Valparaíso is a city on the Pacific coast of Central Chile approximately 120km west of the capital, Santiago de Chile. Widely known for its bohemian culture, brightly coloured houses, and beautiful seaside views it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Visiting Valparaiso has less to do with touring specific sites than it is about roaming the chaotic, hilly streets, and taking in the views and ambience.
Valparaíso played a very important geopolitical role in the second half of the 19th century when the city served as a major stopover for ships travelling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan. Always a magnet for European immigrants, Valparaíso mushroomed during its golden age, when the city was known by international sailors as “Little San Francisco” and “The Jewel of the Pacific.”
Nicknamed “The Jewel of the Pacific”, Valparaíso declared a world heritage site based upon its improvised urban design and unique architecture. In 1996, the World Monuments Fund declared Valparaíso‘s unusual system of funicular elevators (highly-inclined cable cars) one of the world’s 100 most endangered historical treasures.
In 1998, grassroots activists convinced the Chilean government and local authorities to apply for UNESCO world heritage status for Valparaíso, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003. Built upon dozens of steep hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Valparaíso boasts a labyrinth of streets and cobblestone alleyways, embodying a rich architectural and cultural legacy.
Going to Valparaiso and not going on the ascensores (inclines) is like going to Venice and not taking a ride on a Gondola, only that the ascensores cost as little as 300 Chilean Pesos (around 60 US cents). They are also of practical use as they help many local people get to the higher parts of town, saving them from having to walk otherwise long and steep pedestrian routes.