We decided on a full day tour of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. We booked the tour through Viator and were picked up at our Santiago hotel, the Hyatt Centric Los Condes and greeted by a great English speaking guide, Carol, and her driver.
This post is about Valparaiso. You can read our post about Vina del Mar here.
Juan de Saavedra arrived in Quintil Bay in 1536. He was a Spanish Conquistador but perhaps explorer is more suitable. In his first expedition to Chile, in 1535, Spain sent him to reconnoiter the coast of Chile. Saavedra sailed as far as Alimapu, which he named Valparaíso after the town of his birth in Spain. The original name of the territory was Valle del Paraíso (Valley of Paradise), which was coined from sailors that fell in love with the port city.
It was an important port and served as the main port for Santiago since they could bring goods to Santiago by horseback in a few days’ time since it was only about 70 miles to Santiago from the port.
During the 19th century, Valparaíso became more popular as it was an important spot on the routes that linked Europe with the Pacific coast through Cape Horn. The Panama Canal had not been built so sailors coming to South America from Europe needed a warm weather port.
English, German, French and Yugoslavian immigrants, as well as the Spanish, began to land on the shores of this small great city. Chile attracted quite a few immigrants and sailors via Valparaiso. Early in the 20th century, the city was shocked by a major earthquake that caused major damage. The Panama Canal opened in 1914 and the city became less important as a stopping point. Ships merely passed through the Panama Canal on to their destination.
Chilean exports began to swell during the 20th century and certainly wine and fruit exports dominated the latter half of the 20th century in the 21st century. For its history, architecture and cultural diversity, UNESCO declared it “World Heritage” on July 2, 2003.
Valparaiso is considered a cultural destination. Many of the major artists and poets from Chile have been influenced by Valparaiso. Pablo Neruda, arguably Chile’s most famous poet, had one of his three homes in Valparaiso which can be visited as a museum decorated just as it was when he lived there. He said that he’d sit in his chair and gaze at the ocean and city as a means to get inspirations for his poems.
One of the first things a tourist will notice is that it is a colorful city. Every building is painted in a unique and vibrant color that would not work, or even be tolerated, in other major cities around the world. There are murals all over the city. Residents have allowed or simply commissioned local artists to paint murals on their building’s walls. We heard that artists go around to homes, show off their ideas to the owner of a building, and if there is a match the mural gets drawn!
We thought that Valparaiso was the largest of the two cities, but it is slightly less. It is still about 300,000 people. One of the key differences between the two cities is the port. Large tanker and container ships abound. The port also used to be a very busy place for cruise ships, but dock strikes by local workers have caused many of the cruise ships to dock elsewhere since they were uncertain of their welcome.
Our tour wound through the city and our guide pointed out some of the older buildings and their heritage. From the ground level, we began to see some graffiti or street art. However, it wasn’t until we got more off the main streets that the street art story began to unfold.
We noticed the bright colors of the buildings all around us. Many of the buildings had sheet metal on top of a concrete structure because the salt in the sea air was eroding the concrete. They paint the sheet metal in bright colors, so you see yellow, purple, blue, orchid, vermillion and other colors on all of the buildings.
Our guide offered to take our picture with some of the colorful homes in the background. I don’t know why I was squinting but Madeline is photogenic as always.
Then, there are the walls. The wall art started about the same time the hippy movement began in the 1960’s. When Pinochet ruled, the art was deemed inappropriate, so it stopped. Today, the walls can change colors and artists on a daily basis.
The amount of art and the quality of art is hard to define. It was simply amazing to take a walking tour of the city and simply marvel at the art.
Some of it might have been political but everything else was just a depiction of the artist’s interpretation of daily life.
In 2003, the historic quarter of Valparaíso with all of the artwork was declared a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site.
We walked through many streets and were just fascinated by the sheer amount of art that this city had. It was like walking into the world’s largest art museum.
Even the stairs were fair game for art.
