Once described by Fodor's Travel as possibly South America's most underrated destination, Valparaiso should be on the to-do list of every visitor to Chile.
It is certainly a city I have grown to love since I discovered it in 2013 when joining a cruise there. Situated on Chile's central coast just 112 kilometres northwest of the capital, Santiago, Valparaiso is one of the southern Pacific's most significant ports.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was a place where ships converged when sailing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans before the Panama Canal was opened. ‘Valpo’ as it is sometimes affectionately called was then known as Little San Francisco, and similarities with the city by the bay can certainly be seen. But Valparaiso is even more pleasantly chaotic with rickety, colourful buildings perched precariously and randomly all the way down the hillsides.
Bohemian and relaxed and a haven for artists, Valparaiso is visited by thousands of tourists every year from all parts of the world, many of them arriving on the growing number of cruise ships that visit during the South American summer.
No matter how you arrive it is worth exploring the port and fishing wharves, where you’ll get a feel for Chile’s quirky seafaring side and where you can sample and buy freshly caught seafood at the market.
A relaxing place for canine, feline and equine residents too.
Valparaiso has boutique hotels, shopping malls, bars and museums as well as its natural attractions. It also has some of the best restaurants I've experienced anywhere, many perched high above the city affording stunning views in all directions. I only hope they have not adopted the practice I’ve found at many restaurants recently of providing QR code menus without the option of a hard copy. This is an unnecessary hangover from the pandemic and an abomination.
Access to the higher levels is by funicular elevator (ascensores), of which there used to be 30 but now only about half that number. So if your accommodation is located high above the city, fear not, the elevators will whisk you up and down in no time. The climb faced by residents before the elevators were installed doesn't bear thinking about.
Edificio Armada de Chile. This building and the one pictured below are at Plaza Sotomayor.
An old façade with a new interior.
In 2003 the historic quarter of Valparaiso was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city is now claimed to be Chile's cultural capital.
A bus or limousine transfer from Santiago to Valparaiso takes you through pleasant countryside and past vineyards and, if you approach from the north-east, through Viña del Mar (below), a stylish beach-resort town that is worth seeing for its contrast with Valparaiso.
Also known as the ‘garden city’, Viña del Mar surprises many tourists with its daytime and night time activities throughout the year, its beaches, its excellent seafood and the music of local and international artists during the International Song Festival, the most important one in Latin America, held in February.
Photos © Judy Barford