Fin de Semana Largo en Chile, Part 2—Valparaíso
Hey guys, welcome back for another blog post about my time in Chile this past weekend. This one is dedicated to my experiences in Valparaíso, a port city located right next to Viña del Mar on the Pacific Ocean. With a unique Bohemian vibe, mixed with the hustle and bustle of a port city, Valparaíso was definitely one of the most unique places that I have ever been to.
On Friday (10/10) we ventured to Valparaíso to do a free guided tour with a company called Tours for Tips. It is a popular way to see many of the main highlights of the city, as well as learn about the rich history embodied throughout the winding streets and various hills alongside the coast. With our guide, Ignacio, we went met at the square in the city, called Plaza Sotomayor. Our guide gave us some brief history about the city that I figured I would include in this post.
Valparaíso was founded in 1536 by Spanish explorers that named the area after another location in Spain. The city became a major stopping point for seafarers traveling from Europe to Asia through the Straight of Magellan at the southern tip of South America. Because of its rich agriculture and uninhabited lands, it was very beneficial for Europeans to stay in Valparaíso. With that, the city received immigrants from Great Britain, Italy, France, Germany, and Switzerland. Surprisingly, Valparaíso has a lot of European influence, even still today. When Chile declared its independence from Spain in 1818, the city opened its international trade with other regions and quickly became a gold mine for the Chileans and immigrants that resided in the area. This is especially due to the Europeans that left their countries to get to California in the United States for the Gold Rush during the 1840s and 1850s. As I mentioned, ships would stop in Valparaíso and possibly stay there for its riches instead of going to California.
However, the "Jewel of the Pacific" quickly changed in 1914 when one major thing was created. Further north in Central America, the Panama Canal was built to make the access between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans easier. This essentially cut the time needed to get to Asia or the West Coast of the United States in half. Ships no longer needed to pass by the Straight of Magellan and Valparaíso as frequently, thus diminishing the popularity and wealth of the port city. Today, Valparaíso no longer is the most lucrative port city in Chile, it is now San Antonio, which is further north.
Regardless of the downfall of Valparaíso, the city still boasts about having many of the "firsts" in Chilean history. They were the first city to have a bank, newspaper, fire station, stock exchange, and post office. There are actually 16 different fire stations in Valparaíso from every different nationality that lived there. Since the city has countless hills and winding streets, they built 28 funiculars to quickly maneuver Valpo easier. Today, only 4 to 5 of the funiculars actually work, but the others are recognized as historic monuments. In addition, in 2003, the historic area of Valparaíso was given the UNESCO World Heritage designation and deemed "Chile's Cultural Capital". The UNESCO designation has some benefits and disadvantages for the Chileans. Obviously it drives in tourists like myself to the area to see the Bohemian vibe. However, it means that national organizations cannot tarnish or built any further infrastructure within the limits of the designation. This poses a problem for buildings that, for example, burn down because they cannot alter the remains after the fire occurs.
Our 3 hour tour included various stops at the main attractions of the city, including Cerro Alegre, Plaza Sotomayor, the business district, winding streets, famous funiculars, and the most authentic alfajor shop in all of Chile. As I mentioned earlier, Valparaíso has a Bohemian vibe about it that differentiates it from all of the other places that I have been thus far. This style refers to an unconventional way of living, in that, usually artistic gypsies roam the area. In Valparaíso there are no gypsies, but all of the streets are lined with unique portraits, murals, and graffiti that all tells a story. Within these neighborhoods, the communities of people work together to help one another more than any other place that I have been. Because it is nearly impossible to drive in Valparaíso and get from one place to another, the neighbors collaborate with one another to buy the necessities. This is a key fact about Valparaíso because the citizens still do this today.
After our tour, we opted to get dinner at a nice restaurant overlooking the city. Given that we had just explored half the city and Viña del Mar earlier in the day, we were ready to try some typical Chilean food. The owners of the restaurant introduced themselves to us and actually gave us free appetizers, dessert, and seafood shots. Yes, seafood shots. Definitely something that I was not expecting, but it was an interesting experience. Basically they tasted like dirty seawater, but they are very common in Valparaíso.
The next day (Saturday 10/11), we came back to Valpo for a boat tour around the port and lunch. We got the chance to see the city from the perspective of the first seafarers that came to Valparaíso in search of a new life. We also got to see sea lions and seals up close, which was entirely worthwhile. The pictures only do so much justice for the crystal, blue waters and awesome views.
In conclusion, when you go to a place unlike anywhere that you have ever been, it is impossible to compare it to anything. That is how I feel about Valparaíso. Unique, historic, modern, and marine-like. Those are the first things that come to mind when I think about it. And surprisingly enough, the fact that the people of Valparaíso call themselves Porteños like people from Buenos Aires was something interesting to note. They were also a melting pot of people with all of the European influence from the early explorations around the world. That's all that I have for Valparaíso and my time on the West Coast of South America! Coming up next is my experiences in Santiago, Chile.
"A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are for." — Grace Hopper