Five Must-Know Valparaíso Facts
Valparaíso sits on the Chilean coast, rising up from the harbor like an amphitheater.
Exploding with colors and filled with a labyrinth of narrow, twisting streets that snake up and down the city’s many hills, this city is a real Chilean gem. Here are five facts about Valparaíso.
It’s the third-largest metropolitan area in Chile. Valparaíso is only 75 miles northwest of the Chilean capital of Santiago. Whereas about 40 percent of Chile’s 17 million–strong population live in and around the capital, Valparaíso’s population has swollen to almost 1.8 million people in recent years, making it one of the country’s most densely populated areas. Known fondly as the "Jewel of the Pacific," Valparaíso is located on central Chile’s west coast and is one of the country’s most important ports.
Before the Panama Canal was built in 1914, Valparaíso was a major port of call for commercial freighters. Nowadays, it mainly caters to ships that are too big to pass through the canal.
Valparaiso was founded in 1536. Spanish conquistador Juan de Saavedra named the city after his birthplace. You can still see colonial buildings today, which have survived wind, rain, fire, and several earthquakes. In fact, in 1906, much of Valparaíso was rebuilt after a devastating earthquake leveled the city.
It’s an incredibly hilly city. An essential Valparaíso fact for first-time travelers is that it was built on at least 42 hills, according to some sources. The actual number is up for debate, but with several dozen hills, expect a lot of walking up and down. However, if you don’t want to spend your time hiking, you can take advantage of the funiculars. Around 30 were built between 1883 and 1916, and lots of them are still in use today. These ascensores, as they are known by the locals, remain a practical way of navigating the city’s slopes. They’ve also became landmarks and tourist attractions in their own right.
The city is brimming with street art. Just like Santiago, Valparaíso has its own open-air museum of street art, in Cerro Bellavista. In fact, Valparaíso is considered one of South America’s graffiti capitals, and many streets are bursting with colors and life thanks to vibrant murals. There’s a real mix of styles, and you’ll find some murals even if you’re not looking, so have your camera ready. You can either go on a DIY tour, wandering the winding streets, or join a guided one to get the inside scoop on some of the city’s more controversial pieces.
One of Pablo Neruda’s homes is in Valparaíso. Pablo Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971, is one of Chile’s most famous poets. His home, La Sebastiana, now houses a museum with collections of paintings, glass, and ships’ figureheads, among other things. Its eclectic decor and the stunning view across the city and down across the bay should be reason enough to visit. Apparently, the original design of the third floor was made to resemble a giant birdcage.
These Valparaíso facts paint a picture of a bright, colorful city that’s steeped in history and brimming with culture. Nestled between a great ocean and hilly surroundings, nothing will beat seeing the city for yourself.