On the Pacific coast of central Chile lays the city of Valparaiso, one of its main port cities. Occupying a long, narrow strip of land along the western coast of South America, one can find the country of Chile. It lies between the Pacific Ocean on the west, and the Andes Mountains on the East.
Valparaiso began as a small village during colonial times, and grew to be a main port when Chile became independent from Spain. As time went on, the harbor became an important stop for ships that were traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, making use of Straits of Magellan. Because of this, trade with England, Germany, France, and Italy was greatly increased. As Valparaiso became more important as a port city, the sailors who traveled to it referred to it as “The Jewel of the Pacific”. Today, when traveling directly to Valparaiso, one can go by any means but air. The nearest airport is in Santiago, which offers international as well as domestic service. From here, one can travel by train, car, bus, or even boat to the port city. In addition, nearly 50 international cruise ships travel to this area each year during the Chilean summer.
Valparaiso consists of a labyrinth of streets running up and down through the villages on the hills overlooking the port city itself. Travel to these villages makes use of a unique system of funicular elevators, which are cable cars that travel up and down the steep inclines of the hills. Each village, depending on the immigrants who settled there, has its own architecture as well as schools, and cultural institutions, making for a unique mixture of the old as well as new. Traveling through these villages should be a priority of anyone visiting this area.
In 1996, the World Monuments Fund declared that Valparaiso’s system of funicular elevators was one of the 100 most endangered historical resources in the world. In 2003, Valparaiso was named a “World Heritage Site” because of its natural beauty as well as historic importance and distinctive architecture. In addition to these honors, Valparaiso boasts the oldest stock exchange in Latin America, Chile’s first library, and the oldest Spanish newspaper in continuous publication in the world.
One of Valparaiso’s most popular attractions is its annual carnival, held during the last week of the year. Every year, the theme of the carnival focuses on a different country. Performers and artisans representing that particular country’s culture are invited to participate through examples of their arts, music, theater and other cultural activities. The carnival ends with a world-class firework display to celebrate “New Year’s by the Sea”. At times, a million tourists have been known to view this show from the coastline as well as the hillsides.
A visit to the city of Valparaiso is not so much about huge tourist sites, shops, or large museums as may be in other cities of the world. Rather, it is about taking the time to walk through the port as well as the hills, enjoying the mixture and ambiance of the various cultures represented there. There could be no better experience than looking down from the hills above Valparaiso and viewing the port as well as the Pacific in the distance.
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