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10 Things to Do: Valparaíso, Chile

Parque Cultural Ex-Cárcel, a former jail, has become a center for the arts. Photo: Frederic Soltan/Corbis

The port of Valparaíso, nicknamed the "Jewel of the Pacific," draws its charm from the pastel-colored houses that line its many cerros (hills) and the breathtaking vistas that await those who climb them. The city is rich in history, boasting Latin America's oldest stock exchange, Chile's first public library and the oldest Spanish-language newspaper still in publication.

1. Ride into the past. Historic elevators will lift you from the city center to the cerrosfor breathtaking panoramic views (100 pesos).

2. Admire street art. Valparaíso is one of the graffiti capitals of South America, and no place showcases this art better than the Museo a Cielo Abierto. The 20 classic, colorful murals were created between 1969 and 1973 by students from the Universidad Católica’s Instituto de Arte. One of the elevators, Ascensor Espíritu Santo, will take you there.

3. Relax in the city’s oldest bar. Cinzano, a sailors’ haunt when it opened in 1896, is now a local favorite for porteños and tourists, who can dance or listen to live tango and boleros. Order the house special, borgoña, a jar of homemade wine with fruit (3,500 pesos).

4. Channel Pablo Neruda. La Sebastiana, one of the poet’s three houses in Chile, is now a four-story museum that offers impressive views of the city. Make sure to check out Neruda’s crow’s nest study and model ships (3,000 pesos).

5. Explore the port. Originally the naval heart of the city, Plaza Sotomayor houses the Monumento a los Héroes de Iquique, which pays homage to Chile’s naval heroes. A 20- to 30-minute ferry ride offers water-based views of Valparaíso’s cerros (1,500 pesos).

6. Taste la chorrillana A narrow alley leads to the Casino Social J. Cruz. If the vintage trinkets and antiques don’t catch your eye, the chorrillanas—a mountain of French fries, fried pork, onions, and egg, invented here—will.

7. Spend a day behind bars. After Cerro Cárcel was closed in 1999, the cellblocks and exercise yard were re-opened as the Parque Cultural Ex-Cárcel grassroots cultural center. It now features theater productions, exhibition and dance halls, and music rehearsal spaces.

8. Commune with the spirits. A night tour of the city’s cemeteries offers an introduction to Valparaíso’s history. The palace-like tombs in Cementerio 1 mark the final resting places for some of the city’s most famous residents. The adjoining Cementerio 2 houses the Cementerio de Disidentes for non-Catholic English and European immigrants. (3,500 pesos).

9. Lose yourself in a Chilean market.  The city’s entrepreneurial energies are on colorful display along the block-long Mercado Cardonal—as well as its cuisine. The ground floor houses fruit and vegetable stands that spill out on to the street, and the second-floor restaurants offer mouthwatering seafood dishes.

10. Get out of the way! Since 2003, Valparaíso has played host to one of the largest urban bike races, Cerro Abajo. Starting at Cerro Cárcel, the 2-kilometer (1.24-mile) race shuts down the entire city center. Last year, 15,000 spectators cheered on 60 daredevils as they sped down Valpo’s narrow streets.

View a slideshow of photos from Valparaíso, Chile.


All photos courtesy of Anusha Mehar.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Valparaíso, Chile, Travel and tourism

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