Valparaiso, Chile: The Jewel on the Hill | Mountain Travel Sobek

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Valparaiso, Chile: The Jewel on the Hill

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If Rome is the city on the Seven Hills, then Valparaiso is the city of the 42 hills. If not 42, then several dozen. What the exact total number of hills is matters little. What does, is that this truly shimmering coastal gem, 70 miles north of Santiago and built into the side of a precipitous slope, is colorful. Maybe the most colorful city on earth. When viewed from the bay, the kaleidoscopic nature of the variegated neighborhoods will become evident and you'll be able to understand once and for all what it's like to live at the end of the rainbow.

Valparaiso wears many titles, among them the The Jewel Of the Pacific, Little San Francisco or as the locals say, San Pancho, the Cultural Capital of Chile, and most impressively, a UNESCO World Heritage City — so recognized for its crazy-quilt, patchwork neighborhoods and cobbled together architecture. Among the city’s many unique amenities one you’ll want to experience (actually, you’ll need to experience) is the city’s public transport. To truly explore Valparaiso you need to do so by “elevator.” That is, ride the funicular railway; a dozen of which are still in operation today and are the easiest way to move up and through the many explorable neighborhoods that cover Valparaiso’s vertiginous hills. Our other top Valparaiso sights include:

Valparaíso Cultural Park

In a city as vibrant and alive as Valparaiso it’s easy to forget that Chile was a dictatorship for roughly 15 years. A legacy item of that dark era was the prison on Cárcel Hill where political dissenters were held. Until 2011, the grounds were an aging array of the usual structures you associate with incarceration, when the city commissioned a group of architects to transform the prison into a public space replete with a cultural center and performance space. The result is the Valparaiso Cultural Park, a place where children, families and friends celebrate their community and their freedom. 

La Ruta de las Artes — Street Art

If there isn’t a mural capital of the world already, there ought to be, and a top three finisher would have to be Valparaiso. There is more public art in this city than dozens of others combined. From the abstract and the avant-garde, to the whimsical and overtly political, there are images and illustrations that speak to every ideology, -ism and taste. Besides giving the city a look all its own, these many stamps of individuality also make Valparaiso a photographers paradise.

Viña del Mar

Part of the greater Valparaiso urban area, Viña del Mar is a separate community. It is spiffy and new to Valpo’s, as it’s sometimes called, well-worn and bohemian. The beachfront area is a bit of a mini-Miami or akin to some of the smaller, newly developed seaside towns you’ll find along the Mediterranean. The town is built for weekenders looking to get out of Santiago, for cafe lovers, sun-worshippers, and novice surfers. There are also more than a few great gelaterias along the strand.  

Mercado Central

Any fish you wish. And there a thousands to chose from everyday in Valparaiso’s Central Market. Unique to the Chilean public markets you can enjoy a plate of centolla (king crab) or a half dozen raw sea urchins at one of the many tables provided. The Central Market is an ideal place to try other local dishes. If you’re there early enough for breakfast, go for a bowl of the paila marina, a fish and seafood soup. For lunch try the machas a la parmesana, or razor clams au gratin. Wash it all down with a Sauvignon Blanc from the nearby Casablanca Valley.

La Sebastiana 

Nobel laureate and, depending who you ask, endless source of political and poetic controversy, Pablo Neruda, maintained a residence in Valparaiso. He called the home La Sebastiana, after the ill-fated Spaniard who built the place. (Sebastián Collado was said to have been building the home for his fiancé when he suddenly died.) It’s grim origins aside, the home is a reverential museum devoted to Neruda’s legacy and whether you're a fan of the guy’s leftist leaning works or not, you can admire the stunning views from most of the home's uniquely appointed rooms.

Summation:

Valparaiso is a lively, fun-loving gift of a city wrapped in art covered walls.  

Kevin Lynch

Check out Valparaiso for yourself on Mountain Travel Sobek's Summits & Wines of the Central Andes trip!