Valparaiso, Chile

an exuberant city of art, historic preservation and cultural development

Iyna Bort Caruso

An observer once wrote Valparaiso, Chile, defies “gravity, geography and history.”

The seaport city and university center is situated 75 miles north of the capital city of Santiago on a series of no fewer than 42 hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Students, writers and artists contribute to a quirky and bohemian street vibe. The late Poet Laureate and famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, whose home here is now a museum, wrote odes to the city.

The second half of the 19th century marked Valparaiso’s golden age. The city was a chief port for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by way of South America’s southern tip. Waves of European immigrants discovered Valparaiso, liked what they saw and settled here. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, however, offered up a shortcut that brought an end to Valparaiso’s boom. A century later, “Valpo,” as it’s sometimes called, has reinvented itself as an exuberant city of art, historic preservation and cultural development.

Navigating the streets is a sport in itself. In the lower section of the city are the port and commercial quarter. The main square, Sotomayor, is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Navy headquarters is here in a building inspired by Paris’s city hall, Hotel de Ville. Examples of neo-classical, neo-baroque, art nouveau and Bauhaus influences can be seen throughout. The majority of the population lives in candy-colored homes clustered in the steep hillsides like a jigsaw puzzle and accessible through stairs or a network of funicular elevators. At one time, there were 30 elevators in operation—the first one opening in 1883. Although only a handful remain, they are designated as National Monuments.

In the city itself are hillside villas and mansions. Those seeking more land find it in exclusive resort towns like Vina del Mar and Zappala. Farmlands, vineyards of the nearby Casablanca Valley and ranches are also available throughout the Greater Valparaiso region. There are no restrictions on international buyers.