The Jewel of the Pacific
Getting to our second destination in Chile, although just as a day trip from Santiago, we visited what is many people describes as the most beautiful and picturesque city in the country. The 3rd largest city and most important port in the country and the whole of the South Pacific. It is also home to an incredible collection of beautiful colourful Victorian houses perched on the many hills of the city and overlooking the South Pacific Ocean, linked with the lower parts of the city by its unique network of old funicular lifts. All of this contributed for the city to be listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On the last point, the funiculars, is what gets the city special attention and gives that extra charm. Although originally there were over 26 in operation, today the number is reduced to “just” 8 where unfortunately, there is still much work that should be done in order to ensure their operation for future generations. It’s an unique industrial heritage only found in Valparaiso in such an extent. I can only think of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (U.S.) where a similar yet more reduced network was constructed dating to the same age as Valparaiso’s one.
The city grew and thrived ever since Chile’s independence from Spain right until the opening of the Panama Canal, with its port becoming the largest and most important for all ships en-route from the Pacific to the Atlantic across the Magellan Straights. From 1912 the city experienced a steep decline, coupled with natural disasters as earthquakes, but recovered and continues to grow and thrive in all senses, to the point of being officially named Chile’s Cultural City.
With so much to see and do, a day is by far not enough, but in the other hand unfortunately most tourists cannot count with too many days when travelling that far already, and especially if coming from Europe or farther ahead, as it was our case for what the visit had to be compressed to just one day on the best way we could manage to see and enjoy the most of it. With pleasure I would have stayed here 2 more days and have the time to enjoy longer than barely just 2 hours I was in Viña del Mar, and visit Concon and Isla Negra nearby too.
Exploring the city can be more challenging than any other city. This is due to the many hills (cerros in Spanish) that compose the core of the city. You have the front towards the port and sea; flat, where the largest squares, financial district and institutions and main avenues and transportation arteries located, and right behind, the hills one after another. All of which interconnected with the lower part of the city if either by a working funicular lift, or a flight of stairs and steep narrow streets. Plan your time accordingly, and so the route in order to follow a systematic direction. How we did this was pretty simple. Concentrating in the lower part of the city and starting at the west of the city by Artilleria funicular, start making your way up the hill and down again by the funiculars, and the continue on the lower part of the city. This way you will enjoy almost the entire city sightseeing-wise talking as most of the sights are located around those areas. A bit farther inside the city and over the hills is the house of Pablo Neruda, La Sebastiana, yet still, this is a nice and easy walk. Otherwise, get a taxi and walk your way down back to the center.
If you miss on doing this systematic way, you might end up missing important parts of the city, or even lost. It’s not difficult to get lost specially on the labyrinth of narrow streets in the hills. Take extra precaution with your belongings anywhere you are and at any time, but especially when getting dusk. Valparaiso is more dangerous in this sense than Santiago, but of course the same applies here or wherever the city you travel in the world, mind where you walk and avoid being off the path or somewhere you should not be.
For more information about Valparaiso check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Chile’s currency is the Peso (CLP). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Valparaiso
- Funicular Lifts Are one of the most iconic sights in the city. From the original 26 Valparaiso once had at a same one time, only 7 are still in operation and allow easy and quick access to the many hills. Fortunately the local government has bought some of them with the aim of refurbish and putting them back into service. To name some of the nicest ones:
-Concepcion Also known as Turri, is the oldest still in operation, dating from 1883.
-Reina Victoria Provides access to one of the most emblematic hills, Conception.
-Artilleria The most renown and icon of the city. Provides access to Cerro Artilleria.
-Baron Recently restored and back in operation.
-Los Lecheros One of the most beautiful for its location, unfortunately not working as of 2015 but pending restoration.
-Peral Beautifully restored including its top Victorian style head station building.
-Polanco Lift Is the only vertical “proper” lift as the name indicates. Recently restored.
- Plaza de Sotomayor Is the main and largest square in the city.
-Navy Office Building Occupies the former Intendencia de Valparaiso (City Hall).
-Customs House Another beautiful building embellishing the square.
-Monument to Chilean Sailors who fell during the Battle of Iquique and the Battle of Punta Gruesa
- Plaza de la Justicia Literally behind the Navy Office Building and Sotomayor is this small rectangular square with nice buildings at all sides.
-Palace of Justice A small yet interesting art-deco building. One of the few buildings in this style in the city.
- Pratt Street At the heart of the business district is one of the main thoroughfares in the city. It starts at Sotomayor Square.
