What do you get when you mix colorful South American flair, European architecture and San Francisco-steep hills? You get the city of Valparaiso, Chile. Founded in 1543 and known as the “Pearl of the Pacific,” Valpo was once a thriving port city and stopping place of choice for ships on their way to the California gold rush in the 19th century. Although the “golden age” of Valparaiso ended with the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 (meaning that ships no longer needed to round Cape Horn), its cobbled alleys, rickety funiculars and picturesque ocean views led this stunning Chilean city to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003.
You may not need to refill your water supply and rest your weary sea legs these days, but the strikingly vibrant street art is what’s attracting modern visitors to this boho Mecca. With murals splashed across every wall, door and fence, homes and buildings drip with creativity. In fact, it seems that to walk about Valpo’s labyrinthine streets is to peruse an open-air museum. On my one day self guided walking tour of the city (thanks National Geographic Traveller), I meandered through gothic cemeteries, stately plazas and bohemian enclaves, all the while taking in the funky street art.
Though some see Valparaiso as a gritty, dirty and poverty stricken city, I see it as a city striving to regain it’s once splendid grandeur. It was the last stop on my 2013 Argentina and Chile tour, and by far one of my favorites. Valparaiso, may we meet again!