It was love at first sight! Valparaíso more fondly referred to as “Valpo” is a port city that has a wonderful bohemian vibe and is home to some of the best street art we have ever seen. We had read that being a port city means petty crime is lurking around every corner and a place to best avoid. Like most cities there are some gritty areas, but we had no problem what-so-ever and were happy we didn’t heed the on-line naysayers, otherwise we would have missed one of the more colourful, interesting and spontaneous spots in our travels.
It also has a reputation as being a place of poets, painters and dreamers and is known for its maze of brightly painted homes seemingly stacked on top of each other on the 42 chaotic cerros (hills) that ascend sharply from the Pacific creating vertical neighborhoods. We wandered up and down these steep hillside streets and alleys, walked up and down escaleras (stairways) and through the many the pasaje (passages) and rode some of the more than 14 ancient ascensores (funicular elevators) getting lost more than once. At times the street suddenly ended at a cliff top and we stared in awe at the views below. Every time we turned a corner we saw more imaginative street art on virtually anything that wasn’t moving, some with political statements, that has turned the city into a giant canvas.
This World Heritage City, designated in 2003, has an ambitious urban renewal project underway where many derelict buildings have seen their faded architectural glory restored and are now boutique hotels, hostels, eateries, museums and nightspots. One area that was quite interesting is the Cultural Park, once the site of a 150 year old city prison. This area now has a wonderful modern structure surrounded by a park where various cultural activities take place. The prison itself provides space for artists to work on various projects. Perhaps our home town should take note for the former Kingston Penitentiary!
Just next to the prison is the site of three cemeteries, one actually built back in the early 1800s for non-Catholics called “Cementerio Disidentes”. Back in the day if you died in Chile and weren’t Catholic, your bones couldn’t legally be buried in “holy ground”. Since many of the dead were sailors burials at sea were common. These cemeteries are in an interesting off-the-beaten-path location in Valpo and one of the best places to get a view of the gorgeous city below. Seeing common English and German names, even the odd name ending in “ski” could be seen on the headstones and mausoleums while walking through the serene gardens.
The city also has a great maritime history and was once a major route and stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and also benefited from the California Gold Rush as ships passed through the port to deliver supplies up the coast. Unfortunately the golden age of Valparaíso’s commerce ended when the Panama Canal opened. The port’s use and traffic decreased significantly, causing a major decline in the city’s population and economy. Things have turned around in the last 20 years due to the close location to Santiago, a push on tourism, Chile’s export of fruit and vegetables and the many cruise lines that use the port as the jump off point to Patagonia and beyond.
During our three days there we took tons of pictures. Attached is only a small sampling giving homage to this wild, wonderfully crazy, fun and funky town. Enjoy!!!