Ah Valparaiso, quaint little fishing village by the sea. Or so I thought when I booked it. I don’t know how I could have been so wrong. I really need to start paying more attention to the guidebooks. We drove into a huge crowded city that sprawls up very steep hills from the ocean like a giant amphitheater.
This was once the most important port for ships making their way from the Atlantic to the Pacific through Cape Horn. In Valparaiso, during the city’s Golden Age, the first stock exchange in Latin America was founded, Chile’s first public Library was opened and the oldest continuous publishing Spanish language newspaper in the world was started.
It was nicknamed the Jewel of the Pacific.
Valparaiso attracted huge wave of European immigrants eager to make their fortunes and leave their marks. The British brought football (soccer), which remains Chile’s most popular sport. The French founded the Catholic school Le College des Sacres Coeurs that is still in operation 170 years later. Scots and Germans founded secular schools. And they all started building neighborhoods in styles they brought from home.
There was nowhere near enough room on the flat ground surrounding the port. So they built up the hills. Funiculars were built during the later part of the 19th century to help people get up and down. Steep twisty staircases connected everything else.
When the Panama Canal opened in 1914 it was great for the shipping industry. It wasn’t so good for Valparaiso. Boats stopped coming, the rich moved elsewhere and the city went into a rapid decline.
It has only been in the last 20 years that Valparaiso has experienced a rebirth, revitalizing the city as a major tourist attraction famous for its incredible street art (aka graffiti!). Most of the funiculars are gone. The stairs are still here. Getting to the apartment we rented was a better workout than any gym. But well worth it for the spectacular views!
I had been longing for a sleepy little town where I could lie on the beach and work on my tan. Instead I got a bustling, crowded, colorful messy city with amazing challenging walks, tons to see, delicious restaurants and many more Pisco Sours! I can’t wait to go back.
(We stayed in an ecco duplex operated by www.valparaisoexperience.com. It was simple, spotless and environmentally friendly. The best thing about it was Bart, the owner who helped with everything including carrying our bags up the stairs!)