Valparaíso

Cerro Bellavista

110661Though less well-known than some of Valparaíso’s other cerros, Bellavista is home to quite a few of the city’s cultural iconographies, as well as several accommodation options that rival the ...
City Zone
Cerro Bellavista, Valparaíso , Chile

Cerro Alegre

123936Cerro Alegre is a quiet, cheerful hill full of upper-class colorful English houses and gardens, many of which have been converted into small hotels and hostels. William Bateman, a well-to-do ...
City Zone
Cerro Alegre, Valparaíso , Chile

Cerro Concepción

123941Many visitors to Valparaíso choose to stay on Cerro Concepción, and for good reason. This hill has the widest variety of accommodation in the city and is historically, architecturally, and ...
City Zone
Cerro Concepción, Valparaíso , Chile

Cerro Santo Domingo

124157Cerro Santo Dominco is located in the heart of the historic center of Valparaíso, for which the city was named a Cultural World Heritage site by UNESCO. This part of town was the first piece of land ...
City Zone
Cerro Santo Domingo, Valparaíso , Chile

Cerro Barón

124160The hill received its name when Ambrosio O’Higgins (whose name you’ll see on the street signs of every Chilean city) was awarded the title of Barón de Vallenary. This mostly residential cerro ...
City Zone
Cerro Barón, Valparaíso , Chile

Cerro Panteón And Cerro Cárcel

124196 Cerro Panteón and Cerro Cárcel, two isolated hills visible from one another, are historical remnants of old Valparaíso. Cerro Panteón houses the illustrious dead of the city in three different ...
City Zone
Cerro Panteón And Cerro Cárcel, Valparaíso , Chile

Cerro Artilleria

Described as a place of decadent beauty, Cerro Artilleria begins in the old quarter of Valparaíso and has at its peak the Chilean Naval Museum and the Antigua Escuela Naval. From the top of Cerro ...
City Zone
Cerro Artilleria, Valparaíso , Chile

Things to do in Valparaíso

Bicentennial Walking Tours

123975One of the biggest draws of the city of Valparaíso is the delightful madness of its design. For this reason, walks around the city will likely be the highlight of the trip. Though some like the idea ...
City Walk
Valparaíso , Chile

La Sebastiana

123984La Sebastiana is a perfect testament to Neruda’s love for objects and gives lovers of Neruda special insight into his poetry. Handpicked items from around the world fill this house, which was ...
Cerro Bellavista, Valparaíso , Chile

Mercado Puerto

123985Located in a time-worn building at the heart of Valparaíso's Old Town is the city market. Here you'll find a smattering of produce; vendors sell basic fruits and vegetables alongside some more ...
Parte Antigua, Valparaíso , Chile

Muelle Prat

123986A walk down to Prat Harbor gives you a sense of what makes the city of Valparaíso tick: huge barges move cargo holds from shipyards around the world to and fro, and hoards of small fishing boats ...
City Plaza
Parte Antigua, Valparaíso , Chile

Casa Mirador de Lukas

123989This small gallery has an upper-crust air to it, with its dainty outdoor café and beautiful vista. Inside you'll find several rooms devoted to the artwork of the beloved Valparaíso-raised ...
Cerro Concepción, Valparaíso , Chile

Museo de Historia Natural de Valparaíso

123991This small museum, located inside the imposing Palacio Lyon, is the second oldest in Chile, first established in 1878 by Don Eduardo de la Barra. Inside you’ll find a comprehensive—though ...
Valparaíso , Chile

Museo a Cielo Abierto

123995Though marketed as the centerpiece of Valparaíso's visual art obsession, the Museo a Cielo Abierto is more typical of Valparaíso artwork than it is quintessential. The “museum” isn't really a ...
Cerro Bellavista, Valparaíso , Chile

Parque Cultural Ex-Cárcel

123998The ex-prison on top of Cerro Cárcel is perhaps one of the most characteristic sites in the city. Only recently did the space shift from being a place of confinement to being one of liberal ...
Historical Building
Cerro Cárcel , Valparaíso , Chile

Isla Negra

126002Tour guides at Pablo Neruda’s Isla Negra home will claim that, of his many houses, this home was the place that most embodied the poet’s spirit. Neruda’s “Isla Negra” home is not on an ...
Valparaíso , Chile

Walking Tour

Although many Chileans associate Valparaíso with trash-lined alleys and opportunistic thieves, visitors will be pleasantly surprised to find a slice of gritty bohemianism in two of the downtown’s ...
Cultural Tour
Valparaíso , Chile

Puerto Deportivo

If you want to go diving, take a windsurfing class, kayak around the bay, or try your hand at sailing, this is definitely the place to go. Situated at LAT 33º 02’ 08’’ LON 071º 36’ 26’ ...
Valparaíso , Chile
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