We spent this last week in Valparaiso, a coastal Chilean city that was at one time the most important port town on the Pacific Coast of South America. When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, it cut the need for ships to travel around the bottom and up the other side of the continent, but by then Valparaiso’s charm had been set in stone. Still one of Chile’s major ports, sailors who came here in its heyday used to call it ‘Little Francisco’ because of the resemblance to the North American city.
With its 45 steep hills, the comparison is easy to see (and feel – walking around here is great for the calves!). Colorful houses line the streets that snake up and around each hill, and many are covered in seriously cool street art that has become a highlight of our strolls as we discover murals and stunning vistas of the port and neighboring hills – even the cemetery offers resting places with a view! It is a serious city, with a busy commercial center and active port, but there is a unique, bohemian charm here which begins at the facades of Valpo’s once grand now faded buildings and extends deep into the hearts of the artists, writers (famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda had a home here) and the strong sailor/immigrant population that have made this place home.