Valparaíso: The city of the sea

This multicolored city overlooking the Pacific is the main port of Chile, fast and cosmopolitan. Street art and bohemia have become their main hallmark

Only in the vicinity of the Prat Wharf can one peer out into the sea without the barrier of the railway line running parallel to the coast. The old Mercado Municipal, a few meters from the dock, offers those prints condensed in the scents of any port city in the world with stalls where the fishmongers are busy in leaving ready a genre so fresh that it seems to jump from one moment to another.

And there are squares; Such as Bernardo O’Higgins, who serves as a green cover for the National Congress of Chile and, also, an improvised window, where there are also lively coffee chats that stimulate numbers of street cabarets in the sight of those who play chess. Everything fits.

The first hills, beyond those occupied by the old defenses of the colonial period, were the seat of English, German and Spanish merchants who built small wooden palaces with large gardens to get away from the commotion of the city. Houses that can still be seen in places such as Cerro Alegre, a small country of the English who settled in the city or the neighboring Cerro Concepción, with impressive viewpoints on a sea that, paradoxically, is closer from the heights than at the water’s edge.

Others were occupied in the successive waves of people of all condition and origin that were arriving and making the city its own. And the houses were installed, often taking advantage of the roof of the neighbor: as if a giant hand had thrown them into the air to fall piled up at the whim of gravity. And the result is a multicolored mosaic that climbs from ‘The Plan’ to the heights creating one of the most unusual urban landscapes in the world.

Urban fabric that sharpened the ingenuity and creativity of its early architects. For example, the impressive Elevators of Valparaiso, that are like vertical stacks of cars. A display of ingenuity that mixes wood, steel and electricity in equal parts and that serve to construct Huge steps that measure between the low zone and the hills.

Of the more than 30 elevators that were in the city not so long ago, today only half remain active: a real pity. Wagons and funiculars used to climb Cerro Panteón, where the city’s cemetery or Cerro Cárcel was installed, an old prison now converted into an active Cultural Park. Hills, hills, and more hills.

Lost in the hills. What To See

The Elevador Concepción transports us from Esmeralda Street to the start of Templeman Street, the backbone of Concepción and Alegre hills. It’s a good way to get in touch with these high districts that cover the amphitheater that forms the bay of Valparaiso.

Two steps away from the top elevator stop, the hill overlooks the lower part of the city through the Atkinson Promenade, an excellent vantage point adorned with stately mansions painted in bright colors. We are in the two bourgeois hills of the city, where the houses of noble appearance abound. Glorious past that is evident with buildings such as:

  • Lutheran Church of the Holy Cross (Address: C / Abato, 689; Tel: (+56) 32 297 54 76; Hours: LD 11.00 – 14.00)
  • or Casa Lukas : Paseo Gervasoni, 448, Tel: (+56) 32 222 13 44), a beautiful mansion dedicated to spreading the work of cartoonist and humorist Renzo Pechenino Raggi, located on the photogenic Paseo Gernasoni.
  • Also in the first line of the hill is the spectacular Barburizza Palace (Address: Paseo Yugoslavo sn; Hours: MD 10.30 – 17.30; E-mail: museobaburizza@gmail.com), current headquarters of the Museum of Fine Arts in the city.

Then there is a walk. Templeman is a good way to gain height with escapes to the right and left to discover hidden corners. Just let yourself be carried away by intuition. There, in the middle of the slope, is the Lutheran Church of St. Paul and the old houses have become artistic galleries, lively restaurants, accommodations for all tastes and beautiful literary cafes such as Sabor y Color (Address: Templeman, 561; Tel: (+56) 32 259 8472)

We loved it. We will be back. Art. The streets of the city have become, in recent times, an authentic open-air museum to the point of being considered the Chilean capital of graffiti. Valpo street Art offers a curious tour through the more than 200 murals that adorn the walls of the city.

  • You can reach Al Cerro Florida by going up really, really high. The cheapest way to climb to  the heights is through the urban bus line 517 which stops at the Avenue de France. On top of the hill, with a breathtaking view of the city, you can find:
  • La Sebastiana (Address: C / Ferrari, 692, Tel: (+56) 32 225 6606 and (+56) 32 223 37 59; Mail: info@fundacionneruda.org), one of the three houses that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda used as habitual residences.
  • Isla Negra (84 kilometers south of Valparaiso) and La Chascona (in Santiago),are just some of the places he kept personal objects and memories related to the life and work of the genius and universal literary.
  • It’s worth climbing up to La Sebastiana just to see the sights on the city.

The Historic Quarter

Port. That word explains much of what is now Valparaiso. It’s the main port of Chile, seat of the Navy and a maritime connection to the distant Island of Easter. The original city grew around the port, there are still the remains of that ancient city and notable buildings like:

  • The Church of the Matrix (Address: C / Santo Domingo, 71; Tel: (+56) 32 221 4876) or The Old Market (Address: C / Cochrane, 180) around which there is a good collection of good restaurants specializing in fresh and delicious seafood.
  • The maritime vocation is intimately linked to the history of the Chilean navy, which has its general command here (Address: C / Sotomayor, 594), a spectacular building that presides over a square ithat highlights the monument that features the Naval Combat of Iquique between Chile and Peru.
  • For lovers of the sea, there is the Lord Cochrane Sea Museum (Address: C / Merlet, 195-Access to the Cordillera Lift, Tel: (+56) 32 221 31 24), that gives a detailed tour of the naval history of the city and the country.