Valparaiso, The Jewel of the Pacific, offers a unique appeal. Its location overlooking the Pacific Ocean and its labyrinth of streets built on the steep hills and reached by elevators is the city’s trademark feature. Valparaiso is located in Chile’s central coast; it is the country’s second busiest seaport after San Antonio. The city has emerged from a long industrial decline, but today it takes pride in its industrial past and has undergone urban renewal capitalizing in its unique geographical location, inherited architecture and rediscovery of its heritage. The city of Valparaiso is the capital of the Valparaiso Province and the Valparaiso Region and is located 75 miles or 120 kilometers northwest of Santiago. Greater Valparaiso includes the City of Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, Quilpué and Villa Alemana and has a population of 803,683, second largest metropolitan area after Santiago. Residents of Valparaiso are known as Porteños(as).
Initially encouraged by groups of artists and bohemians and then by the community, Valparaiso has gone through a transformation through improvement projects. The city’s elevators or funiculars, the most distinctive feature of Valparaiso, were in bad condition, many of them abandoned and its once vibrant buildings were in a state of decay. In 1996 the elevators were declared as one of the world’s most endangered treasures by the World Monuments Fund. In 1998 Fundación Valparaíso, a grass root movement, was founded and along with the city’s residents embarked in a project to re-establish the city. Residents restored and painted their houses and boardwalks were developed. The foundation’s efforts to raise awareness and funds for the restoration of the city were rewarded in 2003 when the city was placed in UNESCO’s World Heritage list. This Heritage site is located where the city first developed and includes part of the bay and five interconnected neighborhoods.
This territory was originally inhabited by Chango Indians who belonged to the southernmost section of the Inca Empire. It was discovered in 1536 by Juan de Saavedra and the first settlement was founded in 1544 by Pedro de Valdivia, about a decade later it was designated as the nation’s first port. In 1730 the city was shaken by an earthquake which leveled the city and forced its inhabitants to move to the hills.
From 1815 the ports of Valparaiso and Callao, Lima served as a base for the Spanish Royal Navy’s Pacific Squadron. At around 1850 the city started taking shape, being built on landfill in the bay and expanding on its 43 hills. A modern port developed taking care of the demand for Chile’s minerals and grains in North America. New immigrants mostly from England, France, Germany, and the United States, looking for opportunities and following Chile’s economic boom settled on its hills converting the city in a melting pot and a cultural center. They contributed to the development of shipping and commerce and left a unique imprint on Valparaiso’s architecture. Chile’s first commercial banks were created in Valparaiso as well as Latin America’s first stock exchange. The city is home to Chile’s first public library was as well as South America’s first volunteer fire department. In 1827 El Mercurio de Valparaiso was founded and it remains the world’s oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication.
In 1906 the city was shaken by an 8.6 on the Richter scale earthquake but it was quickly rebuilt and its port expanded even further. The port served a major role in maritime transportation as an important stop over in ships journeys from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Straight of Magellan. It showed the first signs of globalization in the late eighteenth century. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 created a more direct and shorter passage between both oceans which meant a slow decline of the city that was once a cosmopolitan center. Valparaiso became a neglected city with rundown buildings and many social problems. Pinochet moved Congress to Valparaiso in 1990 but it did little to help. The Chilean export boom of the last two decades has helped Valparaiso recover attracting private investment. Valparaiso was taken over as the largest port in Chile in terms of volume by San Antonio in 2002.
Travel to Valparaiso
The Highway form Santiago to Valparaiso is Ruta 68, a continuation of the Alameda, and near Santiago’s International Airport. The road is a toll road. The drive from Santiago to Valparaiso is 120 km depending on traffic it will take from 90 min to 2 hours. You will pass Curacavi, a fruit growing area, and Casablanca, a white wine producing town. You can get to Valparaiso from virtually any place in Chile.
The city’s bus terminal is one of the largest and busiest in Chile with the busiest route being Santiago. Buses run from the Rodoviario to Terminal Santiago. The most reliable and quality service bus companies are: TurBus, Condor Bus, Sol del Pacifico, ALSA, Flota Barrios, Pullman Bus Costa and Sol del Sur.
Valparaiso does not have an airport and the nearest one is in Viña del Mar. Passenger trains run only from Limache to Valparaiso via Viña del Mar. MerVal trains are a convenient way to travel from Valparaiso to Viña. The Santiago – Valparaiso line is only for freight transportation.
The cruise terminal is in the city center, close to Estación Puerto and Plaza Sotomayor.
The most recognizable landmark of the city is its unique funiculars or elevators or as they are called locally ascensores. Currently there are 15 working funiculars from the original 30 built between 1883 and 1915. La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda\’s house now converted into a museum.