Landing in Valparaíso World Heritage & culture
By: Chile Travel | Date: 24 September, 2018 | In: Culture , Urban life ,
Inspiring poets and writers such as Rubén Darío, Gonzalo Rojas and Pablo Neruda, Valparaíso World Heritage is the cultural capital of Chile, a unique city and an explosion of color. Thanks to its maze-like hills (Cerros), its mysterious landscapes and historic center, Valparaíso, as it is affectionately known to locals, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. On the other hand, its sister city, Viña del Mar, was conceived from the beginning as the main vacation spot for Chileans. The “Garden City” offers the complete tourist experience, with hotel chains, casinos, clubs and beaches.
Both cities are an hour and half from Santiago and are two of the most visited cities in Chile by foreigners and locals alike. So we have put together this list of the top things to do in Valparaíso World Heritage and Viña del Mar, both very different cities but with many attractions to offer.
A little bit of history…
There is some uncertainty regarding the exact date when Valparaíso was founded, but it is estimated to be around 1559 when Spanish conquerors built the La Matriz Church. The port reached its heyday in the 19th century, when it became an obligatory stop for boats coming crossing Cape Horn from the Atlantic Ocean, helping it develop a strong presence in international trade.
Waves of English, German and French immigrants came to Valparaíso for the chance to do business and establish themselves. This is reflected in the architectural styles of the buildings built at that time, which mimic those found in Europe from the mid-19th to early-20th centuries.
Some of these buildings include the Governors’ office building in Plaza Sotomayor (currently housing the Navy Commander in Chief’s Office), the Saint Paul Anglican Church in Cerro Concepción, the Ross Palace, a tradition building which is now home to the German Club; Lyon Palace, now the Museum of Natural History, located at the heart of Valparaíso between Plaza Victoria and City Hall; and the new baroque style San Francisco Church found in Cerro Barón.
Tour the Port Neighborhood aboard a trolley
The Valparaiso World Heritage Port Neighborhood is wedged between Plaza Sotomayor and Plaza Wheelright and is one of the oldest parts of the city, which was once the epicenter for the port’s economic and political activity during the 19th century.
Explore the neighborhood that was once witness to the glory days of the “Jewel of the Pacific” aboard a trolley, the electrical transport system that has been operating since the 1940s. Although the Port Neighborhood is one of the more deteriorated sectors of the city, local traditions and constructions reflect the glorious past and history of Valparaíso.
Funiculars: the port from above
The city has anything but a classic layout: due to the saturation of the area bordering the coast, known as the Valparaiso “plan”, homes began to be built in the hills under a variety of architectural styles, which test gravity and invite visitors to see Valpo from above, thanks to its staircases, walkways and historical funiculars.
This method of transportation began to be used around 1883 to efficiently connect the hill residents with the “plan”. Some are still used today and continue to be the preferred method of transportation for locals, providing a unique experience for visitors. You can ride up the Polanco, Artillería, Reina Victoria, El Peral, and Concepción funiculars, among others.
Once in the hills, you can visit a number of lookout points for some of the best views of the coast and monuments, including the Turri clocktower. The most well-known lookout points are Paseo Atkinson, Paseo Yugoslavo, Paseo Gervasoni, Paseo Dimalow and Paseo 21 de Mayo. Here you’ll find small plazas and park benches, galleries, museums, boutique hotels and artists selling their work and Valparaíso World Heritage souvenirs.
The hills of Valparaíso Worl Heritage, a natural amphitheater
The colorful hills of Valparaíso World Heritage are the city’s greatest attraction, aligned like the gallery of a great theater whose stage is the sea. Known as one of the street art capitals of South America, nearly no wall in Valparaíso has been left unpainted by national and international artists alike.
In Cerro Bellavista, you’ll find the Museo a Cielo Abierto (“Open Air Museum,” in English), a collection of twenty murals that date back to 1992. Painted along the hillsides, these murals are the mark left by important artists such as Roberto Matta.
In Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción, you’ll find art on every corner, as well as small coffee shops, bars, boutique hotels and cultural life. Get lost walking down Pasaje Gálvez and Templeman, get a coffee on Calle Almirante Montt and take all the pictures you want from Paseo Dimalow and of the hundreds of artistic interventions that will amaze you at every turn.
La Sebastiana House Museum
Pablo Neruda wanted a home where he could get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and write in peace, and he found such a place in Cerro Florida. La Sebastiana House Museum stands out for its beautiful architecture and magnificent view of the bay. Here, you can still find some of the poet’s collections, including ancient maps, paintings and some curious pieces of art.
Port bohemian culture
Valparaíso World Heritage is known for its great art and bohemian scene, where students, foreigners, painters, poets and writers come together, all inspired by the port and its secrets. In the evening, visit some of the classic nightlife spots, like Bar Cinzano in Plaza Aníbal Pinto, enjoy live music at La Piedra Feliz, or go dancing at Bar La Playa, the oldest bar in the port.
Things to do in Viña del Mar
Just 10 kilometers from Valparaíso World Heritage you’ll find Viña del Mar, also known as the Ciudad Jardín (“Garden City”). With extensive beaches, a fun nightlife and a number of tourist attractions, Viña deserves your attention. A popular spot for Argentineans in the summer and Santiago residents looking for a weekend getaway, Viña del Mar offers a completely different vibe from its sister city.
Conceived from the beginning as the first vacation spot in Chile, the Garden City began its development in the 20th century. During that time, several important works were carried out, including the construction of the Municipal Theater, the Municipal Casino, the classical Hotel O’Higgins and the paved road to Concón.
While Valparaíso World Heritage offers a more bohemian nightlife, Viña is for those who love the good life. Bars, clubs, hotel chains and the casino are what this coastal city has to offer, just make sure you’re dressed to impress.
Green areas and beaches
Viña del Mar has a number of areas suitable for different cultural and sports activities which summon visitors year-round. Among these, the Quinta Vergara Park is home every February to the Viña del Mar International Song Festival. However, the neogothic palace of the Quinta Vergara is the true star of the show. Surrounded by immaculate gardens, it is the epitome of old-world opulence.
The Garden City coast has more than a dozen beaches, with Reñaca standing out as the main vacation spot in the city, where the younger crowd hangs out during the summer. Along the coast, you can also find anything from fine dining restaurants to ceviche standards, where you can taste the best flavors Viña del Mar has to offer
Architecture: palaces and museums in Viña del Mar
Despite being a top-rate modern city, Viña del Mar is home to impressive architectural monuments that evoke vivid images of the city’s golden years around the turn of the 20th century. Among these, you will find several open to the public, including the magnificent Vergara Palace, the Rioja Palace Museum with its French neoclassical style and the presidential palace on Cerro Castillo, which serves as a summer home for the incumbent president. The Fine Arts Museum and Francisco Fonck Museum should also be on your list of places to see.
One of the most emblematic and impressive constructions in Viña is the Wulff Castle, which overlooks the ocean from the rocky shore, located between the mouth of the Marga-Marga Canal and Caleta Abarca. At present, the castle is used for cultural purposes, and was named a National Historical Monument in 1995.
Sandboarding and empanadas in Concón
One of the locals’ best-kept secrets are the sand dunes in Concón. Located along the coastal road that connects Viña del Mar and Concón, the dune sector, also known as Campo Dunar, was declared a National Monument and Nature Sanctuary in 1993. It can be exhausting to climb to the top, but it has its reward: a view of the coast, walks in the sand, sandboarding and a chance to take some incredible pictures at sunset.
And to recharge, you can’t leave the Valparaíso Region without drying one of the area’s delicacies: the empanadas in Concón. A Latin-American-style turnover stuffed with cheese and shrimp, razor clams or other seafood. A must!
Now that you know what to do in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, take advantage and explore the attractions that make these two cities some of the most popular tourist towns along the Chilean coast.