-Turri Clock Tower One of the landmark buildings in the street, with its famous clock at the top.
-El Mercurio de Valparaiso Is the oldest Spanish language newspaper still in circulation in the world. Its headquarters is a beautiful building located at Calle Esmeralda, which is the continuation of Pratt Street.
- Plaza de la Victoria This square was of recent creation, after the 1906 earthquake, creating a larger public area and main avenues.
-Cathedral Built on the grounds of the former Edwards Mansion that was destroyed after the 1906 earthquake.
-Santiago Severin Library
-British Arch Located on the northern edge of the square, on Avenida de Brasil. Was a gift from the UK in 1910.
- Hills Valparaiso is known for have been built over many hills, called cerros in Spanish. A labyrinth maze of streets, ups and downs, each of them with their character. With every hill, there is a neighbourhood and each offer different sights of the city. Among the most beautiful and probably the must sees are:
-Cerro Alegre On the west edge of the city and overlooking the Pacific Ocean and not the port.
-Templeman Street Of extreme beauty for the many colourful buildings at both sides of the street overlooking down towards the Pacific Ocean.
-Cerro Conception One of the most beautiful and picturesque hills in Valparaiso. Reina Victoria funicular is the easiest way to reach the summit.
-Saint Paul Anglican Church Located at the top of the hill.
-Atkinson Street From where you will get one of the most beautiful pictures in the city looking downhill towards the Pacific Ocean.
-Cerro Florida Is the next hill after Concepcion.
-La Sebastiana House Is one of the three houses Chilean poet Pablo Neruda once had. He purchased this house from Sebastian, a wealthy Spanish man who was building this house but never lived there and instead was unfinished for 10 years until Neruda took over it. Neruda named the house after him. All the rooms are facing the Pacific Ocean and the views of the entire Valparaiso.
-Cerro Bellavista Accessible by Espiritu Santo and Florida Lifts.
-Open Air Museum Is an area of the city where from 1994 a series of mural paintings were created, having now more and more been added. They depict from political issues to day to day live.
-Cerro Artilleria Where you will get the idyllic postcard view of the Artilleria Lift and the beautiful mansion painted in blue overlooking the Port and Pacific Ocean.
-Cerro Baron To the eastern edge of the city.
-San Francisco Church Built in 1846 it served as a lighthouse until the 20th century. Affected by earthquakes and fires had to be reconstructed and repaired, being the most recent after the 2013 fire. Located on Baron Hill where nearest metro station is Baron and accessible by the Baron funicular.
-Cerro Lecheros To the south of Cerro Baron and next to this.
Valparaiso does not have an airport, meaning the nearest one is Santiago which is in any case easy and conveniently located. Either from the airport or from anywhere you are in Santiago, you will need to go to Terminal Alameda in Santiago, located at Avenida Alameda 3750. The nearest metro station is Universidad de Santiago. There are buses every few minutes from both Pullman and Tur Bus, each of them offer buses every 15 minutes, and run between 6.30am until 22.30pm. The travel time to Valparaiso is around 1.5 hours.
Within the city, there is a metro line that follows the former rail line between Santiago and Valparaiso, crossing the entire sea/port front and then making its way on a south-east direction to the newer parts of the city and other neighbourhoods. To summarise, this is not very helpful from the point of view of a tourist. There are of course many buses covering much of the city, but to fully explore it, the only way is going to be on foot and taking the funicular lifts up and down. Unfortunately be aware that not every hill has a working funicular anymore. Only 7 are currently working but will be enough to take you to the most beautiful hills of the city.
Being such an important city and so touristy, and major port in Chile, there is a big choice on accommodation. Expect to find every international hotel chain, plus local ones and hundreds of family run business, and although we did not stayed overnight in here as our base was Santiago, I ran a quick search query on some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers, and the results were large with great offers! This was done in any case, March 2015 when it’s not high season over there.
I can add here the information about the hotel we stayed in Santiago. Best Western Premier Marina Las Condes, on Avenida Alonso de Cordova 5727. Located meters away from Manquehue metro station in line 1 which crosses the centre of the city and takes you to the main square near Palacio de la Moneda in barely 20 minutes time. The hotel was grand, and even it was a 4* property, the facilities, service and overall look was more of a 5*. The stuff was great, everyone speaking good English and very helpful in every sense; the breakfast was a great choice and the pool and spa wonderful! From the roof terrace you can also get very nice views of Santiago and the Andes mountains in the far (weather or pollution permitting). I will definitely not hesitate in returning to the same hotel on a next visit.