Step art is almost an illusion in Valparaiso Chile
The above picture was almost in illusion because you had to look at it from the right angle.
Our tour guide took us down many other streets, and we came to a quirky museum like structure with characters that were outside seemingly inviting us in.
Museo Mirador Lukas
It was a very stately home, but the sign suggested it was a museum. We did not go in, but we needed to take a few photos. However, I did research it later because Madeline and I wondered about the cartoon like characters in the photo. It turns out that the Lukas museum is honoring the famous Chilean cartoonist.
Lukas worked primarily for newspapers that were right-wing publications. His cartoons were full of irony and political humor. In 1981 he received the National Journalism Award in Chile. After his death, his widow created a foundation to protect his work and the museum is used to display his work today.
We strolled a little further and found a palace.
The Palacio Baburizza is the former residence of Croatian businessman Pascual Baburizza located in Valparaíso, Chile. It was built in 1916 by Italian architects, and eventually turned into a museum in 1971, and declared a historic monument in 1976.
This was a very impressive and somewhat unexpected palace in the middle of all this art on every building. Just a bit further we found more street art, but it seemed like it was advertising something.
We were walking away from Palacio Baburizza and Madeline and I saw this cartoon like character advertising something. Our guide said that Condorito means little condor in Spanish. However, it’s a Chilean comic book and comic strip that features an anthropomorphic condor living in a fictitious town named Pelotillehue which would be a typical small Chilean provincial town. He is meant to be a representation of the Chilean people.
Condorito was created by the Chilean cartoonist Rene Rios, known as Pepo. Despite his Chilean origin, Condorito is very popular throughout Latin America, where the character is considered part of the general popular culture.
This store has magnets, and souvenirs that are representative of the many characters in Condorito. There are also photo opportunities if you love the comic.
Ascensor El Peral
We continued on our walk with our guide. She said we should ride on the El Peral funicular that she knew about. In 2003, the historical center of the city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and its funiculars were considered unique. Funiculars started being used in 1883 when the city planners decided to implement a new way of moving around the city.
Valparaiso is very hilly and reminded us of San Francisco hills. Over 30 funiculars were created, which were located in different parts of the city. Today, only 16 funiculars remain. They are all declared Historical National Monuments, but only 7 of these are working. Due to the great value of these lifts, authorities are currently undertaking the restoration and modernization of 9 of them, while also maintaining the unique elements of each of them.
The funicular took us near the square below.
Plaza Sotomayor is a square which is considered the largest civic center in the city. It also serves as the main hub of the Puerto Barrio. There is a large group of statues in the middle of the square which is a monument to the Heroes of Iquique.
The square is very large, and it is where we walked and took pictures before coming back to Santiago. It was originally called Customs Square because of its proximity to the port. The square’s name changed to Plaza del Palacio until it was renamed in honor of Rafael Sotomayor, an important nineteenth-century minister.
Monument to the Heroes of Iquique
The Battle of Iquique consisted of two naval confrontations against Peru during the War of the Pacific in 1879. The Monumento a los Heroes de Iquique was erected at Plaza Sotomayor in 1886 in memory of the fallen Chilean sailors. On top is a statue of Arturo Prat who died while commanding the Esmeralda. Below him are other sculptures by Pierre Dennis. Beneath this tribute is a vault with several of the heroes’ remains.
Copper Cable Monument – Monumento al Cable de Cobre
Madeline saw this sculpture as we were heading back toward Santiago. Our guide said it was an homage to the funicular cars that are all over Valparaiso and the copper cable that they use.
There was plenty of whimsical art and social art everywhere. We walked for almost 2 hours and around every corner there were different pictures. As you can tell in this blog post, we took lots of pictures. You only see a few of them. We will update the pictures in this post from time to time, but we invite you to explore this very interesting city. It’s an outdoor art museum for everyone.
It was time to return to the Hyatt Centric in Santiago. You can read about our Vina del Mar post here.
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