Whilst travelling around Chile, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Valparaiso: a major seaport on the coast of the country, in the 5th region of Chile. Although its neighbouring city, Viña del Mar,is modern and developed, Valparaíso seems to have been stuck in a time machine. It is one of the poorest areas in the region, but it has a flamboyant personality, imbued with street art and music playing throughout the streets. Here are my top 3 takeaways from visiting this stunning city:
1. The Valparaiso Vibe
Firstly, it’s imperative that you simply stop to appreciate the life of Valparaiso. There are street art displays throughout the city, and you could spend a whole day exploring and finding all the quirky graffiti. There are also plenty of cafés where you can sit out in the sun and enjoy an empanada, or some fresh tropical fruit juice, whilst taking in the surroundings of such a historic and beautiful city.
A rather iconic symbol of the city, are the ‘ascensores’ and they feature on the majority of post cards. There are numerous ones to choose from, and they are actually a really fun way to get around and view the city (but maybe not for those of you with vertigo).
One thing I do have to mention about Valparaiso is the sheer number of stray dogs that roam the city. They appear from here, there, and everywhere and are mostly friendly, although I was witness to one particularly frightening dog fight – so just keep your wits about you!
2. Marvellous Museums and History
The National Maritime Museum is defintely one to add to your list. It spectacularly displays the majority of Chile’s history, with particular focus on Valparaiso, as it used to be the single port for the entire country. The city has been built around industry and the port is still very much alive today. The exhibits are meticulously completed, with scale models of wars, video inserts and amazing murals along all the walls.
Another museum-esque tourist attraction is “La Sebastiana Museo de Pablo Neruda” – aka Pablo’s house. Pablo Neruda was a famous poet/diplomat born in Valparaiso, in 1904. He became recognised as a poet at the grand old age of 10 years old (alright for some), and his career galloped on from there. The museum is an amazing insight into his life and eccentric personality, and I loved being able to explore all the bizarre aspects, accompanied by an audio guide that can be listened to in multiple languages.
Chile has a long and rich history. The British were some of the principal occupiers of Valparaiso, and there are a couple of British influences that you can spot around the city. The churches are the main souvenir left standing, and their designs are beautiful and amazingly intricate, especially if you consider how old they are!
3. Terrifying Tremors
One important thing to know is that Chile sits on the fault line between the Nazca plate and the Pacific Ocean, and this can cause major earthquakes and/or tsunamis. Earthquakes are a part of daily life in Chile, and a frequent occurrence, which I got to learn pretty quickly as I experienced a grand total of 5 earthquakes during my 4 week trip, the biggest one reaching a 6.5 on the Richter Scale (which shocked me, but seemingly not the locals). This means that anything can be turned to dust in a matter of minutes, especially in Valparaiso as some of the structures date back thousands of years.