Located about 70 miles (112 km) from Santiago, the seaside port city of Valparaíso was once known as "The Jewel of the Pacific." During its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s, before the Panama Canal was completed, the city thrived. Though it later suffered decline as the port became less important to trade, it's been revitalized in recent years. In 2003 the city's historic quarter was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and today it's a chaotic jumble of narrow cobblestone streets and colorful houses that crawl up and over the city's 40-plus hills. Yet despite its bohemian appeal, the city is less well-known than nearby Santiago. Here are five reasons to add a stop in Valparaíso to your honeymoon tour of Chile.
Climbing the city's hills is an attraction all its own.
Sprawling over an estimated 45 hills, Valparaíso's streets require serious muscle to explore on foot. A better option is to take one of the city's ascensores, public lifts that carry passengers to the top of several neighborhoods. These elevators and funiculars were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s; by 1930, there were more than 30 ascensores shuttling people up and down the city's steep hills. Today, only a few still function, but like the gondolas of Venice or the cable cars of San Francisco, they are both a tourist attraction and functioning form of public transport for locals. A ride is also quite cheap, as little as 300 Chilean Pesos (around 50 cents US).
You don't need to visit a museum to see beautiful art.
Street art has been a part of life in Valparaíso since the 1970s; during the oppressive rule of Augusto Pinochet, graffiti was often used as a method of protest. Later, artistic expression remained and so the local government decided to support it (with supervision). Now many building owners commission art on their buildings, which means just about everywhere you look, you'll find incredible, colorful art. As Valparaíso has become known as a street art hotspot, many notable artists have come to leave their mark and several street art tours have sprung up. Since street art is ephemeral, a tour guide is a great option to find the latest works. Otherwise, the cerros (hills) of Carcel, Miraflores, Alegre, Pateon, Concepcíon and Bellavista are good bets for exploration.
Beneath the grit, the city shines.
In his poem Ode to Valparaíso, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote, "Valparaíso, how absurd you are, what a lunatic, crazy port," a phrase that is apt considering the city's haphazard design. The city is messy, scattered, gritty, and a little ramshackle and it bears the scars of the fires and earthquakes that have devastated it multiple times, but those disasters failed to squash its spirit or detract from its legacy. The city was home to Latin America's oldest stock exchange and its first volunteer fire department, as well as Chile's first public library, and the world's oldest continuously operating Spanish-language newspaper. To understand the port city's history, visit the National Naval and Maritime Museum, which in addition to beautiful views of the city, offers 17 rooms full of exhibits on the history of the Chilean navy. There are model boats, naval portraits, incredible leadlight window displays (including two leadlight windows with spectacular 17th-century nautical maps) and an exhibit on the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for two months in 2010.
Wine country is a short drive from the city.
Just 18 miles (30kms) from Valparaíso, the Casablanca wine region is Chile's first coastal wine region, and though its wines are popular in the country, few have made their way outside of Latin America so a winery tour is a great way to sample them. Several companies offer half-day or full-day tours that explore several stops; if you'd prefer not drive after you imbibe, book a tour or opt for a place like Matetic Vineyards, which, in addition to a winery, also includes a hotel and grounds for horseback riding and mountain biking so you can easily fill your time for a day or two on the property.
It was the home of Pablo Neruda.
Pablo Neruda, Chile's most famous poet, is the author of dozens of books and a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Before his death in 1973, he lived in three houses in Chile, two of which are in or near Valparaíso. La Sebastiana is set on Cerro Bellavista in Valparaíso and offers stunning views and an audio guide of the home, which remains as it was when Neruda lived there. The other home is Isla Negra, about an hour south of Valparaíso. It is the largest and best known of his homes, and offers self-guided audio tours. This single-story home is set on the edge of the sea and is a warren of densely-packed rooms showcasing Neruda's eclectic style of decor and the possession he held most dear. The home is also the site of the graves of Neruda and his beloved wife Matilde, making it an important pilgrimage site for the poet's most devoted fans.