Undoubtedly the most unique city in Chile, and one of the most unusual in all Latin America, Valparaíso - ‘Valpo’ for short - has long been one of the continent’s best-kept secrets. Ignored by many Chileans, who prefer the more mundane charms of Viña del Mar next door, people are now beginning to catch on - especially since the city was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2003. From the flat city center ascensores (funicular elevators) creak at an improbable angle up to a very different city above. These tumbling chaotic cerros (hills), with their steep labyrinthine roads, crumbling mansions and kaleidoscopic rooftops, will have even amateur photographers snapping on every street corner.
It’s not just the stunning vistas that hit you as you look down to the busy working commercial and naval harbor below; it’s the unique, faded grandeur of the town, and its spontaneous, bohemian charm. More than anywhere else in Chile there’s a feeling of 'anything goes, ’ a legacy of Valparaíso’s artistic presence (Pablo Neruda had a home here) and its ever-shifting port population.
It’s not for everyone, mind you. Some visitors shudder at the madly crisscrossing electricity wires above the streets, and find the city run-down and dirty. Others get put off by Valpo’s poverty. Some of the country’s poorest shantytowns stretch up the hills, and petty crime is a problem in certain areas. And a few don’t really 'get’ the city: you don’t really 'do’ much in Valpo apart from wander the streets and maybe take in one or two museums.
But most who come here remember Val- po - nicknamed La Perla del Pacífico (Pearl of the Pacific) - for the right reasons: for its bonhomie; for its hedonistic late nights; for its fabulously welcoming family hospedajes (budget accommodations); and for its unforgettable hillsides.
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