Founded in 1542, Valparaiso is a fascinating port and UNESCO world heritage site nestled amongst colourful hills some 1½ hours’ drive from the capital Santiago. Home to Chile’s National Congress, the city leapt to prominence during the 19th century as a major stopover point for the transatlantic trade route that took ships via the Straits of Magellan at the tip of the continent through to the Pacific coast of the Americas. Sadly the construction of the Panama Canal at the turn of the century stripped the once “Jewel of the Pacific” of its lifeblood and left a city scape of crumbling mansions and monuments.
Today, however, Valparaiso has made a startling recovery. Huge investment has breathed life and colour back into the original architecture and once more, historic funicular trains (8 in all) link the lower city port with the surrounding hillsides. Loved and admired throughout the ages, a vibrant social and art scene has followed suit. Valparaiso is renowned for its bohemian atmosphere reflected in Pablo Neruda’s La Sebastiana house and the city now boasts some of the finest boutique hotels, restaurants and galleries in all Chile.
Outside the city, the famous coastal resort of Viña del Mar is a short distance away while charming fishing villages and beaches line the length of the neighbouring coast. Inland, the hills are green with rolling vineyards while Cerro Campana National Park, first climbed by Charles Darwin in 1834, rises up from the coastal range offering visitors breathtaking views of both the snow-capped Andes and Pacific Ocean.