Valparaiso is city and port situated about 70 miles from Santiago and is one of the most important ports in Chile. Valparaiso had its heyday back in the second half of the 19th Century when it was one of the main port stopovers from ships travelling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (via the Straits of Magellan and Cape Horn). It also became very important during the California Gold Rush of 1848-1858.
A colonial city, Valparaiso was nicknamed by sailors as “Little San Francisco” and “The Jewel of the Pacific” It has a many interesting early industrial infrastructures such as the many elevators/funiculars going up the steep hillsides that surround the city. Taking a ride on one of these cannot be missed.
It was a popular destination for European immigrants and received many from countries including Britain, France, Germany and Italy. The buildings of the city reflect a variety of European styles resulting in Valparaíso being architecturally more interesting than some other Chilean cities.
However everything changed with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 leading to the huge reduction in ship traffic. As ships no longer needed to go around the Cape the use of the port declined dramatically and had serious repercussions for the economy of the city.
It is no longer the country’s main seaport (close by San Antonio has that role), but still plays an important role culturally and has made an impressive come back in recent years. In the last few years shipping has increased with fruit exports, the increasing strength of the Chilean economy to world commerce, and due to the ships that don’t fit through the Panama Canal! It also makes a fascinating place to walk around taking in the unique ambience.
Valparaiso is now home to boutique style hotels, decent (and sometimes pricey) restaurants as well as some lively nightlife. Historically unique and undoubtedly atmospheric any trip to Chile should include a stay there. Combine with a visit to the nearby wine country where you can stay on a beautiful colonial hacienda, have a look at www.historichaciendas.com for some ideas.
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