Didem Doğan

A day trip to Valparaíso, the colourful port city on the Pacific

Yes, Santiago is full of museums, cafés, restaurants, vibrant cultural life. But if you want to see the ocean you will need to go to Valparaíso! 

A port city, it is located about two hours drive from Santiago; with its suburbs it is the second most populated place in Chile. Before the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, at the end of the 19th century, it was an important transit point for ships traveling from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific crossing the Magellan Channel. That was the heydays of the city and many historical buildings were built during that era. 

The old town of Valparaíso, shortly Valpo, is declared Unesco heritage site in 2003 due to its rare architectural and urban development. It is also the reason the Biennial of Architecture is held here, organised by the four architecture colleges, also the city is interesting and are in architectural terms. When you walk the streets of Valpo, colourful and lively at all times, and hear the music coming out from the doors you suddenly get on a holiday mood. 

As it is in Lisbon, the city is divided to two parts, the uptown and downtown, the mountain and the coast, elevators take you from the ‘cerro’ the top to downtown. The distance is not big but since the streets are steep it takes a while to walk to the top. You will find many view points along the way, called ‘mirador’ in Spanish. We visit the Cultural Park which was a prison, today a cultural centre, to watch the inauguration of the Architecture Biennial. From there we cross to the other side, pass the big cemetery and stop at Dan 399, a café-restaurant, art and co-working space. 

In Valpo’s Bellavista district you can also visit the house of Pablo Neruda, one of his three houses (others in Santiago and Isla Negra), that belong today to the Foundation of Pablo Neruda. When we are downtown we cross by a historical building which is the Head of El Mercurio newspaper, one of country’s oldest newspapers. Other historical buildings reflect city’s once glorious days. When the sun sets the city gets a little dark, that’s why maybe many people who visit Valparaiso stay in Viña del Mar which is a coastal tourist town at the other side of the ocean with lots of hotels (can be reached by boat in twenty minutes). 

There’s a kind of public transportation widely used in Valpo, which is the ‘collecitvo’ taxis that serve between the districts and collects every one whenever there’s space in the car. Both the geographical location of this port city and its urban development, as well as the hills giving it a different dimension make Valpo an open air anfi-theatre.

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