Although a mere 120 km northwest of Santiago, Valpara?so feels a world away in many regards, from the cosmopolitan and shiny capital of Chile. Much more of a “little city that could” than a metropolis that preens and prances about in an attempt to catch the eye of international tourists (not that Santiago bears that label mind you), the hillside town that overlooks the Pacific Ocean is a wonderful, warm and most hospitable destination.
Any notable and worthwhile city that breaks from the pack in terms of tourist charm is first and foremost, all about people. And the people of Valpara?so, all 265,000 of them, are among the most cultured, erudite, fun and pleasant of any city denizens in South America. No wonder that the city is home to no less than nine university institutions and recently earned the designation “Cultural Capital of Chile”.
Valpara?so is one of those magical places. Here are 12 substantial reasons to visit.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that an old seaport Chilean town, first explored by the Spanish in 1536, has a number of resplendent places of worship for visitors to enjoy. From San Luis Gonzaga to the Cathedral Church of Valpara?so, the city’s churches are wonderful attractions.
Once the most important seaport in the Americas before the construction of the Panama Canal, Valpara?so now pays tribute to a commercial Golden Age past with the Naval and Maritime Museum. For a less industrial experience, the superb city Fine Arts Museum is a paramount showcase for Chilean artists, past and present.
8. History of “Firsts”
Valpara?so is one of a select few destinations in South America where you can smell history in the air and feel the weight of a turbulent and glorious past as you stroll down idyllic promenades. As the home of the first stock exchange, Spanish newspaper and public library in Latin America – which may come as a shock to many – the city has a rich heritage to be proud of.
7. Funicular Scenery
Built in 1870, the Valpara?so funicular takes visitors up the steep hillsides that make up the basic foundation of the city. Despite the obvious and inherent trepidations that come with the journey, the rewards at the top are substantial. Suffice to say, views like this are priceless.
6. Pablo Neruda
Chile’s foremost ambassador, the great, late poet Pablo Neruda, had a home for a time in Valpara?so. The Nobel laureate’s connections to the city are indelible and in physical evidence at La Sebastiana. Neruda’s former retreat is now a museum and excellent preservation ground for his legacy.
University towns, especially in Latin America and parts of Europe, make for phenomenal tourism destinations. Valpara?so has four major universities and as a result, thousands of students and people associated with academia. The outcome for visitors is a worldly, intellectual populace, which makes contact with locals ever the more memorable.
Valpara?so’s nightlife has a reputation in Chile. A good reputation. Again, university life plays a major role in the hip, bohemian and arty bar scene, which features local dives, tango bars, hipster clubs and places that welcome everybody. Best of all, closing times are often just a suggestion.
The fact that Valpara?so’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site should tell you something about the city’s architecture, which, according to the international body, is a priceless time capsule of 19th-century urban development in Latin America.
2. The Pacific Ocean
As a seaport town, Valpara?so has a wonderul vantage point, overlooking the Pacific Ocean as it does from hillside confines. The city’s amphitheater-like layout makes the ocean backdrop even more dramatic. For prime beach action, the nearby resort town of Vi?a del Mar is the place to be.
Any city that places a premium on nightlife and intellectual activity can usually be relied upon to proffer some quality eats. In Valpara?so, that manifestation comes in the form of a movement to buttress local purveyors, who supply city restaurants with fine produce, olive oil, wine and seafood. The delicious results land on your plate in deceptively simple creations that harken back to the roots of Latin American cuisine, with innovative twists by some of the best young culinary talents in Chile.
Check out Valpara?so hotels before you plan your next visit to Chile.