This quirky and bustling city is a vibrant stop over for a couple of nights
At around a 2 hour drive from Santiago, Valparaiso is a quirky and chaotic port that has come to be one of the real highlights for any visit to Chile. The main reason that most head here is for the colourful hills ("Cerros") that overlook the port and, with Valparaiso's nomadic and ever changing population of sailors, prostitutes and dock hands, there is an air of anarchy that reigns in abundance. It is one of those places that oozes character and charm!
The first thing that strikes on arrival into the old port that is Valparaiso, dating back to the times of the conquistadors, is the chaotic and colourful streets of the Cerros district of town. In particular the corrugated iron that has been used and brightly painted for pretty much all of the houses in the area. Historically Valparaiso was the first stopping point for many ships on their way through to the Far East and so, using corrugated iron as ballast on the way out, they would dump their load on arrival here.
With the up and down nature of the cerros, so too has the history of Valparaiso been varied. The pivot of trade through to the Far East in the 1500s, it was once the stomping ground of such famous pirates as Sir Francis Drake who used to pillage for gold. Then, as the Californian gold rush grew, and the demand for Chilean wheat increased, Valparaiso became even stronger. With the creation of the Panama Canal, however, these fortunes faded until more recently where, as a UNESCO world heritage site, and the main port for fruit exports, it has, once more, chanced upon better times.
Loosely divided into the "El Plan" and "Cerros" districts, there is a wonderful feel to the sheer industry and madness of Valparaiso. The hills themselves defy any sort of grid or plan and it is wise to only head down in altitude if you are close to one of the famous "ascensores" or are ready for one hell of a climb to get back up again!